Hines, Emily Bartlett
This dissertation uses insights from narratology and cognitive literary studies to advance a new theory of reference in fictional texts. While reference to real-world entities is a ubiquitous feature of realist fiction, existing theories of fiction have rarely attempted to account for it. Focusing on the Victorian social-problem novel and its offshoots, I argue that engagement with real-world social and political issues is central to the meaning-making capacity of all narrative fiction. In the introductory chapter, I argue that readers easily make sense of “ontologically blended” texts that combine fictional and real-world entities. This feature of texts and of the reading process can be accounted for by the pre-existing theory of conceptual blending. In Chapter II, I demonstrate how conceptual blends are central to the success or failure of ostensibly realistic fiction. This chapter contrasts a critically praised realist text, Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton, with an example of failed reference, Edward Bulwar Lytton's Eugene Aram. Referring to existing entities is not enough to ensure that a text will be accepted as realistic or plausible. Chapter III examines the role of convention in fiction. While convention is often assumed to be realism's opposite, recent empirical research on the reading process suggests that some degree of convention is essential for any text to be perceived as referential. This chapter analyzes how two mid-Victorian political novels make use of, and implicitly comment on, existing conventions for representing politics. Finally, Chapter IV examines the function of detailed spatial description in the novel. Often denigrated as a site of pure reference, detailed spatial description is instead one of the novel's key avenues of meaning-making, allowing readers to construct what I term “schematic spatial analogies.” I analyze the unconventional use of description in Arnold Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale and D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow to show how description prompts readers to attach meaning to space.