Narrator Overtness in The French Lieutenant's Woman

First Oral Report, by Zach Tomaszewski

for ENG 760J, Fall 2005, taught by Dr. Glenn Man

Narrator perceptibility: covert vs. overt
Extradiegetic, heterodiegetic narrators are often the most covert; no so in French Lieutenant's Woman.

Rimmon-Kenan's description of Chatman's 1978 spectrum

From Chapter 7. Generally, narrators become more overt the further down the list we move.

Description of Setting

Descriptions of events/acts: "The vicar gave her a solemn look" (p.31). "Having duly and maliciously allowed her health and cheerfulness to register on the invalid, Mary placed the flowers on the bedside commode" (p.85).

Metaphor/simile/loaded description: "...but she always descended in the carriage to Lyme with the gloom of a prisoner arriving to Siberia" (p35-36); "The old woman sat facing the dark shadows at the far end of the room; like some pagan idol she looked, oblivious of the blood sacrifice her pitiless stone face demanded" (p.102).

Identification of Characters

Summary of narrator's (or other character's) "prior knowledge" of the character. Varies from physical description to characterization.

Temporal Summary

Definition of Character

Generalization, abstraction, or summing up of character

Character's Unconscious Or Unrevealed Internal State


On the story or on the narrative. Yet many of these features seem present (to a lesser degree) in the above functions as well.




Commentary On The Narration Itself (Reflexivity)

Footnotes (and chapter headings) are syntactic reflexivity.

Other Acts of Overt Narration

Direct address or inclusion of the narratee in judgements: "Of course to us any Cockney servant called Sam evokes immediately the immortal Weller;" (p.50), "He would have made you smile, for he was carefully equipped for his role" (p.56), "Well, we laugh" (p.56).

Jumps in and references to historical time: "Needless to say, Charles knew nothing of the beavered German Jew quietly working, as it so happened, that very afternoon in the British Museum library; and whose work in those somber walls was to bear such bright red fruit" (p.19). "[Charles] would probably not have been too surprised had news reached him out of the future of the airplane, the jet engine, television, radar" (p.19).

Frequent commentary on Victorians, the modern age, and comparisons between the two: "His travels abroad had regrettably rubbed away some of that patina of profound humorlessness (called by the Victorians earnestness, moral rectitude, probity, and a thousand other misleading names) that one really required of a proper English gentleman of the time" (p.24). "Not all is lost to expedience" [comment on the Undercliff becoming a national nature reserve] (p.76). "One of the commonest symptoms of wealth today is destructive neurosis; in his century it was tranquil boredom" (p.19).


I find such overt narration highlights the division between story and discourse. Why would the author choose overt narration over covert narration?