Marginal Voices: Conflicted Dialogism and the Responsive Readers of Utopia, Beware the Cat, and Arcadia
This dissertation analyzes the construction of discursive communities amongst authors, editors, and readers of early modern prose fiction through language, material texts, and reader response. It analyzes Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat (ca. 1553), and Philip Sidney’s Old and New Arcadia (ca. 1582-1586) as examples of significant early modern English prose fiction texts, and studies tensions between fiction and non-fiction, and theories of various communication media. The study considers the ways in which these texts invite (or discourage) open-ended interpretation from the reader, and foster dialogic interaction between the reader and the text. By studying Thomas More’s Utopia and its English translation, the dissertation begins with an exploration of how the physical book can serve as a site for ideal discussion between texts, authors, and readers through the form of annotation. With William Baldwin’s Beware the Cat, the study looks at the potential negative implications of free-ranging discussion and interpretation, as Baldwin paints the spread of misinformation through conversation, and provides solutions through the form of critical reading of print. Lastly, the dissertation studies Philip Sidney’s consideration of these humanist dialogic structures in the two versions of the Arcadia, arguing that though initially Sidney was attracted to the potential of prose fiction in fostering communal discursive explorations of political and philosophical considerations, he ultimately revised the Arcadia to decrease its dialogism to avoid a perceived riot of voices. My research contrasts these authors’ theoretical approaches to dialogism with the practical ways in which stationers and editors encouraged and discouraged dialogic reading through the print elements of these books. In its final analysis, the dissertation considers how readers responded to these various textual and material framings in their annotations and studies the readers’ dialogical engagements. Overall, the dissertation delivers a three-pronged approach, focusing on literary analysis, material culture, and reader response through annotation, and traces invited and performed debates amongst writers, producers, and readers of texts and the conflicted ways in which early modern prose fiction grappled with questions of truth, dissemination of information, and civic discussion.