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victorian review • Volume 33 Number 1 156 book offers a brilliant and radical reevaluation ofVictorian thought processes and will require students ofVictorian culture and historians of literary theory to reformulate their ideas about what theVictorians knew and thought about interpretation in all areas of their lives. I am convinced that others will read this book as I did—with excitement, great profit, and real delight. Cather in e R. H a r la n d Queen’s University • Voice and the Victorian Storyteller by Ivan Kreilkamp; pp. viii + 252. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. $85.00 cloth. What are we talking about when we talk about“voice”? Individual characters ’ voices represented on the page, as famously rendered by Sloppy in Our Mutual Friend when he does the Police in different ones? Narrative voice—that is, the persona that tells the story? The author’s voice—a writer’s distinctive or even inimitable style? Or plain speech—air projected through vocal cords? These, of course, are only several of the possibilities.The term“voice” has been summoned so often to convey so much abstract and material significance as to become at best ambiguous, at worst an empty metaphor.With good reason, Garrett Stewart deems voice“that shibboleth of the humanist literary tradition” (241). “Voice” calls out, so to speak, for analysis and clarification. When we come across it in criticism, we might be excused for getting suspicious. Ivan Kreilkamp’s contribution to the history of theVictorian voice suggests that the suspicion is justified.The story Kreilkamp tells concerns the figure of the storyteller, and his jumping-off point isWalter Benjamin’s mythologizing of the figure in his famous essay titled, in straightforward fashion,“The Storyteller.” Benjamin’s essay takes its place in a lineage of modern scholarship that, as explained by Kreilkamp, wistfully recounts the death of oral narrative, laid waste by the relentless rise of print media. In his challenge not only to Benjamin but also the critics who have written in his wake, Kreilkamp proposes that this figure of the storyteller (and Benjamin’s essay) is not nearly as straightforward as it might seem. For, Kreilkamp argues,“the much-lamented storyteller came into being as a fiction within the very medium that is accused of killing him off” (2). His introductory chapter pulls no punches, exposing what Kreilkamp sees as the nostalgic fetishization of voice and“communities of speech” in the works of such familiar critics as Raymond Williams and Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, among others. Refreshingly, Kreilkamp does not shy away from naming names and exposing the “narcissism and self-interest” behind common rhetorical gestures toward the recovery of muted voices in established 157 Reviews literary criticism (17). In its place, Kreilkamp writes,“the contemporary critical scene requires ‘more Derrida,’” more, that is, of an understanding of the ways l’ecriture represents lecture, and he offers his argument “not as a return to Derridean methodology, but as a culturally and historically grounded reconsideration of some of the issues his work brought into view” (14). Kreilkamp thus is especially interested in the status of the Victorian voice in and as print, as well as the kinds of complications writers faced as they confronted the representations and limitations of the spoken voice in an ever more massively productive print culture that would go on, in effect, to produce Benjamin. At the same time, Kreilkamp argues that the “endangered speaker” and other such conceptions of orality in more recent scholarship are inadequate and overly melodramatic. But the clever twist in Kreilkamp’s telling is that this kind of conception of voice has aVictorian origin. Kreilkamp locates its genesis in Carlyle, who imagines his writing as a“transcendent voice,” and his authorship as “a form of virtual speech” (20). Carlyle thus uses print to resurrect voice, albeit a disembodied, imaginary one. Kreilkamp goes on to show how theVictorian age follows Carlyle in being “phonographic,” and its novels a kind of “vocal technology” that performs “mystifications of orality” and makes “voice both troubling and an object of desire” (32–33, 29, 32). Voice and the Victorian Storyteller takes an intriguing detour with a chapter on The Ring and the Book, but Kreilkamp...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 156-158
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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