Beating of wings: a novel; throwing 'other' voices: the paratextual ventriloquism of Esther Inglis (1571-1624)
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date26/11/2023
Bruce-Benjamin, Samantha Claire
The Beating of Wings is a polyphonic novel comprised of multiple interior monologues, inspired by the historical development of the fairy tale as a literary genre. Characters are based upon key writers within this movement: Charles Perrault, Rabbi Nachman, Flora Annie Steel, and J M Barrie; as well as associated figures, including the Franco-Scottish miniaturist and calligrapher, Esther Inglis, the Duchess of Polignac, and Edwina Mountbatten. The subject of this vocal fugue is an ostensibly authorless fairy tale, The Golden Tree and the Moth, handwritten in a seventeenth-century miniature manuscript. Within an omniscient frame modelled after the ancient Indian collection of fables, the Panchatantra (circa 200 B.C.), a succession of first-person narrators chronicle the passage of the fairy tale through time, via the ‘beating wings’ of its woven narrative threads, back to its source. As each narrator ventriloquises the voice of a previous owner, the matryoshka doll narratives engage concurrently with questions of adaptation and appropriation, narratology, paratext, the Barthesian concept of the ‘death of the author’, and literary ventriloquism. Ultimately, the novel aspires to culminate in a fictional rebirth of a defining voice, founded upon gynocritical theory and the silencing of women within the patriarchal canon during the early modern period. This origin of the tale that was neither ‘already written’, nor ‘already read’, is borne of Esther Inglis (1571-1624). My critical essay considers specific theoretical influences of the novel: predominantly literary ventriloquism, as well as Inglis’s corpus. A marginalised figure in the context of early modern women’s writing, prior to recent academic enquiry Inglis was dismissed as a skilled copyist, whose manuscripts were notable only for her virtuoso calligraphic replication of religious verse in miniature. To this discussion, I introduce Gérard Genette’s concept of paratext as a viable means of interpretation. I argue that this strand of literary analysis is imperative to our understanding of how Inglis sought to materialise an authentic authorial voice through the paratextual space of her manuscripts, mobilising the trope of literary ventriloquism to facilitate her complex construction as a literary icon. By applying Genette’s taxonomy, I suggest that Inglis emerges as an incisive, progressive, and ingenious publisher and author, who successfully manifested Her word upon the patriarchal page during an era when women writers were silenced or forced to write anonymously.