The character of attention: Temporality and marginality in the Victorian novel
Jewusiak, Jacob M.
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"The Character of Attention: Temporality and Marginality in the Victorian Novel" analyzes how Victorian novelists manipulate temporality as a means of encouraging or discouraging attention to marginalized characters and social groups. Influential accounts of character by critics like Deidre Lynch and Alex Woloch tend to emphasize the role of space in narrative. "The Character of Attention" reclaims the central role that temporality played in nineteenth-century characterization, allowing us to see how those characters who do not have a "place" in the Victorian novel make ethical demands on the reader's attention through the way time shapes the form of the novel. I suggest that narrative devices such as suspense, dilatory side plots, and the representation of simultaneous events serve to adjust the attention of the reader away from the linear narrative of individual development and toward the synchronic awareness of marginalized others. The groups that I consider—vulnerable others including "redundant" women, elderly men, and the disenfranchised aggregate—aroused public sympathy and moral concern in the nineteenth century, yet often failed to occupy a central role in Victorian novel narratives. Excluded from the marriage plot and the bildungsroman , these marginal characters engage the reader's attention through the formal obstructions they pose to the linear unfolding of the meaningful plots of the nineteenth century. Surveying the mid-century work of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot, "The Character of Attention" provides a new account of the Victorian margins by arguing that the politics of character was theorized and contested at the level of temporal form.