- Tradition, Convergence, and Innovation:The Literary Legacy of Anne Thackeray Ritchie
"We think back through our mothers if we are women."
In Virginia Woolf's often-quoted pronouncement from A Room of One's Own, she thus comments on literary influence, suggesting that a woman writer's vocation may come from the outlook she shares with other women writers (Room 76).1 A decade earlier, in her centenary essay that reestablished George Eliot's reputation, Woolf cites a "a scrap of [Eliot's] talk" at one of her many Sunday gatherings that reaffirms a sense of tradition and influence: "We know by our own experience how very much others affect our lives, and we must remember that we in turn must have the same effect upon others" ("George Eliot" 231).2 These remarks about influence and women writers were originally recorded by Anne Thackeray Ritchie (1837-1919) and discussed with Leslie Stephen, her brother-in-law and the man who would later father Woolf.
Until the past three decades, Ritchie was viewed in her own father's shadow. As William Makepeace Thackeray's daughter, Ritchie was presumed by most twentieth-century critics to have built her readership largely on Thackeray's reputation, although close examination of her work invites a critical dialogue with both his subject matter and stylistic techniques. In fact, Thackeray once observed that he expected his daughter's literary contributions would rival his own.3 And Eliot, the giant in the Anglophone female literary tradition, confided to her publisher, John Blackwood, that she had no desire to read the work of her contemporaries, excepting "Miss Thackeray" and occasionally Anthony Trollope (Letters 418).4 Critics aware of the family ties between Ritchie and Woolf tend to focus on how Ritchie, the aunt-by-marriage, modeled the role of the working woman writer for Woolf; however, Ritchie's oeuvre also reveals her as a subtle precursor to key themes and some of the technical virtuosity for which Woolf would become famous.
I am interested in how Ritchie conjoins tradition with innovation—and particularly in how she draws on a range of narrative techniques for presenting states of consciousness. I see Ritchie as overcoming and bridging transitional moments through fictional consciousnesses that are at once constrained by boundaries and freed through stylistic techniques of her own creation. The technique that most innovatively acts as a connective and explores fresh ways [End Page 164] of expressing nuances is, of course, free indirect discourse.5 This article examines Ritchie's style of narrating consciousness—chiefly her use of free indirect discourse in two of her novels, Miss Angel (1875) and Mrs. Dymond (1885)—in order to demonstrate how her technical skills both draw on nineteenth-century methodologies and prefigure Modernist experimentation, particularly with stream of consciousness.
"How is it possible, [the reader] will ask, that a writer capable of such wit, such fantasy, marked by such a distinct and delightful personality, is not at least as famous as Mrs. Gaskell, or as popular as Anthony Trollope?" ("Lady Ritchie" 13). So asks Woolf in her 1919 obituary for her aunt—and Ritchie was about to fall into greater obscurity during the next half century, her works increasingly going out of print.6 Today, Ritchie is being recognized in her own right and treated as a distinctive stylist. Apart from three biographies in the last thirty years, she will be the subject of her own volume with Shuli Barzilai's forthcoming book, Anne Thackeray Ritchie's Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups: The Moral Realism of a Victorian Writer. Yet until recently, a Ritchie scholar could rightly claim that she was "understudied" (Mourão, "Delicate Balances" 73). This has been the case partly because the studies of the past three decades are scattered: they have not always appeared in publications regularly read by Victorianists, nor have critics been sufficiently aware of their contemporaries' arguments.
Investigation uncovers a substantial body of Ritchie criticism, and I will here provide an overview of those critiques to establish the groundwork for my own analysis and for future criticism. Moreover, I want to highlight the studies that have informed much of the critical work to date...