Bundles, trunks, magazines: storage, a perspectival description, and the generation of narrative.
The idea of home as the primary interior space is given a history by Walter Benjamin and Leo Spitzer. Separated by only a few years, their accounts specify that inside space only becomes an "interior" as a result of social and economic forces of modernization, industrialization, and urbanization. In "Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century," Benjamin writes that under Louis Philippe, "for the private individual, places of dwelling are for the first time opposed to places of work. The former come to constitute the interior" (19). Human beings are transformed into "private individual[s]" when "places of dwelling" come to be seen as "interiors," spaces defined in opposition to other, public spaces, such as places of work and of economic exchange. According to Benjamin, the interior enables a retreat from the social world, sustaining its inhabitants' fantasy of a space free from the demands of a social reality: "the private individual, who in the office has to deal with realities, needs the domestic interior to sustain him in his illusions" (19). As wage-labor comes to take place primarily outside the home, the domestic interior provides an "asylum" (19) from commodification. The bourgeois man does not feel at home in the broader world but can create a sheltering universe in the domestic home, which protects and sustains the fiction of a private, self-determining identity.
Leo Spitzer, writing in 1942, further specifies that the nineteenth century sees the development of the domestic interior as a compensatory formation for the loss of a sense of being at home in the broader world: "the world-embracing, metaphysical cupola that once enfolded mankind has disappeared, and man is left to rattle around in an infinite universe" (195). In Spitzer's account, the domestic space of an individual becomes a milieu, or personality-sustaining environment, after the loss of a sense that the universe provides an enveloping environment for individuals. Home is the "interior" once the world becomes "exterior." Furthermore, Spitzer specifies that these interiors must be furnished with objects in order to successfully shelter the individual. The cozy home is not an empty space but rather, according to Spitzer, "the milieu of an individual is 'full of a number of things' ... [and] the individual thinks of himself ... as surrounded by things, familiar things--each of which goes to make up the final quality of his particular milieu, and on each of which he leaves some imprint of himself' (195). The domestic interior comprises a set of objects that coalesce into an ensemble in which the human individual is ensconced and by which he is mirrored. The inhabitant of such a milieu is Benjamin's "etui mensch," the man defined, as instruments are, by being cushioned in a velvet-lined case, or etui, that allows no excess space, no rattling around. (1) The interior functions as a case when it stills the motion of its contents, both human and nonhuman.
Aesthetic depictions of this kind of interior space appear with increasing frequency in the nineteenth century. Spitzer notes that a key visual genre for representing the filled-in nature of the domestic milieu is the painting of a domestic scene, "interieurs depicting the coziness and comfort of well-furnished human dwellings" (195). In these domestic scenes, comfort is signified via filled-in spaces housing objects on a human scale and suggesting human uses. In literary representations--as critics going back to Erich Auerbach's Mimesis have noted--the realist novel develops most fully a practice for registering the function of interior space as object-filled milieu for human characters. In his reading of Balzac's Pere Goriot, Auerbach points out that the dining-room of Madame Vauquer's house is described before its inhabitant is introduced, and this ordering cements the function of space to accommodate character: "the portrait of the pension-mistress Madame Vauquer ... is preceded by a very detailed description of the quartier in which the pension is located, of the house itself, of the two rooms on the ground floor" (Auerbach 468). The description proceeds from outside to inside and from larger spaces to the smaller spaces they contain as well as the objects they hold. The effect of nesting dolls (neighborhood--house--room--character) emphasizes placement and framing: we enter via "a French window to the first room on the ground floor," and through "another door ... into the dining-room," whose furniture is described before Madame Vauquer appears, preceded by her cat (Balzac 4). The human character occupies the representationally privileged center of this space, which both ensconces and mirrors her; we may think here of the etymological root of the English word "setting"--the setting of a jewel in a piece of jewelry. (2)
The mimetic process whereby a space and the objects it contains are represented as a unified interior that houses humans has been described by F. K. Stanzel as "perspectivization," on analogy with the process whereby painting simulates depth on a two-dimensional surface (113). An author depicts space perspectivally if the reader can "draw a sketch of the room described in fiction" based on its textual description (Stanzel 120). And the reader can mentally recreate the space if the text goes beyond naming the objects in it to specify where and how objects are placed in relation to one another, which orients the reader in relation to a scene. This is how the description of Madame Vauquer's house works: "Access is given by a French window to the first room on the ground floor, a sitting-room which looks out upon the street through the two barred windows already mentioned. Another door opens out of it into the dining-room, which is separated from the kitchen by the well of the staircase, the steps being constructed partly of wood, partly of tiles" (Balzac 5). The windows give "access" to the sitting-room, which opens out to the dining-room, and further beyond to the staircase well and kitchen. The movement through space culminates in the appearance of the old woman: "The apartment is in all its glory at seven o'clock in the morning, when Mme. Vauquer's cat appears, announcing the near approach of its mistress, and jumps on the sideboards to sniff at the milk in the bowls, each protected by a plate" (5). Incidentally, at this point, the tracking eye of the narration is accentuated by the cat's 'perspective,' as the sideboards, the milk bowls sitting on them, and the plates covering the bowls appear to the reader as the cat moves over them. Perspectivalism thus emphasizes not individual objects but their relationships with each other in space, putting the whole before its parts. And such a representational method allows prose fiction to contribute to the production of interiors as diagnosed by Benjamin, Spitzer, and Bachelard.
