THE OBLIQUE HEROINE: LITTLE DORRIT, MILLY THEALE, AND CADDY COMPSON (CHARLES DICKENS, HENRY JAMES, WILLIAM FAULKNER)
BARRETT, DEBORAH JANE BURCH
Doctor of Philosophy
Characters, more often than not, form the central interest and the meaning of a novel, and the diversity of character types attests to both the richness of the novel as a genre and the difficulty of cataloguing characters in definitive or even satisfactory groups. Such grouping, however, yields interesting similarities among what are often thought to be very different novels. Little Dorrit, The Wings of the Dove, and The Sound and the Fury are three novels not previously grouped, yet they exemplify a structural pattern which depends upon what I call an "oblique heroine." Because of the indirect presentation of the heroines and the dominance of a male character, critics tend to discount the novelists' professed fondness for the heroines or their originals and to dispute the novelists' claim that they intended the heroines to be the central interests of their novels. The heroes in the novels--Arthur Clennam, Merton Densher and Quentin Compson--function as traditional protagonists are expected to: they serve as the centers of consciousness for a good portion of the novel, they develop in the course of the novel, and they provide the point of identification for the reader and the novelist. Little Dorrit, Milly Theale, and Caddy Compson, however, are the unifying principles and the raison d'etre of their respective novels. Occupying two worlds--the ideal and the real--the heroines possess much greater individuality than often allowed at the same time that they serve three primary symbolic and thematic functions--that of (1) illuminating the faults of the society which surrounds them, (2) illustrating the shared belief of Dickens, James, and Faulkner in man's limited perception, and (3) representing an ideal for the novelists. Thus, the obliqueness of Little Dorrit, Milly Theale, and Caddy Compson is essential to their own character and to the three novels that they inhabit. The oblique heroines are successful and significant creations whose novels are important in the canon of their creators and in the development of the novel.