- Consciousness in Modernist Fiction: A Stylistic Study by Violeta Sotirova
Narrative fragmentation and free indirect style are traditionally hailed as hallmarks of modernist literary technique and remain topics of particular interest within modernist studies. Violeta Sotirova’s Consciousness in Modernist Fiction proposes an in-depth stylistic exploration, providing a linguistic examination of the ways modernist writers engage the ideas of self and other. At the center of her project is dialogicity, the Baktinian idea of the continual multiplicity of communicative acts. For Sotirova, a systematic analysis of the linguistic and narrative techniques modernists used to present consciousness reveals evidence not of alienated, fragmented isolation but of juxtaposed, connected dialogicity. As she states, “the implications of such practices far exceed the attempt to simply juxtapose different characters’ viewpoints and thereby interpret the narrative world through different perspectives” (ix). In so doing, Sotirova argues for a modernist emphasis on dialogue and intersubjective connection rather than fragmentation and isolated interiority.
Chapter 1 provides a detailed survey of current conceptual trends in modernism, what Sotirova terms “the critical commonplace” that frames the history of modernist studies (8). She articulates a tension between what is traditionally viewed as high modernist ahistorical concern with form and an understanding of modernism as socially engaged and critically subversive—historical in the sense of holding up a mirror to the fragmented reality of modern life. Sotirova asserts that this binary is reductive and argues, “a systematic linguistic analysis of Modernist literary form can counter the reductions of both these arguments” (19). The next chapter looks at how modernism staged a [End Page 179] break from realism in the representation of character consciousness, demonstrating how modernist writers transformed free indirect style to foreground “certain linguistic markers of subjectivity at the expense of others” (36). Sotirova demonstrates historical shifts in form by comparing the opening passages of James Joyce’s Portrait and the beginning of Jane Austen’s Emma, noting the historical contexts and transformation of free indirect style.
The middle chapters are primarily case studies of three canonical modernist novelists—D. H. Lawrence, Joyce, and Virginia Woolf. Sotirova’s prior work on Lawrence in D.H. Lawrence and Narrative Viewpoint invigorates her close readings and textual examples. Sotirova links the technique of both Lawrence and Woolf in their rapidly shifting character viewpoints, noting how both authors create an overlap of consciousness in a dialogic space. Joyce offers a nuanced counterpoint to her argument, employing instead “linguistic ellipticalness” to connect his technique to spoken discourse, a move that “implicates the reader in the construction of meaning” (x–xi). According to Sotirova, these figures were selected in order to “allow claims made about literary style in the Modernist period as a whole to be tested by the evidence of language conceived as narrative practice” (53).
Close stylistic readings, buoyed by narratology and linguistics, demonstrate how the viewpoints of characters in these various works are in repeated juxtaposition as opposed to sequential isolation. This observation has the potential to shift the discourse surrounding modernist narrative techniques precisely because, while many critics make statements about the implications of modernist technique, few systematically ground these claims in specific linguistic analysis. As Sotirova herself points out, “while critics are very keen to point to a revolution in form, there are very few instances of actual thorough engagement with specific linguistic structures” (9). Stream of consciousness, often hailed as the modernist technique par excellence, is unpacked at the linguistic level in a thorough and thought provoking way to reveal specific distinctions between free indirect style, interior monologue, and quoted thought. The author’s use of wide-ranging examples, including Hemingway, Mansfield, and other writers in addition to the three main novelists, works to demonstrate dialogicity as a viable interpretation of modernist technique. This acuity for close reading, drawing out the linguistic nuance occurring on the sentence level (and sometimes from word to word), builds by the end of the book into a compelling and convincing case. The final chapter widens the scope and stakes of her argument, connecting the dialogic techniques of these writers to European...