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Modern Fiction Studies 46.2 (2000) 542-548



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Book Review

The Dialogic Self: Reconstructing Subjectivity in Woolf, Lessing, and Atwood

Women in the Milieu of Leonard and Virginia Woolf: Peace, Politics, and Education

Britain, Ireland, and Continental Europe

Roxanne J. Fand. The Dialogic Self: Reconstructing Subjectivity in Woolf, Lessing, and Atwood. Selinsgrove: Susquehanna UP, 1999. 241 pp.

Wayne K. Chapman and Janet M. Mason, eds. Women in the Milieu of Leonard and Virginia Woolf: Peace, Politics, and Education. New York: Pace UP, 1998. xviii + 279 pp.

Taking up the thorny conflict between the postmodern deconstruction of the subject and feminist assertions of the female self, Roxanne J. Fand's theoretical and literary project aims "to explore a model of self-formulation" that is more fitting than "the old discourse of individualism" in response to the "global drama being played out at the level of the individual identity crisis." The Bakhtinian theory of the novel as a "dialogic" interplay of voices that resist unification by a single authorial voice is at the core of Fand's paradigm, which brings together the dominant theories of feminism and psychology, as well as a host of other disciplines, to articulate a "theory of the dialogic self as a narrative construct." Her concept of the dialogic self is then illustrated and tested in what she calls a "reciprocal relationship" with the "literary selves" in the life and work [End Page 542] of Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing, and Margaret Atwood. Fand's ambitious theoretical framework, although perhaps open to accusations of overreaching at times, lends itself to some insightful readings of her central texts: Woolf's The Waves, Lessing's Children of Violence, and Atwood's Lady Oracle.

Claiming that there is no "single neat formulation of how the dialogic process works," Fand makes a Herculean effort to flesh out this complex entity in her first chapter, "Introduction: Dialogism and the Female Self." By means of negative example, Fand begins with an analysis of a monologic self, Olenka, the protagonist of Anton Chekov's short story "The Darling," who assimilates patriarchal discourse in taking on her unquestioned identity as a passive female devoted to and defined by a succession of love objects. Fand then proceeds to her cross-disciplinary construction of the dialogic notion of self, which covers much theoretical ground in a cohesive, if sometimes summary, fashion. Implicitly drawn from Rita Felski's work on feminist aesthetics, Fand's idea is that the dialogic self "can be likened to a literary construct of narrative." She goes on to illustrate this idea in theory and practice, tracing the sources of the dialogic self in concepts drawn from psychology (Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Carl Jung, and Wendy Holloway), sociolinguistics (Francis Jacques), and social philosophy (George Herbert Mead, Paul and Herrnstein Smith), with a little Keatsian "negative capability" thrown into the mix. Having established this theoretical foundation, Fand moves to a more practical discussion of the dialogic self in the lives and writing of her three female novelists. In each case, Fand devotes a general chapter to each author's "concept of self" followed by a chapter exploring the concept in a representative fictional work.

In answer to both essentialist and deconstructive feminist critics who find Woolf's concept of androgyny contradictory, Fand expands Woolf's theory of self beyond mere gender boundary crossing to recognize it as driven by "a cross-sectional or cross-fertilizing impulse that cuts across boundaries and categories to create new subject-positions or relational possibilities." She also represents the central problem of Woolf's fiction as preserving the integrity of this self "without either feminine ego effacement or masculine ego aggrandizement in the social world." The subjectivities of the fiction assume "two broad phases of consciousness" which exist in a dialectic relationship: the "night self," a [End Page 543] "dark chaotic phase of fallowness [. . .] or formlessness," and the "day self," a "creative phase of the outwardly manifest play of forms." In Fand's reading of...

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