Cover of Refiguring Speech by Amy R. Wong
Refiguring Speech
Late Victorian Fictions of Empire and the Poetics of Talk
Amy R. Wong


July 2023
240 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503635173
Ebook ISBN: 9781503635999

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Excerpts and More

In this book, Amy R. Wong unravels the colonial and racial logic behind seemingly innocuous assumptions about "speech": that our words belong to us, and that self-possession is a virtue. Through readings of late-Victorian fictions of empire, Wong revisits the scene of speech's ideological foreclosures as articulated in postcolonial theory. Engaging Afro-Caribbean thinkers like Édouard Glissant and Sylvia Wynter, Refiguring Speech reroutes attention away from speech and toward an anticolonial poetics of talk, which emphasizes communal ownership and embeddedness within the social world and material environment.

Analyzing novels by Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, George Meredith, Joseph Conrad, and Ford Madox Ford, Wong refashions the aesthetics of disordered speech—such as parroting, eavesdropping, profuse inarticulacy, and dysfluency—into alternate forms of communication that stand on their own as talk. Wong demonstrates how late nineteenth-century Britain's twin crises of territorialization—of empire and of new media—spurred narrative interests in capturing the sense that speech's tethering to particular persons was no longer tenable. In doing so, Wong connects this period to US empire by constructing a genealogy of Anglo-American speech's colonialist and racialized terms of proprietorship. Refiguring Speech offers students and scholars of Victorian literature and postcolonial studies a powerful conceptualization of talk as an insurgent form of communication.

About the author

Amy R. Wong is Associate Professor of English at Dominican University of California.

"Refiguring Speech is a daring and deft new work within Victorian studies as well as colonial and postcolonial theory. Its brilliant, timely argument for retheorizing 'talk' as racially embodied linguistic production represents the next generation of research."

—Susan Zieger, University of California, Riverside

"This book makes a sophisticated argument about the distinction between speech and talk in the late Victorian novel and how, when the propriety of speech gives way to talk, glimpses of an anticolonial aesthetic come into view. Illuminating and eloquent."

—Tanya Agathocleous, Hunter College

"InRefiguring Speech, Wong analyzes four Victorian novels that illustrate a breakdown in the notion of speech as an indication of cultural self-possession and the erosion of the assumption of Ango-European civilization as universal.... Recommended."

—L. A. Brewer, CHOICE