Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

"Reader, I Did Not Even Have Coffee with Him": Lorrie Moore's Adaptation of Jane Eyre (1847) in A Gate at the Stairs (2009)

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

"Reader, I Did Not Even Have Coffee with Him": Lorrie Moore's Adaptation of Jane Eyre (1847) in A Gate at the Stairs (2009)

Article excerpt

In the 2012 special issue of the Journal of American Studies edited by David Brauner and Heidi Macpherson, they remark--and attempt to redress--the relative dearth of "substantial published criticism" on contemporary fiction writer Lorrie Moore (543). Brauner and Macpherson maintain that, despite consistent praise for her work, Moore remains "critically underrated" (543). They speculate that this critical under-acknowledgement may derive from her propensity for wordplay and humor, her frequent recourse to the short story over the novel, or her uneasy assimilation into postmodernism (in spite of her metafictional turns). Aliki Varvogli echoes these speculations, adding that Moore's ostensibly female-centered, domestic settings often mask larger political and cultural critiques. Thus, although Moore's most recent novel, A Gate at the Stairs (2009), is generally considered a female coming-of-age narrative, or a campus novel, Varvogli argues that it comprises much more: it is a "state of the nation novel" akin to Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (2010) in its scope and weight (178). Varvogli laments that "even in the twenty-first century, a female-authored book about domestic concerns is viewed as limited to such concerns" (178), and she contends that this story of a woman's development from innocence to experience "has a lot to say about post-9/11 America's war on terror, especially the stories that a country in crisis tells itself about its innocence, its racial relations, and its idea of freedom" (178). Other scholars, such as Jo Lampert, Elizabeth S. Anker, and Pamela Mansutti, have also read A Gate at the Stairs as a 9/11 novel that uses interwoven domestic narratives to highlight the myopia, narcissism, and hypocrisy underlying much of the middle-class liberal rhetoric on terrorism, race, and 'home' security.

However, no one has yet discussed A Gate at the Stairs as a contribution to the rapidly expanding area of critical and creative textual production that has been labeled as neo-Victorian literature. Louisa Hadley defines the neo-Victorian novel as "contemporary fiction that engages with the Victorian era, at either the level of plot, structure, or both" (Neo-Victorian Fiction 3-4), and Marie-Luise Kohlke stresses the insights that neo-Victorian literature affords not only into the nineteenth century, but even more importantly, "into twentieth- and twenty-first-century cultural history and socio-political concerns" (13). Although the term 'neo-Victorian' is often taken to mean contemporary novels with a Victorian setting, Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn make clear that "the 'neo-Victorian' is more than historical fiction set in the nineteenth century....[it] must in some respect be self-consciously engaged with the act of (re) interpretation, (re) discovery and (re)vision" (Neo-Victorianism 4). Neo-Victorian literature thus by definition must go beyond nostalgic pastiche, and instead "advance an alternative view of the nineteenth century for a modern audience" (Neo-Victorianism 7), or "re-fresh and revitalise the importance of that earlier text to the here and now" (Llewellyn, "Neo-Victorian Studies" 170-71). Neo-Victorian fiction uses allusion, adaptation, and narrative deconstruction to "writfe] back to something in the nineteenth century," often investigating issues of memory and inheritance, giving voice to the marginalized or silenced, or reinterpreting the identity politics of imperialism ("Neo-Victorian Studies" 170). In the words of Cora Kaplan, the neo-Victorian involves a "self-conscious rewriting of historical narratives to highlight the suppressed histories of gender and sexuality, race and empire, as well as challenges to the conventional understandings of the historical itself (3). Approaching A Gate at the Stairs as a neo-Victorian text thus offers a means of bringing together some of the most compelling strands of scholarship on Moore, particularly with respect to the novel's experimentation with metafiction, humor, and narrative structure, as well as its participation in contemporary debates on feminism (and on ethnicity, race, and politics in post-9/11 Western culture, as well, though these areas cannot be addressed fully in what follows). …

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