Neither Surface nor Distant: Feminine Sociality in
Helen C. Black’s Notable Women Authors of the Day
This essay considers the scholarly reception and recovery of non-canonical women’s writing through a late-Victorian collection of interviews, Helen C. Black’s Notable Women Authors of the Day (1893). In their superficial focus on the authors’ appearances and social graces, Black’s interviews with novelists including Rhoda Broughton, Eliza Lynn Linton, and many names now unknown, are challenging to integrate into a (proto-)feminist history of women’s writing. Meanwhile, if critical forays into “surface reading” and “distant reading” remind us that spatial metaphors describe our interpretive practices, Black’s interviews cue a different spatiality altogether: they simulate a social exchange rather than a knowledge transfer, largely through Black’s use of the second-person tense, which allows her to mimic the hospitality of the authors who receive her. At the home of Mrs Hungerford, for example, Black writes, “Your hostess draws you in hastily out of the cold … a stream of ruddy lights … seems to welcome you, too” (Black 2011: 120). She formally positions her reader as the object of an attention more compatible with sociality than criticism. Black’s narratological perspective sets up a receptivity antithetical to canonical emphasis on originality and exclusiveness, which, given the exclusion of all of Black’s authors from the canon, seems only logical.
non-canonical writing; women authors; Helen C. Black; sociality; narratology.
Date of Acceptance: 23 December 2019
Date of Publication: 31 December 2019
Tabitha Sparks. 2019. “Neither Surface nor Distant: Feminine Sociality in Helen C. Black’s Notable Women Authors of the Day.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 1.2: 33-44. webaddress ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) https://victorianpopularfiction.org/publications/1200-2/victorian-popular-fictions-volume-1-issue-2-autumn-2019/victorian-popular-fictions-1-2-article-2/
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