However, for Stanzel, interior space is not always represented perspectivally. As he notes, concurring with Auerbach, perspectivalism comes to the fore with the mid-nineteenth-century realist novel, with Balzac and Flaubert in French and not until Henry James in English. Another mode altogether dominates the presentation of interior space in earlier prose fiction, an option that Stanzel calls "aperspectivism." In this case, narration simply names the space and inventories the objects in it, instead of specifying how they are organized: in aperspectival description, "not a single word is said about the location of [a] piece of furniture ... The reader is given a rather complete inventory of the furnishings of the room, but no reference is made to their arrangement" (Stanzel 121). In effect, the aperspectival depiction of space treats interior space as a container--which aggregates objects without assigning them to particular places--replacing description into a list, an "inventory" of the contents of that space.
In opposing it to aperspectivism, Stanzel reveals the contingency of the perspectival approach, and indeed he writes that "the earlier novel exhibits a pronounced preference for an aperspectival narrative style," with perspectivism being a relatively late-developing feature of European prose fiction (122). While the critics mentioned above insightfully document the flowering of the perspectival mode of the realist novel, less work has been done to document the older, aperspectival strategies for depicting interior space in early fiction. In this essay, I want to document this earlier history while taking Stanzel's binary a step further. I posit that the aperspectival option--space as a container with an inventory of the objects it in--is also used in prose fiction to depict literal containers, spaces of storage rather than spaces of habitation. These spaces, ranging from pockets and portable bundles to trunks and warehouses, have some things in common with spaces of habitation; they help to figure their human owner just as milieu does, and their representation takes the place of the description of setting that occurs in later fiction. But they also differ in some keys ways from spaces of dwelling--first of all, because their form of representation is the list rather than the spatialized description. A second difference is that these portable spaces of storage enable their human owners' mobility and action in the narrative, rather than sheltering them as domestic spaces do.
In what follows, I will trace an alternative practice to the perspectivalized description of interior spaces that dominates the nineteenth-century realist novel. I will focus on English fiction of the first half of the eighteenth-century, where, as Stanzel predicts, we do not encounter the perspectival mode. Instead, what we find in its place are inventories of the contents of magazines, trunks, and bundles belonging to characters who are not rooted in static domestic worlds. In the predomestic novel of the first half of the eighteenth century, the bundle is the location of enumerated objects ready for manipulation, rather than arranged in a space that contains both people and objects, like a domestic setting. In the container, objects are at hand, ready for use, but not yet given their function. They occupy an abstract space--which, as I will show, has affinities with the visual modes of still life and diagram--that is not also a dwelling for human beings. When it appears in novels, the bundle provides an alternate location to the ordered, static arrangement implied by a house, a room, a display--a location that aligns the container with narrative rather than with description.
The Poetics of Storage
If we look for movable goods in English fiction of the early eighteenth century, we are likely to find them in places of storage. In Penelope Aubin's The Life of Charlotta du Pont (1723), a young woman leaves her father's house to seek out the lover who has abandoned her. The narration specifies she is "carrying a Bundle" into which she packs up her "Clothes, and what Rings and other things she had of value" (9). Daniel Defoe's orphaned and homeless protagonist Colonel Jack carries his stolen coins in his hand until he buys a pair of breeches that the saleswoman specifies "have excellent good Pockets, and a little Fob to put your Gold in, or your Watch in, when you get it" (History 27). Bundles and pockets store objects with an eye to later use and, as in the case of Jack's pockets, even suggest objects that may be stored in them in the future. The container prepares objects for manipulation, making them available to be taken up by the plot, rather than arranging them in a space that serves as a setting for human characters, as spaces of dwelling do.
