Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Alison Light on voice

The thing that makes—or breaks—a book for me is voice. If its resonant, distinctive, authentic, I am eager to read on. But voice is so hard to describe. It certainly seems tricky to discuss it as a scholar with any kind of theoretical rigor, so I was really delighted by this passage in Mrs. Woolf and the Servants in which Light describes the impossibility of characterizing voice and then goes on to beautifully, carefully, characterize a speaking voice. Here, Light is describing the experience of listening to a series of BBC recordings of the recollections of servants:  
“No matter how patient the transcriber, a voice cannot be written down. Inevitably its flavour and richness is lost…On the page, Happy’s memories of her past read a little flatly…The taped interview, however, is a different story. Happy laughs throughout, a rich, throaty laugh, which often overcomes her, and stops her from talking….Mrs. Sturgeon also laughs every time she mentions a terrible experience. Her laughter ironizes much of what she recalls: ‘oh it was the the most marvelous door!’ she says, tongue in cheek, when she remembers the almost sacred ritual of cleaning the oak front door and the brass door knocker” (298)

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