Irena Yamboliev, “Vernon Lee’s Novel Construction” (pp. 346–371)

This essay proposes that we understand Vernon Lee’s debut novel, Miss Brown (1884), as enacting a theory of literary language’s constructive potency that Lee develops in her critical essays. Those critical essays offer a vibrant nineteenth-century formalism, suggesting how fiction constructs and formalizes our realities, shaping readers’ mental and emotional circuits as it arranges phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. In Miss Brown, Lee crafts a prose style that meticulously tracks the protagonist’s formation—the “little dramas of expectation, fulfilment and disappointment,…of tensions and relaxations”—rendering that formation as a drama of sentence-level structuration. The resulting “representation” of Anne Brown is interrupted with adjective-rich stretches conspicuously geared toward defining, formulating, and theorizing what is being represented, essay-like. By treating the protagonist as an occasion to foreground syntax’s active building and abstracting, Miss Brown’s prose partakes in the kind of literary practice that has recently been described as nonmimetic realism—realism that does more than denote and refer and reflect what is, and instead performs, meditating on form’s process, to project and inform new potentialities.

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