Theory: Example of Discourse in the Guise of Narration

In my transposition of Austen I have just stumbled upon a great example of a subject harpedon extensively in the theoretical papers: the potential of indirect discourse to look like narration and thus convey information that looks like an objective fact in the past, but is in fact subjective discourse.

The context is Mr. Elliot trying to flirt with Anne, but failing because Ann has discovered his true character. Nonetheless, Anne attempts to be subtle about her newfound distaste for Mr. Elliot to avoid an uncomfortable scene. The "he" is Mr. Elliot; the modest cousin is Anne; the "public room" is the party they attended the day before, prior to Anne learning about his past. Here is the passage from part two, chapter ten of Persuasion:

"He wanted to animate her curiosity again as to how and where he could have heard her formerly praised; wanted very much to be gratified by more solicitation; but the charm was broken: he found that the heat and animation of a public room were necessary to kindle his modest cousin's vanity; he found, at least, that it was not to be done now, by any of those attempts which he could hazard among the too-commanding claims of the others." (Persuasion 201, Penguin Books, 2003)

The passage begins from the perspective of the narrator, who explains what Mr. Elliot is doing. Up to the colon, the narrator continues to speak, but thereafter, despite no change in tense or tone, the perspective switches completely to Mr. Elliot.

How do we know?

In the preceding pages, not cited here, Anne has learned about Mr. Elliot's duplicity, his former disrespect for her father, and knows that he is only being polite because he wants to marry her and receive the baronet title (part two, chapter nine). Mr. Elliot mistakenly concludes that the difference in her character from one day to the next is based on her being in a ballroom in the first (positive) instance and now being at home in the second (negative) instance: "he found that the heat and animation of a public room were necessary to kindle his modest cousin's vanity..."

Nonetheless, this completely incorrect opinion of Mr. Elliot's looks precisely like narration. First of all, it stems directly from the preceding narration, only separated by a colon, which is seguing to elaboration of the point. Secondly, the tone of the narrated sentence and the indirect discourse is identical (largely due to what others and myself refer to as personal narration) and the introduction with the inquit phrase "he found" is a classic narratorial tool. Thirdly, the tense of this discourse, because it is transposed from present direct discourse to the past of indirect discourse, does not differ from narration.

Now in this case we know from the preceding and subsequent real narration that these words belong to Mr. Elliot or are reflective of his perspective, not the narrator's. In general, however, it is entirely conceivable that such disguised discourse enters narration and corrupts not only the narration, but also the views of the characters or narrator(s) basing their opinions on what they take for facts in the narration.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, this is a central difference between Russian, English and German texts, especially the former two. When there is no transposition of indirect discourse (and direct discourse, of course), the character has no ability to destabilize the narration or the opinions based on this narration. Accordingly, the absence of transposition in indirect discourse establishes a framework where the mind can clearly differentiate between fact and opinion, which is blurred if discourse assumes the same tense as narration.

To date I continue to have difficulty finding publishers for the theoretical papers on this subject, but one is available from the University of Purdue: Indirect Discourse with an Authorial Narrator in German, Russian and English
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