Jane Austen and Free Indirect Speech

When talking about free indirect speech, it is necessary to first define what free indirect speech is. According to David Lodge, free indirect speech: “Renders thought as reported speech (in the third person, past tense) but keeps to the kind of vocabulary that is appropriate to the character, and deletes some of the tags, like ‘she thought,’ ‘she wondered,’ ‘she asked herself’ etc. that a more formal narrative style would require. This gives the illusion of intimate access to a character’s mind, but without totally surrendering authorial participation in the discourse”.

Here is an excellent example of free indirect speech in Persuasion: “She knew herself to be of the first utility to the child; and what was it to her, if Frederick Wentworth were only half a mile distant, making himself agreeable to others!”

Austen was one of the first authors to write in this narrative style, rather than drawing on the tradition of another narrative style. Although this is owing largely to the fact that the novel was a fairly new form in that time, it implies that she had a specific reason for writing in this manner. In the specific context of Persuasion, what is the advantage of using free indirect speech, what effect does it have on the characters and how does it effect the reader?

Jane Austen’s novels are notable for having plots that are simplistic but that make up for them in the intricacy of their character development. The above quote from Persuasion reveals Anne’s motivation, and on several different levels. It reveals the contradictory nature of her thoughts; in that she believes that Wentworth means nothing to her, yet her need to ask that question implies that he does, and that her thinking this is her attempt of self-assurance. Not only does the reader gain an understanding of the complexity of Anne’s motivations in an ordinary sense, but the tone and the emotion behind her thoughts can give the reader a more implicit understanding of the character’s thoughts as well. Such a nuanced understanding of a character’s psyche can generate empathy for the character within the reader; which is especially important to the protagonist of any story and motivates the reader to continue reading.

But free indirect speech has its limitations. The narrator (at least in the the case of Persuasion) is not an omniscient figure, and there are points in the novel where the protagonist’s perspective cannot offer sufficient insight into the motivations of another character, so a shift from the mind of one character to another is necessary; such as the shift between Anne’s thoughts and Wentworth’s.

In conclusion, and to answer the questions previously posed, the advantage of using free indirect speech lies in the effect it has on the characters and the reader. This style effectively mimics the process of thought in content, tone, and deliverance; and it is in this understanding that creates, within the reader, empathy for the characters (but mostly the protagonist) of the novel.


Fate of the Book Series: Preservers

As the title of this post indicates, this installment of the Fate of the Book series consisted of a panel of those in favor of the continued production, use, and preservation of physical books. The conversation was very interesting; for those who were unable to attend Thursday; I highly recommend attending its second showing on Friday; information about it can be found on the college of liberal art’s web page.

Although the theme of preserving and transforming seemed to imply that there was a debate between the two (as I had assumed); the panelists weren’t necessarily anti e-book, but they merely favored physical books for varying reasons.

One thing that was stressed continually throughout the talk was the physical relationship between the reader and the book. Not only from the aesthetic perspective of the feel of the pages, the smell, and things of that nature; but also in relation to the way that the reader intakes information. They pointed out that when reading a physical book, it is easier to find something in previous pages due to a reader’s memory of approximately where in the text that information was and what side of the page it was on. This is even more important in scholarly readings where finding such information could be crucial.

Another thing that was mentioned was that books should be preserved as an object of culture. Books have, especially in premodern times, been a very influential part of the culture; and preserving books (especially originals) has the potential to offer a nuanced understanding to a historical period that might not be possible through a straightforward study of history. In addition, preserving things like Coleridge’s letters are important for issues involving issues of authenticity, literary criticism, and of course, simple pleasure.

One of the panelists mentioned that books are a tactile art akin to architecture and should be preserved as such. The modern books that we are accustomed to carrying around might not seem like art, but if you think about much older books with elaborate illustrations and calligraphic print you can see the validity of this statement.

One thing that was mentioned in passing but not discussed in great detail (and I now regret not asking a question about it) was books being a form of active entertainment and other forms of media as passive entertainment. Although it is not directly relevant to the book/e-book situation, it did make me think about the effects of the way we take in information. How will the prevalence of passive entertainment such as television, video games, and web browsing effect our thinking in the long term? And how might that change be reflected in our academia and the way we pass information to future generations? Is the ease and availability with which we can access information always a good thing?

But I digress. The things I mentioned above were of course not the only things that were mentioned, but the ones I thought were particularly interesting and relevant. And again, I highly recommend attending it on Friday if you haven’t been yet.


It’s no secret that Byronic heroes are quite popular in modern culture, the first and most obvious one being at the top of the page. Byronic heroes have remained popular ever since Byron’s day; and Byron’s attribution of this archetype to himself gave him overnight celebrity status. However, this phenomenon raises some questions. If these characters have a tendency to be antisocial and iconoclastic, then it would seem paradoxical that this character type has such enduring success, and that these characters are revered by large portions of society. So why are these characters so popular?

It may be because these characters are most able to exert their will and thus appeal to power fantasies within the reader. This agency possessed by Byronic heroes is somewhat similar to Nietzsche’s concept of will to power, so from that Nietzschean perspective it would make sense that these people would be admired by those who are less able to exert their own wills. After all, who wouldn’t want to take down villains like Batman, bring utter ruin to their enemies like Heathcliff, or be able to summon spirits for no other reason than being lonely? However, this becomes problematic in Manfred. Although Manfred possesses great power, he doesn’t use it to exert his will in any way, and Manfred himself is a self-destructive individual. But at the same time, he refuses to deny his own will when he refuses several times to submit to the spirits or the abbot.

Another (and the most simple) explanation is that controversial characters inspire gossip. Byron himself can attest to this, seeing as how he is often referred to as the first celebrity. Byron was surrounded by gossip about his love affairs and a possible incestuous relationship with his half-sister; which he deliberately fueled in Manfred by naming the absent female lover after an incestuous god, and inserting the line “The Lady Astarte, his-“. Gossip helps to fuel the readers imagination; and thus keep discussions going and the characters alive in the public imagination.

Another explanation is that people relate to Byronic heroes in the broader sense of being representative of human struggle. They represent that Promethean aspect of human experience that states that human progress and human striving comes at a great cost. They are able to achieve great things, but they can only do so at a great cost; this holds true for Manfred, Heathcliff, and Batman.

Whatever the cause may be, Byron’s tradition lives on in our favorite brooding heroes of modern times.