If spaces of storage serve a different function from spaces of habitation in the novels in which they both appear, the former are also depicted in formally distinct ways. Because of their structure, spaces of storage are always depicted aperspectivally, via an inventory of their contents, rather than via a spatialized description. Therefore, the list is the privileged form for registering the contents of storage spaces, acting as the counterpart to description in the novels in which it appears. As Cynthia Wall has noted, eighteenth-century novels leave their physical worlds largely unspecified, as a practice of description has not yet solidified for early fiction writers. (3) However, lists of objects packed in bundles, pockets, trunks and cargo ships are an exception to this rule of non-representation of the material world, creating a localized realism. That is, while the rest of the narration is sparse in visualizing description, the container delimits a space in which objects are scrupulously accounted for. For example, the "small Fardel" stolen by a pair of thieves in Daniel Defoe's Memoirs of a Cavalier (1720) has its contents itemized in the form of a list: "we opened it and found 'twas a Bundle of some Linen, 13 or 14 Pieces of Plate, and in a Small Cup three Rings, a fine Necklace of Pearl, and the Value of 100 Rix-dollars in Money" (Memoirs 75). While the world of Defoe's novels is often broad and empty, the enclosed interior space of this bundle encourages a detailed and complete inventory of the material objects it contains.
Similarly, when Defoe's Moll Flanders opens a bundle she has stolen from a customer in an apothecary, the narrative itemizes its contents: "when I came to open it I found there was a suit of childbed-linen in it, very good and almost new, the lace very fine; there was a silver porringer of a pint, a small silver mug and six spoons, with some other linen, a good smock, and three silk handkerchiefs, and in the mug, wrapped up in a paper, 18s 6d in money" (255). This passage conforms to Stanzel's rules for aperspectival depiction of an interior space: it names a "clearly limited interior" (Stanzel 117) and gives a "more or less complete inventory of the objects in" it (Stanzel 120). The construction "there was" simply attaches all the stolen goods to the package, emphasizing containment rather than positioning. All that matters for spaces of storage is that things are located inside them; the coins are "in the mug, wrapped up in paper."
As Robert Belknap observes, the list's form is already that of "a receptacle to hold a set of items," so its flexible, minimally organizing form is eminently suited to represent a literal receptacle (30). While Stanzel notes that the aperspectival account disallows the reader to imagine the placements of the objects in the interior space, in the case of the container, there is no arrangement to imagine, because by its nature the bundle merely aggregates its contents rather than arranging them. We can think of the difference between storage space and space of habitation as a place for objects alone in the first case and a place that humans and objects co-inhabit in the second case. Spaces of storage are accessed by opening them and removing the objects in them for inventory, rather than entering the space in order to perform a visual survey of their location.
Whereas the visual analogue of perspectival description is the painting of a domestic scene, the visual genre that best resembles the list of stored objects is the still life. Like the list, the still life presents a space inhabited by objects alone, from which human beings are absent. The conventional still life arranges several objects on a surface such as a table with an undefined background, producing a scene of little depth, where all is foreground and perspective does not operate as a dominant organizing principle. Objects are pushed forward toward the viewer rather than receding toward a vanishing point. Art historian Norman Bryson contrasts the logic of still life to that of perspectival painting as initiated by Leon Battista Alberti in the fifteenth century:
Still life is in a sense the great anti-Albertian genre. What it opposes is the idea of the canvas as a window on the world, leading to a distant view.... Instead of plunging vistas, arcades, horizons, and the sovereign prospect of the eye, it proposes a much closer space, centered on the body. Hence one of the technical curiosities of the genre, its disinclination to portray the world beyond the far edge of the table.... That further zone beyond the table's edge must be suppressed if still life is to create its principal spatial value: nearness. (Bryson 71)
Bryson's distinction between "the sovereign prospect of the eye" and the "closer space" of still life calls up Stanzel's distinction between perspectivism and aperspectivism. The aperspectival space of the container refuses to give vision the dominant role. To this Bryson adds the possibility that when we engage with space aperspectivally, we do so via a different sense--the tactile one. This is the mode taken up by lists that itemize the contents of storage spaces: the objects in these lists exist at hand, available for handling. Although viewers are not asked to literally touch the objects in still-life paintings, the placement of objects close to in the foreground of paintings, sometimes extending over the edge of tables leads Bryson to call the space of still life a "'haptic' space" (72). This proximate space is outlined by the motions of the human body and particularly the hand--taking hold of, weighing, removing.
