Jane Austen and Narration

Jane Austen’s style is interesting, as seen in the type of narration found in her novel, Mansfield Park. Jane Austen narrates, as an omniscient narrator. She goes into the feelings and thoughts of each character. For example, when the family assumes that Fanny will live with her aunt, the narrator depicts the thoughts and emotions of Mrs. Norris. For example, Austen writes, “I think, sister, we need not keep Miss Lee any longer, when Fanny goes to live with you?” Mrs. Norris’s almost started. ‘Live with me, dear Lady Bertram, what do you mean? Is not she to live with you?’ I thought you had settled it with Sir Thomas? Me! Never. I never spoke a syllable about it to Sir Thomas, or he to me. Fanny lives with me! The last thing in the world for me to think of or for anybody to wish that really knows us both. Good heaven! What could I do with Fanny? Me! A poor helpless, forlorn widow, unfit for anything, my spirits quite broken down, what could I do with a girl at her time of life, a girl of fifteen? The very age of all others who need most attention and care, and put the cheefullest spirits to the test. Sure, Sir Thomas could not seriously expect such a thing! Sir Thomas is too much my friend. Nobody that wishes me well, I am sure, would propose it. How came Sir Thomas to speak to you about it (28). For here, we see that Fanny is seen as a burden to her family members. We even get into Sir Thomas’s thoughts, as narrated by Jane Austen. For example, the narrator states, when arranging how to acclimate Fanny within the family the narrator goes on to Sir Thomas’s thoughts. The narrator states, “of the younger Fanny Price, the namesake daughter of the impudent Fanny Ward….how for her contextualization will eradicate her expected ‘meanness of opinions’ and ‘vulgarity of manner,’ making her like her cousins the younger Bertram; but how at the same time her unlikeness should be both feared (‘should her disposition be really bad’ (I, I) and maintained (‘how…to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram’). (viii). these are the thoughts of Sir Thomas. These are the very insights in which Kathryn Sutherland notes. But the narrator seems to sympathize with Fanny. For example, the narrator seems concerned with what will become of Fanny. The narrator discusses Fanny’s sadness when she first goes to live with her relatives, and Sir Thomas’s family. I t was the concern of Edmund, her cousin, that we, the readers, are able to understand Fanny’s sadness. Edmund inquires to Fanny about her unhappiness.
In Daniel Pollack-Pelzner piece, “Jane Austen, the Prose Shakespeare” the author discusses Jane Austen’s style and her narrative techniques. He states, “Learning to talk in a Jane Austen novel means learning to talk Shakespeare (763). He further states, “In Mansfield Park (1814), Sir Thomas Bertram has his sons learn elocution by reciting “To be or not to be” (763). He further notes, “…discussions of the propriety and sources of speech arise in Mansfield Park, a novel that repeatedly calls our attention to the shifting distinctions among speaking, reading, and acting. Fanny Price “must read the part’ that Miss Crawford requests, for she ‘can say very little of it,’ and of course she ‘cannot act’ whereas Edmund distinguishes a general ability to ‘talk Shakespeare’ or ‘to know him in bits and scraps’ from Crawford’s capacity to ‘read him well aloud’ which reading presents these discussions in narrative discourse that blurs the boundary between novelistic description and stage direction, as in Crawford’s account of poor reading from the pulpit” (764). Therefore, Shakespearean techniques are employed by Austen. The author “…reading this passage to ourselves, we must articulate a speech about speaking that contains three stage directions (a parenthetical gesture, a reference to another character’s unheard speech, and two participial actions): a minperformance in prose.” (764). He states, “this essay shows the connection between acting Austen and talking Shakespeare, between the ethical concerns over speaking another’s words and the narrative strategies that make reading…Mansfield Park a kind of closet drama” He notes, “this essay opens with an alternative history of indirect discourse, often seen as one of Austen’s chief narrative accomplishments, that shows her connection to early nineteenth-century prose version of Shakespeare” (764). He adds, Austen uses, “a third person voice” (765). He states, “Austen heralded as a ‘prose Shakespeare’ by nineteenth century critics, built on these techniques in Mansfield Park…to fuse her characters’ voices with her narrator’s. (765). He adds, “Thus, the style representation is linked to a means for representing Shakespearean prose. Austen’s novels also develop an inverse free indirect discourse, the infusion of the narrative voice into character’s speech, when Austen inserts stage directions into dialogue” (765).
I agree, Austen’s use of “stage direction and dialogue” originally employed by Shakespeare is really seen in Mansfield Park. More specifically, we can really see the thoughts and emotions of each character through the narrative voice. We understand and gain insight into each character’s action.

One thought on “Jane Austen and Narration

  1. Austen’s narrative choices and her use of voice is very important to a complete understanding of the novel–good observation! However, I am unclear what Shakespeare has to do with understanding exactly how her narration works. For instance, there is a lot of material to explain in the long quote you give from Mansfield Park to illustrate narration. While we do see there how Mrs. Norris sees Fanny, the narrator doesn’t do so uncritically–we are also given a sense of Mrs. Norris’ selfishness. So, the whole novel is focalized, too, from a perspective that puts Fanny in the center of the narration. You are right when you say that “the narrator seems to sympathize with Fanny”–but how, exactly? You can say much more about this, and eliminate the discussion of Shakespeare, which doesn’t have much on the surface of it to do with this issue of narration.

    What is useful for your analysis of Austen’s style in the Pollack-Pelzner piece, is more what he says about how the narrator urges us to side with and against different characters. When you’re using a secondary source, your goal is not primarily just to incorporate it, but to use it purposively to help you illustrate or shape your claim. In this case, your injection of Shakespeare seems unnecessary, as you have other more interesting ideas that can be more fully explored!

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