Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Y13: Some bits about free indirect style (style indirect libre, if you want to be flash)

The piece in black type is from some notes on Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs.Dalloway, which uses free indirect style. The piece in orange is from on on-line review of a recent collection of stories by Wiliam Trevor called The Hill Bachelors. Neither are directly relevant to Regeneration, therefore, but both give you an ida of how to write about free indirect style as a narrative technique.

Two techniques for representing stream of consciousness. (a) Free indirect style (used by Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf (eg, Mrs Dalloway)). Renders thought as reported speech (third person, past tense) but uses vocabulary appropriate to the character. Deletes some of the “she thought,” “she wondered,” tags. Illusion of access to the character’s mind without surrendering authorial participation.
Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning — fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

This is free indirect style: the narrative adopting the sentiments of the character. It is a technique that was pioneered by Jane Austen - odd as it might be to think of Austen as an audacious technical innovator. David Lodge has pointed out that it can be found "briefly and fragmentarily" in the slightly earlier fiction of Fanny Burney and Maria Edgeworth, novelists whom Austen read with keen interest. Yet they did not really discover its potential for combining both distanced observation of a character and a sense of how he or she sees the world.
The effect is peculiar and subtle in "Against the Odds" because we find that Mrs Kincaid never speaks in confidence to anyone. The free indirect style reflects her never-spoken thoughts. Even in her silent talking to herself, she avoids the truth. The story goes on to let us witness with pity her manipulation of her next gull, a lonely widower called Blakely whom she will effectively fleece, but it keeps us within her thoughts. When she first encounters Blakely in a café, it replicates her observations. "He'd be a bachelor or a widower, else he wouldn't be taking his dinner in a café every day. You could tell at once the foot he dug with, as decent a Protestant foot as her own, never a doubt about that."
That first sentence sounds just like speech; the English reader can hear its Ulster accent. But it follows the character's entirely silent calculation (unmarried, he will be a suitable victim). The next sentence, with its weird idiom ("Which foot do you dig with?"), reveals her prejudice in a moment of comically inappropriate kinship. Because he is a fellow "decent" Protestant, she will find it all the easier to trick him out of his money.
Free indirect style gets us immediately close to Trevor's characters while keeping their deepest thoughts or fears unspoken. It is a means of concealment as much as disclosure. In the collection's title story an elderly widow on a lonely farm wonders what will become of her after her husband's death. What will her five children, all of whom have grown up and left, decide to do? "It was up to them; she couldn't ask. It wouldn't be seemly to ask, it wouldn't feel right." In most third-person narratives the very appearance of those colloquial contractions - "couldn't", "wouldn't" - would signal the narrative's replication of the character's thoughts. Here the character thinks about what cannot be said ("she couldn't ask") but also avoids contemplating the possibilities herself. If she has hopes or fears, they are suppressed. And that peculiar, carefully chosen word "seemly" lets the reader into her mind while forbidding curiosity. "It wouldn't be seemly" is something she says, we imagine, that brooks no further argument.
This use of free indirect style to show how things are left unthought as well as unspoken is common in Trevor's stories, and especially appropriate in "The Hill Bachelors". The widow's youngest son, Paulie, finds himself drawn back to the hill farm, compelled to give up his hopes of escape and marriage to take up his dead father's work. Or what will his mother do? Nothing has been said about the inevitability of this; his mother has not even let herself think about it. But her silence has done its work


Anonymous Anonymous said...

sir will be popping in to see you next week most likely but just to clarify all things with my coursework were ok? plus any idea on marks points wis so i know whats going to be happening target wise with exams and so forth.
kyle cheers

2:45 PM  

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