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Related: curiosity - voyeurism - ear

Eavesdropping in the Novel from Austen to Proust (2003) - Ann Gaylin [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Eavesdropping is the intercepting and reading of messages and conversations by unintended recipients. One who participates in eavesdropping, i.e. someone who secretly listens in on the conversations of others, is called an eavesdropper. The origin of the term is literal, from people who would literally hide out in the eavesdrop of houses to listen in on other people's private conversations.

Eavesdropping was already prohibited by ancient Saxon law. From the Saxon custom arose the term eavesdropping, i.e. any one who stands within the eavesdrop of a house, hence one who pries into others business or listens to secrets. At common law an eavesdropper was regarded as a common nuisance, and was presentable at the court leet, and indictable at the sheriffs tour, and punishable by fine and finding sureties for good behaviour. Though the offence of eavesdropping still exists at common law, there is no modern instance of a prosecuti on or indictment.

Eavesdropping in fiction

Eavesdropping is something of a clichéd plot device in fiction, allowing the hero or villain to gain vital information by deliberately or accidentally overhearing a conversation. For instance, in "Letting In the Jungle" by Rudyard Kipling, Mowgli overhears the hunter Buldeo telling some men that Mowgli's adopted mother Messua is about to be executed, so Mowgli sets about rescuing her. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eavesdropping [Dec 2005]

Eavesdropping is the auditory equivalent of voyeurism. An eavesdropper is an auditory peeping tom.

Eavesdropping in the Novel from Austen to Proust (2003) - Ann Gaylin

Book Description
Eavesdropping in the Novel from Austen to Proust investigates human curiosity and its representation in eavesdropping scenes in nineteenth-century English and French novels. Ann Gaylin argues that eavesdropping dramatises a primal human urge to know and offers a paradigm of narrative transmission and reception of information among characters, narrators and readers. Gaylin sheds light on the social and psychological effects of the nineteenth-century rise of information technology and accelerated flow of information, as manifested in the anxieties about - and delight in - displays of private life and its secrets. Analysing eavesdropping in Austen, Balzac, Collins, Dickens and Proust, Gaylin demonstrates the flexibility of the scene to produce narrative complication or resolution; to foreground questions of gender and narrative agency; to place the debates of privacy and publicity within the literal and metaphoric spaces of the nineteenth-century novel. This innovative study will be of interest to scholars of nineteenth-century English and European literature.

First Sentence:
Almost everyone who has read Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights or seen William Wyler's 1939 film version remembers the dramatic scene in which Catherine, unaware of Heathcliff's presence on the other side of the kitchen wall, confides her feelings for him to Nelly. Read the first page

Statistically Improbable Phrases (SIPs): (learn more)
illicit listening, covert listening, double entente, eavesdropping scenes, narrative agency, secret listening

Capitalized Phrases (CAPs): (learn more)
Sir Percival, Count Fosco, Anne Catherick, Marian Halcombe, Elizabeth Bennet, Walter Hartright, Mme Vauquer, Laura Fairlie, Madame Fosco, Captain Harville, Mme Cibot, Valérie Marneffe, Maison Vauquer, Mlle Vinteuil, Anne Elliot, Captain Wentworth, Lady Russell, Mlle Michonneau, Mme de Villeparisis, Miss Bingley, Miss Tox, Jane Austen, Lord Orville, Emma Woodhouse, Mme de Saint-Estève

Eavesdropping as the aural equivalent of voyeurism

This paper asks: If voyeurism is such a fertile subject for film, to what extent is there an aural equivalent? I propose a possible psychoanalytic basis for considering an erotics of cinematic eavesdropping and suggest that it may be a neglected aspect of the compelling connection between audiences and films. I then turn to the film texts themselves and find that the device of diegetic eavesdropping raises a broad and complex range of moral and narrational as well as psychoanalytic issues.

Eavesdropping is a dramatic device of long standing. It goes back at least to Greek drama and is a favorite trope of Elizabethan dramatists. Think of the overheard conversation about a handkerchief in Othello or Polonius behind the arras. In comedy, especially farce, misunderstandings of overheard conversations may be the single most prevalent catalyst for motivating plots. From Plautus to Shakespeare to U.S. television’s Frasier, in its farce mode, aural misperceptions fuel comic complications. The eavesdropping can be more than just a plot device, however; it can have larger implications: incomplete overhearing or misinterpreting what is heard can sometimes be a metaphor for how we misunderstand the world and our relationship to it, just as the nearly blind Mr. Magoo is an animated representation of our inability to recognize and cope with the realities of our physical environment. In films, even more than in plays, the eavesdropping is likely to have reflexive as well as diegetic significance because of our greater identification with screen characters.

Movie eavesdropping raises issues having to do with the nature of the medium itself. For one thing, it can foreground, as does voyeurism, the way in which cinema seems to invade privacy—the way all of film drama feels overheard and spied on. Like voyeurism, eavesdropping can reflexively question our prying relationship to film, our love of listening in, our complicity with the eavesdropper. When we find the eavesdropping to be central to the diegesis, as in Coppola’s The Conversation, the device thematizes these issues. Eavesdropping is inherently cinematic; as I will argue, the situation requires both audio and visual information and therefore perhaps can be most fully exploited on film. --EAVESDROPPING: AN AURAL ANALOGUE OF VOYEURISM? by Elisabeth Weis via http://lavender.fortunecity.com/hawkslane/575/eavesdropping.htm [Dec 2005]

See also: curiosity - literature of the 19th century

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