Brackets and Bodies: Punctuated Physicality in Modernist and Contemporary Fiction
Rials, Emily Katherine
Brackets and Bodies argues that twentieth- and twenty-first-century novels rework conventions of realist representation not only in the vocabulary and linguistic constructions of their narratives, but also through the material appearance of those narratives on printed pages—through innovative techniques of spacing and punctuation. Most criticism of twentieth-century bibliographic experimentation turns to the formatting of poetry for its prime examples, but I focus here on novels, combining book history with narrative theory, feminist criticism, and disability studies to show how the organization of printed prose facilitates—or denies—narratorial and readerly access to specific characters’ perspectives. This manipulation of conventional punctuation and spacing practices is a technique by which novels rework traditional representations of embodiment, interiority, and artistic creation. The project’s introduction revisits the critical consensus that has developed around the material significance of Emily Dickinson’s dashes, drawing on scholarly responses to her poetic innovations to underscore the need for similarly rigorous analyses of how punctuation shapes and informs the narrative arcs of modernist and contemporary fiction. Over the course of its five main chapters, Brackets and Bodies studies novels by writers including Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf, in the modernist period, and Anne Carson, Zadie Smith, Kate Atkinson, and Ali Smith in the twenty-first century. Calling out to and also departing from patterns and structures historically available to writers in print, these novels deploy both material and linguistic components of their narratives to explore fiction’s ability to produce new forms through which to accommodate diverse and dynamic bodies. Chapter by chapter, Brackets and Bodies demonstrates how historically and narratively specific analysis of each work’s spacing and punctuation techniques revises traditional critical readings of individual novels and also points to the broader stakes of attending to both material and linguistic components of literary art. In the postscript, I extend these lines of inquiry into the very contemporary moment, considering how politicians’ use of Twitter and social media demand a similarly specific and contextualizing reading practice.
English literature; punctuation; book history; embodiment; narrative; novel; Modernism
Braddock, JeremyAttell, Kevin D.
Galloway, Andrew Scott; Hite, Molly Patricia
English Language and Literature
Ph. D., English Language and Literature
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis