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
- "Half a mile to the east lay, across sloping meadows, the thatched and slated roofs of Lyme itself..." p.10
- "The sea sparkled, curlews cried. A flock of oyster catchers, black and white and coral-red, flew on ahead of him, harbingers of his passage." p.57
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.
- "Ernestina had exactly the right face for her age; that is, small-chinned, oval, delicate as a violet... Her gray eyes and the paleness of her skin only enhanced the delicacy of the rest." p.39
- "Sam was some ten years his junior; too young to be a good manservant and besides, absentminded, contentious, vain, fancying himself sharp; too fond of drolling and idling, leaning with a straw-haulum or spring of parsley cocked in the corner of his mouth; of playing the horse fancier or of catching sparrows under a sieve when he was being bawled for upstairs." p.50
- Summary of Charles's past (p.21-23)
- Chapter 9 -- summary of Sarah's education/childhood; summary of Sarah's time and early events at Mrs. Poulteney's.
Definition of Character
Generalization, abstraction, or summing up of character
- "Laziness was, I am afraid Charles's distinguishing trait." p.23
- "But fortunately [Ernestina] had a very proper respect for convention... Without this and a sense of humor she would have been a horrid spoiled child. p.36
Character's Unconscious Or Unrevealed Internal State
- "What [Ernestina] did not know was that she had touched an increasingly sensitive place in Charles's innermost soul; his feeling that he was growing like his uncle at Winsyatt, that life was passing him by, that he was being, as in so many other things, over-fastidious, lazy, selfish... and worse." p.90-91
On the story or on the narrative. Yet many of these features seem present (to a lesser degree) in the above functions as well.
- "In short, both women were incipient sadists; and it was to their advantage to tolerate each other." p.27 (on Mrs. Fairley and Mrs. Poulteney's relationship)
- "He stood unable to do anything but stare down, tranced by this unexpected encounter, and overcome by an equally strange feeling--not sexual, but fraternal, perhaps paternal..." p.80 (when Charles encounters Sarah asleep on the bluff)
- "He had, in short, all the Byronic ennui with neither of the Byronic outlets: genius and adultery." p.24
- "Even if Charles had not had the further prospects he did, he was an interesting young man." p.24
- "Of the three young women who pass through these pages Mary was, in my opinion, by far the prettiest." p.84
- "Nobody could dislike Aunt Tranter..." p.34
- "You will see that Charles set his sights high. Intelligent idlers always have, in order to justify their idleness to their intelligence." p.24
- "[A]nd no intelligent woman who trusts a stupid one, however kindhearted, can expect else." p.61
Commentary On The Narration Itself (Reflexivity)
Footnotes (and chapter headings) are syntactic reflexivity.
- "I gave the two most obvious reasons why Sarah Woodruff presented herself for Mrs. Poulteney's inspection." p.60
- "Five uneventful days passed after the last I have described." p.121
- "I will not make [Sarah] teeter on the windowsill; or sway forward and then collapse sobbing back onto the worn carpet of her room." p.103
- The majority of chapter 13.
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?