Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
The "dramatic monologue" is curiously named, given that poems of this genre often feature characters not only listening to the speakers but responding to them. While "silent auditors," as such inscribed characters are imperfectly called, are not a universal feature of the genre, their appearance is crucial when it occurs, as it turns monologue into dialogue. The scholarly attention given to such figures has focused almost exclusively upon dramatic monologues by Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, and other male poets and has consequently never illustrated how gender influences the attitudes toward and outcomes of communication as they play out in dramatic monologues. My dissertation thus explores how Victorian and modernist female poets of the dramatic monologue like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Augusta Webster, Amy Levy, and Charlotte Mew stage the relationships between the female speakers they animate and the silent auditors who listen to their desperate utterances. Given the historical tensions that surrounded any woman's speech, let alone marginalized women, the poets perform a remarkably empathetic act in embodying primarily female characters on the fringes of their social worlds--a runaway slave, a prostitute, and a modern-day Mary Magdalene, to name a few--but the dramatic monologues themselves end, overwhelmingly, in failures of communication that question the ability of dialogue to generate empathetic connections between individuals with radically different backgrounds. Silent auditors often bear the scholarly blame for such breakdowns, but I argue that the speakers reject their auditors at pivotal moments, ultimately participating in their own marginalization. The distrust these poems exhibit toward the efficacy of speaking to others, however, need not extend to the reader. Rather, the genre of the dramatic monologue offers the poets a way to sidestep dialogue altogether: by inducing the reader to inhabit the female speaker's first-person voice--the "mobile I," in Èmile Benveniste's terms--these dramatic monologues convey experience through role-play rather than speech, as speaker and reader momentarily collapse into one body and one voice. Such a move foregrounds sympathetic identification as a more powerful means of conveying experience than empathetic identification and the distance between bodies and voices it necessitates.
dramatic monologue, empathy, reader response, silent auditor, sympathy, women poets
vii, 205 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 197-205).
Copyright 2010 Laura E. S. Capp