Haptic space--which is another way to describe aperspectivism--dominates novelistic accounts of bundles and other small containers. Samuel Richardson's Pamela enumerates her bundled possessions in preparation for leaving her mistress's house upon the death of the latter. Pamela brings her possessions to the housekeeper for display, grouped into three "parcels" depending on their provenance: from the deceased mistress, from Mr. B, and those purchased by Pamela herself (Richardson 75). "I will spread it all abroad," Pamela says, handling the contents of each bundle, and she goes on to "describe" the clothing and linen as she removes them: "first, here is a calico nightgown ... then there is a quilted calamanco coat, and a pair of stockings I bought of the pedlar, and my straw-hat with blue strings; and a remnant of Scots cloth" (Richardson 76-77). The listing of the objects coincides with their removal from the bundles, and the list produces the haptic space of holding each object up for inspection--"spreading] it all abroad." Each of the objects occupies the foreground of the scene as it is being named. The objects in Pamela's bundle fill the characters'--and the reader's--visual field in a narrowly-framed scene that brings objects not just close enough to be seen but to be handled.
The space produced by objects that have been just taken out of a container is an abstract, blank space that does not produce relationships between the objects contained in it. The objects do not coalesce into a scene. As such, this space calls up other visual modes important in the eighteenth century, among them the diagram and the commercial trade card, an early form of advertising. John Bender and Michael Marrinan describe the diagrams of tools and implements in Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopedia as a series "of floating world[s]" (23). The Encyclopedia's illustrations are two-part: in the top half, objects and persons coalesce into scenes that depict the performance of various trades, such as bread baking or fishing, whereas the bottom half is taken up by images of the individual objects used to perform the actions. Bender and Marrinan call the images in the bottom half "diagrams," as opposed to scenes, and note how objects are "ranged upon a flat planar surface" and "are isolated spatially and functionally from one another" (21). The pictured objects float in the white space, do not project consistent shadows, and are not all the same scale: smaller objects are presented as larger-than-life to show detail, and larger objects are miniaturized to fit the space. These features prevent the objects from coalescing into a scene; the space on which they appear is not even background: "the white of the page is neither a void nor a space but simply a material whiteness" (23). The objects remain isolated from each other, rather than coalescing into a coherent ensemble, a setting.
Not only the diagram but other important early-modern and eighteenth-century modes aggregate objects in this way. Michael McKeon has noted that--as opposed to the modern museum whose goal is to classify and rationalize its collections of objects--early modern cabinets of curiosities maintained the "singularity" of the objects they collected, which was "reinforced by the arbitrariness of their arrangement" (218). The difference between the cabinet of curiosities and the museum is that between the paratactic, loose form of the list and the more complex and specific structure of the spatialized description. A similar representational logic characterizes eighteenth-century trade cards, loose engraved sheets that advertise the location of and wares sold by London shops. (4)
Usually outlined by an ornate frame, the space of the trade card amasses images of a variety of objects without joining them into a scene. That is, unlike modern catalog advertising, which creates fictionalized interiors where objects for sale coalesce into a whole via interior design, an eighteenth-century furniture-warehouse trade card simply accumulates in its blank space a bed, a settee, a cabinet, and a writing desk. (5) In addition to the visual enumeration, some trade cards also include lists of wares for sale, as in the 1762 trade card of London merchant H. Pugh, which reads, "H. Pugh in Raquett Court, Fleet Street, London. Makes and Sells all Sorts of Curiosities in Gold, Silver, Amber and Tortoise-Shell, Viz. Instrument Cases, Toothpick Cases, Snuff Boxes, Essence Bottles, all Sorts of Canes, Shagreen Pocket Books" ("H. Pugh"). Such a list inventories the contents of a warehouse, treating the shop as a storage space. Trade cards and diagrams--like still life--are important because they help us conceptualize space in a different mode, perceived via touch rather than visual mastery, housing objects for purposes of storage rather than arranging them into settings.
