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Volume 39, Number 2 (2014)

“The Suitable Language of Love”: Confessional Discourse in By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

June 25, 2015


Confession occupies a prominent role in Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, where it functions both as an important plot point and the novel’s rhetorical mode. It has also characterized much of the critical discourse surrounding the novel, which many readers and critics have interpreted as Smart’s personal confession rather than as a work of fiction. What is particularly ironic about the autobiographical readings of By Grand Central Station, however, is that the novel formally and thematically resists the demand for disclosure. In the first section of this paper, I discuss Smart’s formal obstructions to this demand, which include self-fictionalization, metatextuality, and paratextual ambiguity. In the second section, I demonstrate how confessional rhetoric within the novel itself likewise thwarts the desire for disclosure by producing pleasure instead of what Foucault calls “knowledge-power.” By disconnecting her statements from empirical reality, referring them instead to a metaphorical structure in which “love has other laws,” the narrator challenges the social and legal condemnation of her extramarital relationship. She simultaneously performs an elaborate “rhetorical seduction” of the reader, persuading her to suspend her moral judgment and embrace the celebration of erotic love.