By Evelyn Waugh

After seven years of marriage, the attractive girl Brenda final has grown uninterested in existence at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that's the satisfaction and pleasure of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. In a unique that mixes tragedy, comedy, and savage irony, Evelyn Waugh indelibly captures the irresponsible temper of the "crazy and sterile generation" among the wars.

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Dickens, Hard Times, pp. 5–6) This prohibition of figurative expression suggests how thoroughly this world has been rationalized in order to subject all language to the proof of ‘‘verifiability’’ and the ‘‘plausible’’ that Benjamin describes as anathema to storytelling. The opening of Hard Times sets out the problem that the rest of the novel tries to solve. By discrediting the industrialist Bounderby, redeeming the schoolteacher Gradgrind, and ritually sacrificing and then sanctifying the manual worker and ‘‘factory hand’’ Stephen Blackpool, Dickens suggests the only means by which this culture of information might become one dominated by ‘‘righteous’’ individuals.

For Conrad, I argue, the perception of disembodied, phonographic voice both pointed the way to groundbreaking innovations in literary style and form and represented a grave danger to human agency and authorship. With Edison’s invention and its popularization in Great Britain in the 1890s, we see the close of an era – inaugurated by Pitman’s invention of phonography – in which print culture attempted to fulfill through other means a task the phonograph and other technologies of vocal inscription eventually took up.

And twentieth-century criticism, in turn, inherited many of its key desires, protocols, and presuppositions from Victorian fiction’s mythology of the storyteller. Stephen Blackpool’s disinterested, apolitical condemnation of the exploitation of industrial workers; Carlyle’s fantasy of a vocal writing speaking to ‘‘all men in all times and places’’ and of an intellectual taking his place as ‘‘sovereign Ruler’’; a young working-class woman’s entrancing singing of an old folk tune in Mary Barton; Walter Benjamin’s powerful tale of a dying storyteller redeeming a culture of information: these are only a few of the models from which contemporary literary criticism – especially novel criticism – has inherited a powerful set of paradigms.

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