Academic journal article British and American Studies

"Becky Said" - "Cried Amelia" a Metaphonological Analysis of Speeches in Vanity Fair

Academic journal article British and American Studies

"Becky Said" - "Cried Amelia" a Metaphonological Analysis of Speeches in Vanity Fair

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Vanity Fair is, according to its title, A Novel without a Hero. Several characters indeed act in the show staged by W.M. Thackeray, whose intent was not telling the story of a single man or woman, as it was common in the Victorian age, when "by far the larger number of novels dealt with the constantly increasing mass of individuals who made up, or aspired to make up, the middle class" (Dennis 2000:7). On the contrary, "the artistic motive-force of Vanity Fair is Thackeray's vision of bourgeois society and of personal relationships engendered by that society" (Dennis 2000:97). Thackeray declaredly acts like a puppeteer, opening his novel with a chapter titled Before the Curtain, and closing it with an invitation to "shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out" (Thackeray 2003:809). Throughout the novel, he talks to his reader in order to present his characters similarly to a storyteller, aware that he is not speaking to children, but rather to the same society that he is describing - a society that lived in "an age in which 'realism' in art was valued above everything else" (Dennis 2000:57).

The question whether the Victorian novel might be considered a realist novel or not has been widely discussed and this is not the place for such a debate.

According to an article that appeared in the Quarterly Review in 1865, Thackeray was recognised, like Trollope, as the "very embodiment of the realistic school:

'Mr. Thackeray looks at life under its ordinary aspects, and copies it with a fidelity and artistic skill which is surprising. Men, women, and children talk, act, and think in his pages exactly as they are talking acting, and thinking at every hour of the day'. (Dennis 2000:59)

Consequently, I aim to analyse the two principal female characters of the novel through their dialogues, and more precisely, through the ways in which Thackeray introduces their speech.

2. Metaphonological language in discourse analysis

In her Framing in Discourse, Deborah Tannen (1993:4) points out that "in the mid-80s [...] the field of linguistics was experiencing a rise of interest in discourse analysis". More precisely,

... from the 1970s to the 1990s, there was also a small amount of work on the language of Victorian fiction more generally [...]. Emphasis was placed on the representation of speech which, in the 1990s, overlapped with the interest of language historians in pronunciation and class. (O'Gorman 2002:196).

In the wake of these interests, Sergio Cigada began to research what he defines as metaphonological language, the "language referring to the phonological component of language" (Cigada 1989:26). This interest in the metaphonological component of reported speech is not accidental. Until the second half of the twentieth century, "no one had ever thought of combining the notion of intonation with that of discourse" (Couper-Kuhlen 2001:14). This was because the Saussurian school privileged the study of langue, seen as a language system, over the study of parole, seen as language performance, which relegated discourse to the borders of linguistic analysis. In 1975, however, Jenny Simonin-Grumbach (1979) was already stressing how, thanks to the work of Benveniste (1966), who showed the necessity to make the description of discursive practices a part of lamguage studies, the need for a new approach was felt. Her vision was that of a linguistics of discourse, which could go beyond Saussurian structural linguistics. Even M.M. Bakhtin (1981:279), in his essay Discourse in the Novel, stressed how dialogue was studied "merely as a compositional form in the structuring of speech" where "the internal dialogism of the word [...], the dialogism that penetrates its entire structure, all its semantic and expressive layers, is almost entirely ignored", although it was precisely this internal dialogism to have "such enormous power to shape style". By the 1980s, "it was beginning to be apparent to some linguists that there might be a discourse function of intonation which would merit investigation" (Couper-Kuhlen 2001:14). …

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