Indignant Reading

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Indignant Reading

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Title: Indignant Reading
Author: Goodman, Lesley Anne
Citation: Goodman, Lesley Anne. 2013. Indignant Reading. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: In 1871, R. H. Hutton criticized George Eliot for "unfairly running down one of her own characters": Middlemarch's Rosamond Vincy. Hutton blamed Eliot for being cruel to her own creation and used his role as a reader and a critic to lodge a public complaint on Rosamond's behalf. Indignant Reading identifies this response--dissatisfaction and even anger with an author for his/her perceived mistreatment of a fictional character--as a common occasion for literary criticism in the nineteenth century. The indignant readings found in Victorian reviews, letters, and prefaces advance conceptions of plot, characterization, and fictionality distinct from those offered in modern narratological criticism or historicist accounts of Victorian novel practice or literary criticism. Rather than abstracting the aesthetic and ethical concerns from the emotional terms common to Victorian criticism, I see these concerns emerging in conjunction with serious emotional demands and significant, if sometimes inchoate, beliefs about the "rights" of fictional characters. In my discussion of indignation resulting from crimes of plot, I argue that insufficiently
motivated events were interpreted by Victorian critics and readers as arising from the author rather than from the text. Discussions of crimes of characterization reveal an implicit tri-partite model of fictional character, in which authors might be incorrect about their own characters as well as cruel toward them. This manner of thinking about authorial accuracy and justice implies, I argue, a conception of fictionality that de-emphasizes the distinction between fiction and non-fiction, modeling the author’s relationship to his fiction on that of the historian to his text. This approach to fiction changes, however, in the twentieth century, alongside restrictive attitudes about the role of affect in performing literary criticism. While indignant reading re-enters the academy as one type of feminist criticism, which emphasizes the ethical at the expense of the affective, indignation in its most emotional form has become a primary mode of expression for fan communities.
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