Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The sense of personal identity is one that has developed historically with relation to language. Expression of self, in order to be accurate, must involve non-verbal articulation to some extent. Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy (1759 - 1767) and Frances Burney's Evelina (1783) are examplar texts in this kind of enquiry: both texts are very much concerned with the accuracy of self-expression and the relationship between self and other(s). Criticism, especially of Tristram Shandy, has tended to focus on his text as unique and incomparable; for this reason, I have chosen to examine it in comparison with another (perhaps more conventional - at least in style) text. Criticism of Burney's work has tended to focus on the comparison of the author (through reference to her diaries) with that of her fictional heroines; I will focus here on Evelina.
The limitations of linguistic expression are hampered by misinterpretation in these two texts; both seek to redress the limitations of language by expanding the possibilities of expression to include the variations of gesture, by imbuing words with feeling and by otherwise incorporating into the textual format of the novel a sense of identity -- not only the identity of the characters in the fiction but also, to some extent, of the actual readers who are required to participate in the fiction through the act of reading itself.
The notion of the division between mind/soul and body is reflected in the concern regarding the discrepancy between words and meaning. In this sense, creating a vocabulary of identity consists of assembling both words and gestures to reflect both mind and body more accurately: the ideal of the "proper balance" between reason and feeling in all areas of consciousness can thus be seen to mirror the ideal of identity itself, which is the marriage of complementary forces within an indivisible consciousness.
Beauchamp, Lissa, "The Vocabularies of Identity in Sterne's Tristram Shandy and Burney's Evelina" (1998). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5930.
McMaster University Library