However, because the abstract space of the diagram or the list fails to produce a coherent whole out of the objects it records, its flexibility instead enables a viewer to imagine the uses to which the objects might be put. When such spaces of storage appear in prose fiction, the objects they contain do not contribute to creating setting, making them available for other narrative functions. Essentially, stored objects are oriented towards the future, contributing to the narrative's temporal rather than spatial dimension. In the examples of bundled objects I have mentioned from early eighteenth-century fiction, the stored objects are represented with an eye to how they will equip the protagonist in later scenes: Aubin's heroine takes with her valuable goods that will support her flight, and Colonel Jack's surplus coins, stored in his pockets, mark his bid for survival. Stored objects invoke the survival of the protagonist and the continuation of his or her story.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719). The lone survivor of a shipwreck, Crusoe first rescues supplies from the trunks and chests of the other sailors on board. Once he brings them to shore, he stores them in "a general Magazine of all necessary things" (Robinson 51). This space is least like the portable, human-sized containers we have examined, but it is still aligned with storage rather than with habitation, and with aperspectival rather than perspectival space. After enumerating the goods and instruments Crusoe salvages from the shipwreck, Defoe writes:
But when I had wrought out some Boards ... I made large Shelves of the Breadth of a Foot and a Half one over another, all along the Side of my Cave, to lay all my Tools, Nails, and Iron-work, and in a Word, to separate every thing at large in their Places, that I might come easily at them; I knock'd Pieces into the Wall of the Rock to hang my Guns and all things that would hang up.
So that had my Cave been to be seen, it look'd like a general Magazine of all necessary things, and I had every thing so ready at my Hand, that it was a great Pleasure to me to see all my Goods in such Order, and especially to find my Stock of all Necessaries so great.
Although Crusoe's "Magazine" arranges its contents in specific places, it is built with an eye to keeping things "at Hand" for future use, so that he "might come easily at them." Like the objects in diagrams, these tools suggest the uses to which they might be put. Indeed, the objects enable narrative possibilities that the plot then takes up: Crusoe plants grain because he has a bag of birdseed, shoots animals and eventually enslaves Friday because he owns guns, and can engage in religious contemplation because of the Bible he rescues from the ship. In other words, the objects contained in this aperspectival space do not create a character-supporting setting, extending character in space, but rather enable the continuing adventures of the protagonist, extending his existence in time. The objects do not cause these events, but they suggest and make them possible.
Contrast Crusoe's account of the warehouse of useful objects with a characteristic perspectival description that serves to extend character in space rather than time: in Charles Maturin's Gothic novel Melmoth the Wonderer (1820), the inset tale recounted by the Spaniard Alonzo Moncada features a perspectivized description of an interior space, a house into which Monyada takes shelter while fleeing from persecutors:
In the centre of the room stood a table covered with black cloth; it supported an iron lamp of an antique and singular form, by whose light I had been directed, and was now enabled to descry furniture that appeared sufficiently extraordinary. There were, amid maps and globes, several instruments, of which my ignorance did not permit me then to know the use ... there was an electrifying machine, and a curious model of a rack in ivory; there were a few books, but several scrolls of parchment, inscribed with large characters in red and ochre-coloured ink; and around the room were placed four skeletons, not in cases but in a kind of upright coffin.... Interspersed between them were the stuffed figures of animals I knew not then the names of,--an alligator,--some gigantic bones ... and antlers. Then I saw figures smaller, but not less horrible.... (Maturin 262-3)
Prepositional phrases accompany many of the antiquities described ("amid," "in the centre of," "around the room," "interspersed between them") so that the objects are situated in space relative to other objects, forming a three-dimensional perspectival scene. Each item leads the viewer's eye to the object closest to it and creates an ensemble with depth. The light sources add to the effect of guiding one's vision--"by whose light I had been directed, and was now enabled to descry"--and verbs of perception organize the entire scene.
As in the description of Madame Vauquer's dining-room in Balzac's novel, here too the introduction of the character who inhabits this space immediately follows the description of the space. The scholar Adonijah seems to emerge from the setting: "At the end of the table sat an old man, wrapped in a long robe; his head was covered with a black velvet cap, with a broad border of furs, his spectacles were of such a size as almost to hide his face, and he turned over some scrolls of parchment with an anxious and trembling hand" (Maturin 263). We move very gradually from static, inanimate details and passive constructions ("wrapped in a long robe," "covered with a black velvet cap") to the human character and to action. So the perspectival description from the Gothic novel is not just formally different in its use of spatial prepositions, but it also performs a different function in the narrative. It contributes metonymically to the characterization of Adonijah so that he is one of a kind with the space that surrounds him.
