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V for ventriloquism: powers of vocal mimicry in Henry Cockton's The Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox, the Ventriloquist

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Henry Cockton’s The Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox, the Ventriloquist (1839-40) proved a phenomenal popular success on first publication, with a cultural afterlife reaching into the mid-twentieth century, but has since fallen into obscurity (perhaps fittingly for a text that thematises the ephemerality of voice and popular culture). This article reads Valentine Vox as an opportunity for reconceptualising early Victorian understandings of ventriloquism, identity, and narrative, through three triangulated claims. Firstly, that distant voice ventriloquism challenges conceptions of identity, not only of those whose voices are imitated, but also that of the ventriloquist himself. Secondly, that despite this threat to identity, Valentine Vox relies on a notion of selfhood in which identity is guaranteed by teleological narrative. Finally, that in Valentine Vox ventriloquism resists the logic of teleological narrative, stopping its progress to offer a series of comedic sketches (though while Cockton’s contemporary Dickens uses the sketch to portray the kaleidoscopic city, Cockton presents a kind of stasis in the novel’s repetitions). As a result of this triangulation, Valentine Vox is a novel doubled against itself, especially in regard to its conservative stance on popular culture, and which engages in complex ways with issues of mimicry, not least the ways in which the novel pre-empts its own scenes of reading, setting the domestic vocal reader the impossible challenge of mimicking the perfect mimic. Whereas previous readings of the novel have focused on the text’s internal voices, Valentine Vox, I suggest, prompts us to reconsider Victorian practices of reading aloud.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
Journal19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Volume24
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2017

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