Falling into Matter

Falling into Matter: Problems of Embodiment in English Fiction from Defoe to Shelley

ELIZABETH R. NAPIER
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttw66
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  • Book Info
    Falling into Matter
    Book Description:

    Falling into Matterexamines the complex role of the body in the development of the English novel in the eighteenth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9019-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-2)

    This book is concerned with problems of embodiment in six early works of English fiction. In each of these works, giving physical expression to ideas or desires, rendering materially the stuff of the mind or spirit, ‘bodying forth’ matters of the heart, unleashes a spate of difficulties that curtail individual freedom and dignity and obstruct the creation of beauty (aesthetic, spiritual, or personal). This problem, which is explicitly tied to the body and its ability to express substance of high moment, preoccupies fiction writers of the period from Defoe to Shelley. It is a recurring issue for the novel as...

  5. 1 Robinson Crusoe: Discord
    (pp. 3-26)

    Midway throughRobinson Crusoe, in one of the tale’s most celebrated moments, Crusoe comes unexpectedly upon a solitary footprint in the sand. The scene – at once stark (in the austerity of its detail) and inflammatory (in the terrified speculation that it inspires on Crusoe’s part) – epitomizes the power and the problem of the physical in Defoe’s novel. As a single print (rather than one of two, or many), the mark disturbs the possibility of easy interpretation, encouraging reading on a number of mutually exclusive levels. It signifies, in Crusoe’s mind, either a spiritual presence (the devil) or a...

  6. 2 Gulliver’s Travels: Shock
    (pp. 27-61)

    Released from the charged atmosphere of the conversion narrative – for Swift’s Gulliver seeks neither salvation nor cure – matter takes on a more deadening impact inGulliver’s Travels, resisting, as it does throughout Swift’s oeuvre, investment in or elevation to a ‘higher’ register (of spirit, of aesthetic beauty). Such opposition to higher signification is far more active than in the work of Defoe, in which there are repeated attempts to correlate the realms of body and spirit. For Swift, such a project is by definition suspect. Gulliver’s assumption of equine manners at the end of his journeys (his imitation...

  7. 3 Clarissa: Grace
    (pp. 62-88)

    At the conclusion ofClarissa, conveying the news of Lovelace’s ‘unhappy end’ (1489),¹ Lovelace’s travelling valet De la Tour delivers the details of his employer’s demise. De la Tour’s account has a blasé air: the references to Lovelace as ‘my dear chevalier’ (1486–7) and ‘poor gentleman’ (1488) sound hollow, and his unfamiliarity with his master’s story causes him to shrug off Lovelace’s invocations to Clarissa in a desultory way, with an incurious reference to her as ‘some lady (that Clarissa, I suppose)’ (1487). De la Tour’s interpretation of Lovelace’s last words is among the most blatant misreadings of any...

  8. 4 Tom Jones: Cohesion
    (pp. 89-124)

    Near the end ofTom Jones, charged by Sophia to explain his entanglement with Lady Bellaston during a period in which he professed to be solely devoted to his ‘divine Angel’ (974), Tom insists on his loyalty to her: ‘By all that is sacred,’ he cries, ‘[your Image] never was out of my Heart. The Delicacy of your Sex cannot conceive the Grossness of ours, nor how little one Sort of Amour has to do with the Heart’ (973). Against this temporizing, Sophia posits, prettily, a view of love as a concurrent effort of body and spirit, of sensual desire...

  9. 5 A Simple Story: Dissipation
    (pp. 125-165)

    Elizabeth Inchbald’sA Simple Storyis, likeClarissa, concerned with ways in which incomplete knowledge of the self may result in assertions of power that are combative and destructive to the tensions that lend dignity and fineness to social intercourse. Like Richardson, Inchbald casts this issue in predominantly political terms, with particular emphasis on relations of gender and patriarchal rule, pitting women against men in battles of will and of authority. Her concerns about the body are manifested in deeply divided attitudes towards energy and theatricality, towards the ‘activated’ embodied self, which occupies her in profound ways in this vivid...

  10. 6 Frankenstein: Dissociation
    (pp. 166-183)

    InFrankenstein, Mary Shelley outlines, with terrible certitude, the catastrophic results of embodiment and the abrogation of freedom that follows in its wake. Whereas for Defoe, the issue of corporealization manifests itself chiefly as a spiritual dilemma (how can the body adequately ‘translate’ messages from the spirit or from God?), and where for Richardson and Inchbald, the ramifications are largely personal and social, for Shelley, the problem seems most pressing as an artistic one, as her subtitle, ‘The Modern Prometheus,’ makes clear. Authorship – at once gruelling, harrowing, unhallowed, and monstrous – forms the subject of her introduction to the...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 184-186)

    If, during the crucial period of its development, the eighteenth-century English novel assigns increasing weight to both narrative (plot) and verisimilitude (of setting and of character), it does so only through a concerted grappling with the problem of the body and with the nature and validity of embodied meaning. Towards such concepts eighteenth-century novelists display pronounced ambivalence. A suspicion of the body, rooted in a Protestant recoil from the fleshly and the fallen, marks the novel throughout most of the century. Body and soul continue their acerbic (sometimes absurd, sometimes scarifying) dialogues as characters attempt to wrest dignity and agency...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 187-224)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 225-246)
  14. Index
    (pp. 247-257)