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Part of the English Language and Linguistics Research Seminar Series.

Events take place in Room 106, Wells Street

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.