Part of the English Language and Linguistics Research Seminar Series.
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Joe Bray, University of Sheffield, 'Conceptual Metaphor and the Language of the Early Nineteenth-Century Portrait'
In this paper I examine the meanings generated by frequent references, both literal and metaphorical, to the portrait in the early nineteenth-century novel. As critics have noted, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century novel drew on a well-developed cultural understanding of the portrait-novel connection, and this is particularly true of the novels I will analyse in this paper: Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1801) and Jane Austen’s Emma (1816). Each novel is extensively permeated by a metaphor of the countenance, or in some cases the whole body, as a painted portrait. The mapping involved would seem to create a ‘blended space’ which suggests that the emotions on the face can be easily read and understood, and thus that the body serves as a reliable index to ‘character’. Yet the implications of transparency and legibility that the metaphor of the painted countenance evokes are challenged in various ways in each novel. This is partly a consequence of the fact that the portrait itself was undergoing a significant crisis of meaning at the turn of the nineteenth century, as its traditional association with representing ‘likeness’ was increasingly called into question. Drawing on recent work on ‘double-scope’ blending, I demonstrate that the result is the lack of an easily identifiable ‘blended space’, in which clear meanings emerge. I argue instead that the metaphorical use of the portrait in these novels stands for the difficulty and complexity of interpretation, and leads to a confusing chaos of misreadings and misjudgements.