Skip to main content
Late-Victorian Novels, Microsociology, and Bad Dialogue
  • Amy Wong, Dominican University of California
Document Type
Publication Date
Literature and Languages

This essay argues that a separation between dialogue and talk has been enforced since the rejection of mimetic realism in the late nineteenth-century art of fiction debates. Both the institutionalization of formalist methods and poststructuralism since Derrida have resulted, moreover, in continued suspicion about ontological claims made about any category of "orality." Yet what has been lost in the name of poststructuralist sophistication is an appreciation of talk as an embodied, relational, and sociologically mediated form. This essay contends that revisiting dialogue with a view toward such elements—from gestures and other physiological productions to "invisible" social dynamics—unfolds ethical dimensions of aesthetic judgment that endure into the present. Through examining two late Victorian novels specifically panned for their attempts to include talk's embodied situatedness into dialogue—George Meredith's One of Our Conquerors (1891) and Joseph Conrad and Ford Madox Ford's The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story (1901)—this essay motivates a prior literary historical moment (before dialogue's definitive separation from talk) to consider a continuing verbal bias in our own critical and creative practices. This essay speculates that an embarrassment about embodied procedures continues to underlie our sense of dialogue as a less sophisticated narratological category, and that "best practices" in creative writing problematically erase the body when mandating that dialogue must show interiority or further novelistic action. Ultimately, unlike "orality," talk compels a confrontation with dialogue that brings attention to historical and present ways in which the notion of speech is inseparable from the power dynamics of embodied relation.

Citation Information
Amy Wong. "Late-Victorian Novels, Microsociology, and Bad Dialogue" Narrative Vol. 27 Iss. 2 (2019) p. 184 - 202 ISSN: 1063-3685
Available at: