John M. Picker

in Victorian Soundscapes

Published in print October 2003 | ISBN: 9780195151916
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199787944 | DOI:

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This chapter argues that George Eliot recognized the advent of an age defined by new emphases on and understandings of the capacity for listening. This argument suggests that Victorian science — especially the work of Hermann von Helmholtz and his followers — at first gave substance and form to sounds that had once seemed indefinite and immaterial, and Victorian technology then fundamentally destabilized aural communication. Coming at the end of a series of works that in their breadth of perception still leave many readers in silent awe, the so-called post-realist Daniel Deronda confronts with singular tenacity the question of not only what the later Victorian novel might possibly have left to say, but also how it might say it. Eliot finds a partial answer in thematizing the exchange of speech and sound itself. Deronda acknowledges at once the frustrating challenges and newly charged power of contact in an era heralding amplified sounds, wired voices, and bottled talk.

Keywords: voice; Hermann von Helmholtz; Alexander Graham Bell; Sigmund Freud; talking cure; sympathetic vibration; telephone

Chapter.  12943 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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