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Laura L. Runge
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Jane Austen: Bits to Bytes

Narrative form, style, and language

August 29 Class 2

    Austen: Northanger Abbey (entire)
    Critical Reading: Wikipedia, pages
    Digital project - Wikipedia Jane Austen portal, learning to edit Wikipedia

    Sign up for Article Annotation assigment.

    DUE Post #1


Objectives:
    Discuss Jane Austen's biography represented in Wikipedia

    Discuss Northanger Abbey from posts and reading

    Introduce issues of narrative form: free indirect discourse, sentimental novel, gothic novel, irony, intrusive narrator


Wikipedia

    One of the digital sites we will be exploring and potentially editing is Wikipedia. The portal for Jane Austen connects you to many pages, including the main page with biographical information. Read this carefully.

    For those of you new to Wikipedia, please explore how the site is constructed. You can learn about it on the article about Wikipedia, especially in section two, Making the best use of Wikipedia.

    I have set up a course assignment for Wikipedia using WikiEdu, a foundation I have worked with before. Please visit our course site. The assignment is scaffolded to make it easy to learn how to edit Wikipedia.

Northanger Abbey

    To establish another critical context, please read the brief introduction to the Norton edition (or whatever edition you are reading). I also recommend reading the 1821 review by Richard Whatley (in NCE pp 248-253) and the Biographical Notice, written by Henry Austen, and prefacing the original publication of Northanger Abbey with Persuasion in 1818. It can be found in the Norton edition pages 190-196.

    In keeping with our focus on narrative form, structure and style, the first of the three scholarly themes for current research, we will look into the complex publication history of NA (xii-xiv in Norton). There is debate over the extent to which Austen edited this novel during her lifetime. Some scholars see this as clearly on the formal continuum with her parodic juvenilia, such as Love and Freindship. Others make a case for stylistic cues from mature Austen writing. There is evidence that she revised some in 1803, 1805, and perhaps 1816. How does the publication history of this work affect its meaning?

    A key element in the critical debate is the role of free indirect discourse. Given the important role this formal term plays in Austen criticism, we should attend to it from the start. The digital project Austen Said from University of Nebraska Lincoln offers a useful explanation of the narrative practice as well as Austen's role in the history of free indirect discourse:

      Coding direct speech can tell us a lot about Austen's technique. However, much of the novels are rendered in indirect speech and free indirect discourse [FID]. In FID, the narrator renders not merely the point of view of a given character (focalization) but gives the flavor of a character's speech or thought. In the most direct form of FID, the narrator ventriloquizes for the character; in other words, the reader senses that by changing third person pronouns to first person ones, one would have a rendering of the character's direct speech or thought. For instance, when Colonel Brandon first calls on Elinor and Marianne in London, Elinor's question to him in FID can readily be turned into direct dialogue: ". . . she asked if he had been in London ever since she had seen him last" becomes (inferentially) "she asked," 'if you have been in London ever since I saw you last.'"

      Outside of direct dialogue, free indirect discourse is the most common, economical, and sophisticated way novels (and other texts) relay information about thoughts and speech. For instance, early in Pride and Prejudice we learn what Mr. Bingley thought of the Meryton assembly at which he meets the Bennet family: "Bingley had never met with pleasanter people or prettier girls in his life; every body had been most kind and attentive to him, there had been no formality, no stiffness, he had soon felt acquainted with all the room; and as to Miss Bennet, he could not conceive an angel more beautiful" (Ch. 4). The narrator is speaking, but the language is really Bingley's, including his use of cliches and hyperbole (e.g., "an angel more beautiful"). One cannot account for diction in Austen's novels without paying attention to indirect speech, especially FID. Bingley needs to have credit for saying "an angel more beautiful," not merely because it is his language but also because it is plainly not the language the narrator would choose for herself. Because FID always blends the speech of the narrator with that of a character, it creates opportunities for tremendous narrative flexibility, as narrators can vary how closely they mimic the language of their characters, and can make ironic points at the character’s expense even as they seem to let their characters speak or think for themselves. FID's use in the eighteenth-century novel (British, German, French, etc.) was rudimentary - one finds some employment of FID in Goethe, for instance, and in Fanny Burney and Samuel Richardson, but no sustained or complex use. As many scholars have noted, it took Jane Austen, writing six novels between 1811 and 1817, to discover and exploit the full potential of FID, including FID's capacity to display complex ironies. Austen's discovery of what FID could do was comparable in the history of the novel to the discovery of the atomic bomb in the history of warfare; thereafter, things were never the same, and FID became a basic feature of the novel as genre. Austen Said, Background

    Is there evidence of FID in Northanger Abbey? If so, how is it being used? In particular, pay attention to the depiction of General Tilney.

Gothic and sentimental novels

    How do we know that Catherine is not a sentimental heroine? Why is this important?

    According to Whatley's review, what sort of critical climate existed for novels when Austen began writing? In chapter five, the narrator launches a dramatic defense of novels. How seriously are we to take this? What are the implications for novels? For women authors? For women readers? For Austen herself?

    What type of reader is Catherine Moreland? How does she compare with Isabella? With Henry and Eleanor Tilney? Pay particular attention to chapter 14, the Beechen Cliff episode. Why is reading important? What does it reveal about character? Does Catherine change as a reader over the course of the novel?

    Gothic novels were immensely popular in the 1790s when this narrative was first drafted. The decade also witnessed the terrors of the French Revolution and the beginning of an extended war between France and England. According to the Marquis de Sade, "For anyone familiar with the full range of misfortunes wherewith evildoers can beset mankind, the novel became as difficult to write as monotonous to read. There was not a man alive who had not experienced in the short span of four or five years more misfortunes than the most celebrated novelist could portray in a century" (from "Reflections on the Novel [1800] in 120 Days of Sodom and Other Writings, ed. and trans. Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Seaver (New york: Grove, 1966) page 109.

    What characterizes a Gothic novel? How does the plot of Northanger Abbey challenge the Gothic genre? Pay particular attention to Henry's lecture to Catherine at the abbey at the end of Vol II Chapter 9 or chapter 24. Compare this with change of course in Vol II chapter 13 or chapter 28.

    According to Austen's novel, what is the real source of danger for young, innocent heroines like Catherine?

Irony and narrative intrusion

    Note throughout when the narrator uses the first person or directly addresses the reader. See for example the opening lines. Compare these with the narrator's description of Catherine's return to Fullerton in chapter 29 or Volume II chapter 14. What is the effect of this narrative style?

    Evaluate your affective response to the narration. Did you trust the narrator? Were you amused by the narrator? Did the narrator surprise or dupe you? Did you feel in league with the narrator at different times of the novel?

    How does Austen create irony in this narrative? (If you are not sure what irony is, please look for an acceptable working definition to answer this question.)

    Does the plot operate on an ironic level? If so, how, and what is the effect?

    Do characters deploy irony? Does the narrative use irony to tell the story? What kind?

    Evaluate the closing lines of the novel. Is the tendency of this work, as she writes, to recommend parental tyranny or reward filial disobedience? Are there other options?

General questions to pursue through the term

    Evaluate the heroine. How closely does the narration follow the heroine? What effect does this have?

    Evaluate the romantic male characters. How effective / important is the characterization of the male lead(s)?

    Evaluate marriage as represented in the novel.

    Is this a good novel? How do you know?


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