Schellenberg, Betty A.
SCHELLENBERG, Betty A.
PERSONAL: Female. Education: University of Winnipeg, B.Ed., B.A.; University of Ottawa, M.A., Ph.D.
CAREER: Writer and educator. Simon Fraser University, associate professor.
The Conversational Circle: Re-Reading the English Novel, 1740–1775, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1996.
(Editor, with Paul Budra) Part Two: Reflections on the Sequel, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
(Editor, with Nicole Pohl) Reconsidering the Bluestockings, Huntington Library (San Marino, CA), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Betty A. Schellenberg, is an associate professor at Simon Fraser University. In The Conversational Circle: Re-Reading the English Novel, 1740–1775, Schellenberg explores the case for seeing conversation in eighteenth-century novels as a new way of analyzing the form and function of the novel. She "explores the centrality of conversation in English novels of the mid-eighteenth century; the texts she treats are not exclusively by women, but the nature of women's talk holds a central place in her discussion," explained Charlotte Sussman in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology.
Schellenberg identifies a group of novels, generally considered to be outside of the accepted eighteenth-century canon, that contain characters involved in a "consensual, nonconflictual relationship between individuals and society," commented J.T. Lynch in Choice. Instead of the traditional model of the "linear, teleological narrative structure" Schellenberg explains, these novels demonstrate a structure based on the conversational circle. Instead of a novel based on a character in conflict with the environment or other forces, the novel structured around the conversational circle "explores the possibilities of community, consensus, and communication," noted Linda Lang-Peralta in Clio.
Sarah Fielding's Adventures of David Simple, for example, "explicitly valorizes the conversational circle, marked by consensus and collaboration, over the linear quest of the individual," observed Lang-Peralta. In Henry Fielding's Amelia, the domestic circle, with Amelia occupying its center, serves as the conversational circle, and provides a contrast to the outside world of linear movement to which her husband, William Booth, belongs. Stepping outside the comfortable domestic conversational circle invites encounters with evil, Lang-Peralta noted. In Sarah Scott's Millennium Hall, an insular domestic circle figures more dramatically as an "ideal community of women" whose interactions with each other form what is essentially a closed conversational circle. Schellenberg examines these concepts in other works such as Samuel Richardson's Pamela II and Sir Charles Grandison; Tobias Smoller's Humphrey Clinker; and another of Sarah Fielding's novels, Volume the Last.
Schellenberg's "argument in The Conversational Circle has the virtue of revealing as narrotological innovations qualities that have often been interpreted as failures, or at least dead ends, in English novels of the period: the emphasis on repetition, the delight in expanding upon different versions of events—even events that have never happened—and a celebration of sympathy and consensus often stupefying to the modern reader," Sussman observed. The novel based on the conversational circle does not drive steadily forward in its narrative while introducing, meeting, and resolving conflicts; instead, it loops back on itself, with the narrative circling topics to look at them repeatedly, and from different perspectives. Schellenberg also addresses the ways in which these types of novels helped promote the place of women in conversational circles. Private conversations exemplified within the text of the novels "tended to legitimate female and other marginalized voices in ways not possible in more public forms of discourse" and social interaction, Sussman remarked.
"All the readings of novels here are beautifully worked out and convincing; if anything they are almost too tightly interconnected and woven into a coherent whole," Sussman commented of The Conversational Circle. "Schellenberg's argument seems so suggestive and fruitful one wants to see it expanded to a slightly broader reading of literary culture, or at least to a more substantial consideration of the social function of the novel during the period." "Her provocative study of novels previously considered 'minor' revises our understanding of the eighteenth-century novel," observed John E. Loftis in Rocky Mountain Review of Language & Literature, "and challenges some assumptions underlying our reading practice and evaluative standards." Brean S. Hammond, writing in Review of English Studies, called Schellenberg's work "an absorbing, subtle study" of eighteenth-century novels. Lynch called The Conversational Circle "illuminating" and "intelligent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Schellenberg, Betty, The Conversational Circle: Re-Reading the English Novel, 1740–1775, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1996.
Choice, October, 1997, J.T. Lynch, review of The Conversational Circle, pp. 300-301.
Clio, fall, 1998, Linda Lang-Peralta, review of The Conversational Circle, p. 87.
Journal of English and Germanic Philology, January, 1999, Charlotte Sussman, review of The Conversational Circle, p. 131.
Notes and Queries, June, 1998, Tom Keymer, review of The Conversational Circle, p. 256.
Review of English Studies, November, 1998, Brean S. Hammond, review of The Conversational Circle, p. 515.
Rocky Mountain Review of Language & Literature, spring, 1998, John E. Loftis, review of The Conversational Circle, pp. 81-82.
Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, summer, 1998, Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean, review of The Conversational Circle, p. 553.