Looking back on nineteenth-century fiction from the perspective of the New Novel, Alain Robbe-Grillet writes of this kind of setting that it doubles or mirrors the character it ensconces and that, as such, it is a kind of supplement to the narrative. Robbe-Grillet is writing about the realist novel, but already the Gothic such as Maturin's features this kind of setting:
[realist] setting was already the image of man: each of the walls or the furnishings of the house represented a double of the person who inhabited it--rich or poor, severe or vainglorious--and was in addition subject to the same destiny, to the same fatality. The reader overly concerned to know the story could even consider himself justified in skipping the descriptions: they involved only a frame, which moreover happened to have a meaning identical to that of the picture it was to contain. (Robbe-Grillet 146-47)
While the setting that, by framing character, expands his or her presence in space, storage space like Crusoe's magazine extends the character forward in time, containing and pointing toward possibilities that the narrative might take up. The ur-container of this sort is Noah's Ark, a space of storage that attempts to contain just enough material reality to re-populate a world, therefore similarly looking forward to and generating future action.
The assumption that description is narrative's "supplement," slowing down or distracting narrative progression, has been long-lived, (6) but recently critics such as Mieke Bal have begun to question it. Bal writes that "description is accused of interrupting the flow of narrative, of stopping time in its tracks" (571), and the descriptions she includes in this category include scene-framing depictions of space such as the ones from Maturin or from Balzac. Bal reinterprets the relationship that subordinates description to narrative, offering instead "a view of narrative generated by a descriptive motor rather than the other way around" (572). On this new reading, description is something that precedes action as a kind of pre-narrative material plenitude, from which plots can take their material constituents. The aperspectival descriptions of the contents of storage spaces that I have been collecting here support this view of description as generative. Most clearly, Pamela's three bundles furnish Richardson's novel with narrative possibilities. Itemized early in the novel, like a forking of three roads, each of the three bundles contains clothing appropriate to a specific role and story line that Pamela's narrative might subsequently take up: the first bundle contains the clothes of a domestic "lady's maid," the second the clothes--gifted to her by Mr. B--of an upper-class woman, and the third the workwoman's clothes that she would wear if she returned to her parents' house (Richardson 76-77).
Containers and the Narrative of Transience
Having noted the formal elements of aperspectival descriptions of spaces of storage, I would like to examine what types of characters and what types of plots are figured via spaces of storage in the early English novel. The container is a portable space, not a static domestic space of habitation, and it appears in stories of peripatetic protagonists whose narratives are marked by transience. The bundle offers a useful way to trace the shift from the medieval romance, where the portable container is the bottomless purse of the noble adventurer, to the picaresque, where, as in Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) and Don Quixote (1605), bundles have next to nothing in them. (7) For example, when asked how he would pay for his lodgings, Don Quixote, educated in the conventions of romance but unaware he does not inhabit one,
answered that he didn't have a cent, since in none of the chivalric tales he'd read was there any mention of knights errant carrying money. The innkeeper told him that on this matter he was quite mistaken, because although it was true that the stories omitted such details ... this was no reason to think knights errant didn't need money. In fact, it seemed to him absolutely definite and well-established that every single knight errant, in all the thoroughly attested books which were so full of knights, carried with him an overflowing purse, to take care of any emergency, just as each of them carried shirts and a little pouch full of ointments, so they could treat whatever wounds they received. (Cervantes 18)
This exchange is in effect a discussion of literary convention: the romance takes for granted that its heroes are materially supplied, but the more modern picaresque must be more precise with its representation as its heroes are more constrained by material scarcity. As in eighteenth-century novels about "unsettled" (Fumerton 5) protagonists by Defoe, Aubin, and Richardson, the contents of purses in the picaresque have to be itemized precisely because they are finite, rather than always "overflowing" as in the romance. These early novels enumerate a bundle's contents especially when these objects constitute the entirety of an individual's possessions, as is the case for Pamela and her three bundles or for Defoe's orphan protagonists.
