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«MANNING THE WORLD': THE ROLE OF THE MALE NARRATOR IN ELIZABETH GASKELL'S COUSIN PHILLIS Jeni Curtis New Zealand I remember, now that I have written the above words, how [my mother] pleaded for me once in my riper years, when I had really offended against my father's sense of right But I have nothing to do with that now. It is about cousin Philiis that I am going to write, and as yet I am far enough from even saying who cousin Philiis was. (221) So writes Paul Manning, the narrator of Elizabeth Gaskell's novella Cousin Philiis (1864). He never refers to this incident again, nor explicitly connects his offence against his "father's sense of right" with the events in the story he tells. Most critical analyzes of Cousin Philiis read the text in terms of a pastoral/anti-pastoral love story, as the retelling of the Eden story contrasting nostalgic rural idyll and modern industrial fall, or as the tale of a young girl's first romantic and sexual awakening. Few take into account the narrator, Phillis's cousin Paul, other than to dismiss him as "an onlooker", the "naive consciousness" through whom the story is told, or as "socially inept" and "unmanly".1 Paul, however, is far from "naive" or "inept", although he might appear so from his actions in the story. It is an older, wiser Paul who controls the retrospective account In writing Phillis's story he is able to obscure his own role in her life and to construct a truth which confínes and silences her. Paul's overt concern is to record an important time in the life of his cousin — "it is about cousin Philiis that I am going to write". However he inscribes Phillis's life through his own subjectivity. Not merely a detached narrator, he plays an active part in her story (it takes him two pages even to get to the point of mentioning she is the "subject" of his narrative), and in telling that story, he tells something of his own life, his Victorian Review 21.2 (Winter 1995) 130Victorian Review attitudes and his psychological processes as well.2 Both Paul's social location and the discourses, other texts and genres, he draws upon are crucial to his telling of his cousin's story. In Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1750-1850 Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall trace the way in which the growing middle class structured their world around class and gender difference with the increasing emphasis on separate spheres for men and women. The middle classes had grown, by the middle of the nineteenth century, from a group marked by differences of interest and divided by internal dissension into "a powerful unified culture" with a "commitment to an imperative moral code and the reworking of their domestic world into a proper setting for its practice" (23, 25). One of the centres for Davidoff and Hall's study was rapidly expanding Birmingham, where, during the period 1750-1850, there emerged an increasingly articulate middle class, as well as a common culture. It is from this Birmingham that Paul Manning arrives in "the county town of Eltham" (219) at the beginning of Cousin Philiis. Although Birmingham exists on the margin of the rural world of Cousin Philiis its influence is profound. The older rural world is disturbed by more than industrial technology, represented by the coming of the railways. In Paul Manning and his father we have the new Birmingham men, whose ideas and philosophy of life construct the new hegemonic middle-class masculine world order. Paul's father, who started life as a workman, "his hands, blackened beyond the power of soap and water by years of labour in the foundry" (248), is making his mark in the manufacturing world, through his skill, ingenuity and inventions. Despite his working-class background, as a self-made man he expresses the views of the urban middle class and, as Davidoff and Hall point out, by the 1830s (the time the novel is set) "the middle-class view was becoming the triumphant common sense of the Victorian age" (28). As the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 129-144
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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