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victorian review • Volume 34 Number 2 250 pose lost its power in both literary and reformist terms.The story here is not simply the emergence of a new, more self-consciously theoretical“realism” that improved upon the verisimilitude of the earlier novelists. It has also to do with the shifting meaning of“Anglo-America,” from a“willed affiliation” based on a shared set of reformist commitments and sustained by ties of trade, politics, and intermarriage to an often racialized (“Anglo-Saxon”) alliance rooted in imperial conquest. Claybaugh’s reading ofTwain’s own complex musings on imperialism, civilization, and violence provides a fascinating coda. Claybaugh convincingly demonstrates the coherence of an expansiveAngloAmerican literary marketplace and reform network in which, cultural nationalist squabbling aside, a“literature in English” thrived, but her work seems less clear on how national differences mattered. Such questions may be beyond the scope of her study, but her fresh and skilful handling of the material here suggests she would have interesting observations to make on the topic. The Novel of Purpose is a most welcome addition to nineteenth-century studies and should appeal to historians and literary scholars alike. Leslie Bu tler Dartmouth College • Sex,Lies and Autobiography:The Ethics of Confession by James O’Rourke; pp. xiv + 215. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2006. $35.00 cloth. In Sex, Lies andAutobiography, literary texts function as unique sites of ambiguity and contradiction.Within these indeterminate spaces, O’Rourke’s fascinating study identifies the“counterformations” (6) that shadow and fracture the legitimating narratives “that give our lives a sense of ethical coherence” (1). The“ethical aporia[s]” (7) that result are examined through a Janus-like close reading of six diverse first-person narratives: Rousseau’s Confessions, William Wordsworth’s Prelude, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Villette, andVladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. O’Rourke’s juxtaposition of conventional autobiographies with fictional texts provides this study with a useful reflexivity, offering nuanced critical readings that view the latter genre as a metafictional interrogation of its historical counterpart. At the heart of O’Rourke’s “ethical turn” is a call for active reader engagement . Using a Foucauldian model of local, contingent, and negotiable power, O’Rourke reimagines the writer and reader of autobiography as“exhibitionist” and “voyeur” (13) locked in a fraught bilateral relationship.The voyeur must read for and recognize the legitimate and shadow narratives within a text, confronting the ethical conflicts that are exposed while being aware that the 251 Reviews exhibitionist writer will seek to evade this surveillance. O’Rourke makes good use of this conceptual model throughout his study, and each chapter of the book illuminates further the potentialities and complexities of ethical readerly engagement.After first establishing how readership is involved in this shifting balance of power, O’Rourke demonstrates how the diverse and contradictory narratives within a single text impede a reader’s ability to make definite moral judgments. Insightful close readings of these ethical complexities follow, culminating in O’Rourke’s surprising but compelling assertion that inflexible moral judgments are not only impossible but undesirable. He favours instead a fluid textual engagement capable of “weighing out the exact distribution of power” (189) between narratives, a nuanced reading practice that facilitates greater ethical self-awareness. O’Rourke’s first two chapters map the working dynamics of his reading model.This dyadic structure is at its most interesting, however, when the bilateral arrangement between writer and reader breaks down and one side gains ascendancy. For example, Rousseau’s Confessions is bifurcated into“veritable” and “bizarre” (19) economies that engage with the material world and the sexual imagination, respectively.The first is marked by real consequences and guilt; the second is marked by an ambiguously innocuous shame. Rousseau is able to play with the voyeuristic power of the reader within the bizarre economy, raising expectations of sexual explicitness only to disappoint, performing a textual coitus interruptus that teases readers but leaves them unsatisfied. However, such “bonds[s] of intimacy” are “sever[ed]” (46) in the veritable economy where inescapable consequences and feelings of guilt curtail playfulness, breaking the “contract between Rousseau and his reader” (47). Power becomes unilateral as the reader...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 250-252
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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