For Defoe's Colonel Jack and his fellow street children, the profits of theft are the first surplus property they have owned and so are easily itemized: asked to show what he has stolen, Jack's friend "pulls out his little Hand almost full of Money," which the narration specifies adds up to seven shillings and six pence, along with some small goods, "which was in short an Estate to him, that never had, as I said of myself, a Shilling together in his Life" (History 14-15). Jack draws our attention to an important insight. For peripatetic characters such as these, the contents of a pocket, hand, or bundle take the place of an "Estate." Indeed, as Amanda Vickery notes in her history of eighteenth-century interiors, large numbers of the working poor and the destitute could claim no personal space that was exclusively theirs. Instead of being "etui menschen," sheltered by the privacy of cozy interiors, such individuals lived in shared, rented lodgings and prized the possession of a trunk, chest or closet that could be closed with a lock and was wholly their own. Vickery writes, "the average London servant had no settled space to call his own, let alone a place of withdrawal or solitude. However, almost all had a locking box .... If you were a mobile, single worker, the locking box was the only sure protection of the things of your own" (Vickery 38). Thus, whereas for Bachelard the domestic interior figures the interiority of a unitary, stable subject, modeled on the architectural space of the home, the locked but portable space of storage helps to figure an "unsettled subjectivity," in Patricia Fumerton's terms (5), constituted by the temporary, fluid aggregation of singular items into a space of storage. For Fumerton, this kind of transient subjectivity better describes the experience of the early-modern underclass.
Lists of objects continue to appear in nineteenth-century realist novels, but what fades away is the generative function of objects found in containers. Indeed, Francesco Orlando has argued that when lists of physical objects appear in modern literature, they most frequently name "decayed and obsolete"--non-functional, worn out, discarded--objects (2). In Jane Austen's Emma, Harriet Smith, Emma's young protegee, shares with the latter her box of "Most precious treasures." This container is the atavistic manifestation of the storage space from eighteenth-century fiction and fits the schema described by Orlando. The box turns out to hold items discarded by Harriet's once desired suitor, Mr. Elton: the remainder of a piece of "court plaister" and "the end of an old pencil" (Austen 338-39). These objects, far from generating narrative possibility for their owner, in fact mark a now-aborted and very ineffectual plot, the match between Harriet and Mr. Elton that Emma desired. But even in this case, the character who is associated with a container is the person who is "unsettled," in Fumerton's and Vickery's terms: Harriet is an orphan, with no claim to a home or domestic stability of her own. She exists in a domestic novel, but is not entirely of it until very late in the narrative, upon her marriage to Robert Martin.
Before objects coalesced into ensembles that housed human characters in the cluttered domestic settings of nineteenth-century fiction, movable goods converged into mobile, provisional formations that made these objects available for use. In other words, before there was a house of fiction, there was a bundle of narrative. The space of storage allows narrative to quarantine material detail to a delimited, enclosed space. The list's function of holding objects in reserve for future use also makes it participate in a pre-narrative enumeration of narrative possibilities rather than interrupting narrative with the description of a potentially limitless material reality. (8) The bundle, that is, both renders objects individually visible--bringing them to the foreground--and supplies the narrative with material coordinates. Rather than merely belonging to setting, in the picaresque and early novel tradition lists of objects introduce rival agents to human characters, which provide motives for action and propel the plot forward. At this stage, descriptions constitute a foreground rather than a background to the plot.
George Mason University
(1) In "Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century," Benjamin writes, "the interior is not just the universe of the private individual; it is also his etui" (20).
(2) See "setting, nl." def. 6a. and 6b. OED Online. Dec 2013. Web. 20 Feb 2014.
(3) Wall writes, "domestic interiors--the furniture and fabric and object details of particularized rooms as part of ordinary life and action--rarely appear in the high-level hierarchies of poetry or prose until later in the eighteenth-century, but then dominate nineteenth-century novels and poetry" (10).
(4) See A Nation of Shopkeepers: Trade Ephemera from 1654 to the 1860s in the John Johnson Collection. Oxford: U of Oxford P, 2001.
(5) Owen & Cox trade card, c. 1790-96.
(6) See the classic account by Georg Lukacs in "Narrate or Describe?," where Tolstoy's description of a horse race is praised for being subordinated to the plot in a way that Zola's own description of a race is not.
(7) For a reading of the Spanish picaresque as characterized by empty rooms, empty purses, and empty bellies, see Giancarlo Maiorino (36-49).
(8) For the classic interpretation of how the description of material reality in fiction produces the sense of a limitless reality, and thus an effect of the "real," see Roland Barthes, "The Reality Effect."
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Wall, Cynthia. The Prose of Things: Transformations of Description in the Eighteenth Century. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2006. Print.
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2014|
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