This dissertation deploys the resources of cognitive linguistics and ecocriticism to gain insight into the role of metonymy in the Victorian novel’s representation of an increasingly complex and interconnected urban world. I examine Charles Dickens’s novels Bleak House (1852-53) and Our Mutual Friend (1864-65), and George Gissing’s novel The Nether World (1889), as well as Gissing’s nonfiction criticism of Dickens, in order to argue that both authors use metonymy to reframe the reader’s understanding of the Victorian city. Both novelists use metonymy to explore the ways in which the waste, disease and degradation we like to think of as “over there” – out of sight and out of mind – is actually deeply interconnected to our lives right here, through a myriad of unsettling, hard-to-trace and complex contiguities and connections. Both Dickens and Gissing use metonymy to suggest and explore a complex “web” or “mesh” of connections and relationships that ecological critic Ashton Nichols calls “a complex web of interdependent interrelatedness” (xiii), and which Timothy Morton terms, “the mesh,” or, “a vast sprawling mesh of interconnection without a definite centre or edge” (Ecological 8). This web or mesh of interconnections and overlapping networks is dynamic; it blurs traditional boundaries and cuts across our typical social and cognitive distinctions. Although a single novel may be limited, a finite collection of people, places, things and details bound together temporarily by the plot, metonymy lets the novelist suggest this much larger, more complex web, and even to reframe our understanding of it.
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