Indirect Speech in Mansfield Park

British female writer Jane Austin is characterized by her wide usage of free indirect speech in novels and is considered to be one of the pioneers who used free indirect speech. As a significant product of Jane Austin, Mansfield Park is also an illustration of free indirect speech, which can be found in the latter part of this book.

Mansfield Park is a written record of Fanny Price’s growth. Fanny experienced diverse psychological changes in the different period. When composing Mansfield Park, Austin used the frequency of free indirect speech to demonstrate Fanny’s growth. In the initial part, Austin chose a compromising method so that readers can have a gradual understanding of characters. Due to Fanny’s psychological traits in adolescence period, it is unnecessary to utilize free indirect speech, and this book does not aim to focus on the description of Fanny’s early childhood. And given that Fanny ‘s timid, vulnerable and innocent features in adolescence, Austin did not use free indirect speech at the very beginning; later on, with Fanny’s growth, a significant number of free indirect speeches appeared. In chapters 7 & 8, free indirect speech was used to depict Sotherton’s visiting the garden. From chapter 14 to 21, free indirect speech was frequently used to describe the play rehearsal. Chapter 26 to 28 focused on Fanny’s first time to attend a ball, where the author used incredibly many free indirect speeches to depict characters’ psychology. In chapter 27, for instance, when Edward made it clear to Fanny that he was going to marry Miss Crawford, Fanny felt painful, “Could she believe Miss Crawford to deserve him, it would be—oh, how different would it be—how far more tolerable! But he was deceived in her; he gave her merits which she had not; her faults were what they had ever been, but he saw them no longer.”(301)

Austin does not appreciate Miss Crawford’s characteristics and shows her scorn at Miss Crawford’s view of marriage. This way, Austin indirectly implemented narrative actions and demonstrated her narrative position.

From chapter 31 to 39, the author described Fanny’s refusal of Mr. Crawford’s proposal, which also includes free indirect speech. For example, in chapter 38, “She was at home. But, alas! It was not such a home, she had not such a welcome, as—she checked herself; she was unreasonable. What right had she to be of importance to her family? She could have none, so long lost sight of!” (433)

Sometimes, an indirect speech works more efficiently than words originated from narrators. For instance, “Fanny found that it was not to be, and in the modesty of her nature immediately felt that she had been unreasonable in expecting it.”(139)

Free indirect speech used by Jane Austin helps narrator participate in the characters’ mental activities; thus, readers can hear double voices from narrators and characters. While expressing author herself, Austin gives readers sufficient imagination as well as investigation and reflection on social realities.

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Wordsworth Editions Ltd; Reprint,1992

One thought on “Indirect Speech in Mansfield Park

  1. Free-Indirect Discourse is essential for understanding how Austen’s narrative style functions–this is so important to explore. What exactly is “free indirect discourse,” though? What does it allow Austen–or her narrator–to do?

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