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Title: Language shibboleths, conversational code breaking, and moral deviance : articulating immorality in the novels of Frances Burney
Author: Davidson, Christina
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2012
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Burney’s fictional speech has been recognized as idiosyncratic, subjective, sociolectic, and influential of later writers, but no focused study has been carried out to flesh out such features of her work. Further, Burney’s use of dialogue as an index of morality has not been subject to detailed analytical attention. It is timely therefore to carry out such a study, and logical to draw on the methods of modern linguistics, the frameworks and vocabulary of which have proved very useful, though such hybrid approaches are still relatively unexplored in literary criticism. My thesis addresses such omissions. This thesis examines decentralized voices in Burney’s fiction, which articulate alternative moral values to those endorsed by the main narrators and central protagonists. Examination establishes that Burney drew on various literary and extraliterary genres, actively selecting and shaping the language and speech patterns of her characters to create rapid inferential access to their subjective space. In doing so she interacted with disparate debates carried out over various discursive fields, tapping into her readers’ assumptions and knowledge of the real world, and inviting them to recover meanings from her represented speech. My study begins with two main sources of recuperation. One concerns contemporary debates about morality, carried out mainly in philosophical treatises, but disseminated in numerous texts, defining how to live a good life, and measuring potential effects of environment against innate qualities. Another source concerns language itself, which was a locus of contention during the eighteenth century, under pressure from various sources during the years when Burney published her novels: from those seeking to establish standard grammatical forms; from the challenges of shifting views on politeness and sensibility; from anxieties about class, gender, and nation; and from evolving concerns about affectation and deceit, as well as about any language which carried ‘palpable designs’. Engaging closely with the novels themselves, this thesis explores Burney’s use of dialogue as a platform, to engage with these kind of social, gender, and politeness issues. Further, this study reveals Burney’s ability to use conservative ideas about language in order to disrupt reader expectations, and to raise questions about the ownership of language styles and even whole genres, while proclaiming her own professionalism, and right of involvement in a literary and ethical life.
Supervisor: Bygrave, Stephen ; Dow, Gillian ; Stevenson, Patrick Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PR English literature