"Delicious Plural": The Editorial "We" in Nineteenth-Century Fiction and Periodicals
Garcia-Fernandez, Erin Elizabeth
This dissertation pairs fictional texts with periodicals in four time periods that span the nineteenth century to compare the changing narrative perspectives encoded in the editorial “We,” or as Anthony Trollope called it, the “delicious plural.” Despite the seemingly straightforward function of the pronoun, and its consistent ability to influence readers, writers adapted the “We” to multifarious purposes throughout the century. Many Victorian writers wrote both periodical material and independent fiction, and their texts not only illustrate how formal and stylistic trends in periodicals influenced fiction writing (and vice versa) but also demonstrate how writers developed and expressed opinions about social topics in different literary arenas. The world of periodicals emboldened many writers to speak openly as critical readers, judging and esteeming current events and texts through the language of authority or the language of satire crafted to critique while it unsparingly entertained. These approaches to periodical engagement with the reader molded periodicals’ uses of “We” and “I” voices. In fiction, many authors brought a level of that same authoritative or satirical scope to their narratives. Yet the distinct realm of fiction was not predicated on critiquing, like periodicals, but on showing and exploring and entertaining through sustained plots, which in turn could alter the tone and agenda of “We” and “I” voices. This study explores how the “We” takes on distinct significance in different literary forms by analyzing the role of narration in novels that show evidence of influence from periodical conventions established to represent the self through narrative perspective in four time periods—Benjamin Disraeli’s Vivian Grey, from the late 1820s; William Makepeace Thackeray’s Pendennis, from the late 1840s; Anthony Trollope’s An Editor’s Tales and The Way We Live Now, from the late 1860s and the mid 1870s; and George Gissing’s New Grub Street, from the early 1890s. Their varying uses of “We” are symptomatic of changing cultural attitudes about such concepts as self-representation, stylistic trends (like realism), politics, commercialism, and generic categorization.