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86Victorian Review O'Farrell, Mary Ann. Telling Complexions: The Nineteenth Century Novel and the Blush. Durham: Duke UP, 1997. 182. $49.94 US (cloth); $16.95 US (paper). Telling Complexions is a difficult book to evaluate. To fall into the parlance of the book itself, it is difficult to tell exactly what is going on under the rather thick rouge applied by the press. It is presented, implicitly, as an offering in cultural studies. The book jacket states: "O'Farrell illuminates literature's relation to the body and the body's place in culture." D.A. Miller's blurb praises the "powerful sense that the skin is deeper, more densely lined with social text than we ever imagined." In fact, however, the book does very little to historicize the blush. With the exception of a few references to Darwin and Burgess, whom Darwin cites, O'Farrell does not engage any of the history of blushing in medical or scientific treatises of the nineteenth century, nor does she trace attitudes toward or perceptions of the body. And although the text is liberally graced with cultural references to our own period, there is little attempt to account for a trajectory of perception of the body between the early nineteenth century and our own time. Of the rich contributions of recent scholarship in the history of the body, O'Farrell mentions several — in a footnote. The footnote itself is gratuitious. She engages none of these works. In short, the book makes no contribution to the history of the body, despite the fact that the book's packaging implies that this is precisely wherein its contribution lies. All of which goes to show the way in which poor marketing can damage a book. Anyone expecting what the jacket promises is bound to be disappointed, perhaps irritated. However, the book itself generally promises — and delivers — something quite different, and what O'Farrell chooses to do is done with panache. The strength of this book is in its contribution to critical readings of the texts with which it is concerned. O'Farrell grounds her work in wide reading, both of the period's literature and of the scholarship. Here again, the Press has served her badly. Many of the most important parts of the book are in the extensive footnotes. There are one hundred forty-three pages of text in the body of the book and another thirty-four pages of footnotes in smaller print. Many of these notes go far beyond citing sources or pursuing digressions — often they are central to the statement of OTarreH's argument (e.g., note 16, p. 148 which articulates O'FarreH's understanding of the role of narrative representation and its relation to the body), and many more articulate interventions in the critical debates surrounding the novels, which are the most important contributions of the volume. Because this interesting material is removed from the body Reviews87 of the text, what remains is certainly a quicker read, but is often robbed of its due significance. O'FarreH's prose is lively and ebullient; her enthusiasm is infectious and her readings are attentive. Arguing that the "novel finds in the blush an implicit promise to render body and character legible" (4) because of the blush's involuntarity, O'Farrell sees the use of the blush by nineteenth century novelists to confirm, through the character's painful self-awareness, precisely a legitimation and confirmation of self and identity. O'Farrell acknowledges a debt to Foucault in her sense that blushing provides both a measure and a means of a self-discipline inscribed on the body, but wishes to recuperate a "Barthesian" pleasure in reading which exploits the pleasures "afforded by the fantasies of the legible body." This frame is interesting, and would be more useful with more elaboration. She concludes in part that "the blush in the English novel can . . . work the work of local resistance, embodying with a flush relations . . . that cross or evade the strictures or compulsions of class and gender and the marriage plot" (7). O'Farrell begins with her longest and richest section, on Jane Austen, arguing that the nineteenth century novel's use of the blush is...


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