Northanger Abbey: Volume II, Chapters 7 - 8 (22 - 23)

To Austen-l

Re: NA: Free Indirect Speech & General Tilney

Austen's use of indirect speech in this week's chapters is thematic and mood creating.

It is often suggested that the most vivid parts of a novel are those scenes where characters speak directly (as in, this authors shows rather than tells), but the matter is much more complicated than that. Direct speech takes time and a novel which has many such scenes must move slowly (e.g., Clarissa). Indirect speech can cover more ground in fewer words; it can suggest or allude to a conversation we are left to imagine for ourselves; it can caricature, heighten and judge a presence and make us see the surrouding scene through that presence all at once.

There is an excellent discussion of Austen's use of free indirect speech which attempts to define and describe all the varieties of it by Norman Page in his The Language of Jane Austen. An interesting aspect of his discussion for NA is his assertion that "free indirect widely used by Jane Austen, particularly in her later work. He says "it combines detachment and economy with dramatic vividness and stylistic variety" Barnes and Noble, 1972, p 123) Page says she was not the first to use it: it is also found in Henry Fielding and Fanny Burney, but she develops, extends, and makes differing subtle uses of it. Page's examples are mostly drawn from MP and Persuasion (the latter he says "offers the fullest and most important use of free indirect speech" in Austen's work).

With regard to the General in these two chapters (and perhaps many of the others too), we are only occasionally given a piece of direct speech (in the first person), more often he is distanced from us, and the scene or dialogue summed up, e.g,

""And when they had gone over the house, he promised himself moreover the pleasure of accompanying her into the shrubberies and garden." She curtsied her acquiescence. "But perhaps it might be more agreeable to her to make those her first object. The weather was at present favourable, and at this time of year the uncertainty was very great of its continuing so. Which would she prefer? He was equally at her service. Which did his daughter think would most accord with her fair friend's wishes? But he thought he could discern. Yes, he certainly read in Miss Morland's eyes a judicious desire of making use of the present smiling weather. But when did she judge amiss? The abbey would be always safe and dry. He yielded implicitly, and would fetch his hat and attend them in a moment." He left the room..." (1995 Penguin ed Butler, pp 153-4)

Maybe Austen wrote the text this way because if she presented the General in the first person he would come across as too forceful, too hypocritical. We are also made to see him out of the eye of Catherine; to her "his" statements are "his;" and "I" or "Mine" would switch the perspective. It is important we watch him out of Catherine's naive sensibility. He looms over us and her; the lack of explicitness keeps the portrait believable.

Again and again the general is presented through indirect speech which is punctuated by a direct line from Catherine:

'he then modestly owned that, "without any ambition of that sort himself--without any solicitude about it--he did believe them to be unrivalled in the kingdom. If he had a hobby-horse, it was that. He loved a garden. Though careless enough in most matters of eating, he loved good fruit--or if he did not, his friends and children did. There were great vexations, however, attending such a garden as his. The utmost care could not always secure the most valuable fruits. The pinery had yielded only one hundred in the last year. Mr. Allen, he supposed, must feel these inconveniences as well as himself."'

"No, not at all. Mr. Allen did not care about the garden, and never went into it (Ch 22, p 155)

or a thought from her:

"He perceived her inclination, and having again urged the plea of health in vain, was too polite to make further opposition. He excused himself, however, from attending them: "The rays of the sun were not too cheerful for him, and he would meet them by another course." He turned away; and Catherine was shocked to find how much her spirits were relieved by the separation.. (Ch 22, p 156).

He does speak directly to his daughter, and we feel his presence stepping on hers with a direct force. The affect is to make us jump to it with Eleanor:

'But where are you going, Eleanor? Why do you choose that cold, damp path to it? Miss Morland will get wet. Our best way is across the park' (Ch 22, p 156).

Page says of the following paragraph in which we imagine Catherine questioning Miss Tilney that Austen gives "the impression of a sequence of speeches without ... loss of narrative pace:"

"Was she a very charming woman? Was she handsome? Was there any picture of her in the abbey? And why had she been so partial to that grove? Was it from dejection of spirits?"--were questions now eagerly poured forth; the first three received a ready affirmative, the two others were passed by... (Ch 22, p 157).

Page writes "the context makes it perfectly clear that Catherine's eager questions were asked and answered, or nor answered, separately; but the novelist has chosen to present them as a single speech, and to avoid a protracted ding-dong dialogue, partly to emphasize her heroine's curiosity, and partly to gain speech for the narrative" (Page, p 121)

Actually the one character in this scene who is given the most direct statements is Eleanor. And yet we feel Catherine's presence so much more intently.

The next chapter opens with the "dropped soliloquy," or a suggestive one put down in the middle of a narrative paragraph:

"This lengthened absence, these solitary rambles, did not speak a mind at ease, or a conscience void of reproach."(Ch 23, p 159)

Page says Austen's use of language is "versatile," moving between direct speech, inner soliloqury, narrative and comment.

This next chapter has much less of this suggestive indirect speech, but when it is used it comes in the same way, as a distancing and softener of the general, which makes him more believable (he is not to be an ogre) and emphasizes the effect he has on Catherine rather than he himself:

"The gallery was terminated by folding doors, which Miss Tilney, advancing, had thrown open, and passed through, and seemed on the point of doing the same by the first door to the left, in another long reach of gallery, when the general, coming forwards, called her hastily, and, as Catherine thought, rather angrily back, demanding whether she were going?--And what was there more to be seen?--Had not Miss Morland already seen all that could be worth her notice?--And did she not suppose her friend might be glad of some refreshment after so much exercise? Miss Tilney drew back directly, and the heavy doors were closed upon the mortified Catherine..." (Ch 23, p 162).

All of this increases Catherine's--and our--anxiety to explore alone. I'd also like to say how concise is this method. A later Victorian novelist would do each element in the imagined scene separately; here all is run together, and yet we get no feel of flat summary at all. By the time of this version of _NA_ there is nothing flat--so we never become bored as so much is caught in the words at once to keep us interested. This is tight polish, an effect of writing and rewriting, driving more depths of varied sorts, and moving through the story now as narrator, now as this presence, and now that as the sentences flow on

Ellen Moody

Frances Burkhart replied:

Rachel Crawford, an English professor at Univ of San Francisco, read an article-in-progress on 18th-century kitchen gardens and kitchen garden manuals to the Stanford Jane Austen Society last week. I only jotted down a few notes so please pardon the disjointedness.

Linnaeus' system of plant classification was widely adopted in the 1750's. This system includes sexual identification of plant structures as male or female. The kitchen garden manuals carry on this erotic diction, describing plants as active participants of appropriate heterosexuality, as "acting", "twining", "catching hold of", "winding themselves up", and "piercing the ground." Flowers are described as a virgin surrounded by her suitors, a mother with children at her knees, etc. Erasmus Darwin carries on this anthropomorphizing of plant life in his "The Loves of the Plants."

Rachel links the containment of the kitchen garden and its productivity to the containment of the woman's body and its erotic sexuality/maternal fecundity.

Repton, in the late 18th century, was (among?) the first to promote kitchen gardens as places of decoration - before this they were to be shielded from view.

The kitchen garden manuals insist that no gentleman should be above his kitchen garden. Cowper's poem "The Task" includes a tribute to his garden, the cucumber in particular. General Tilney certainly takes pride in his garden - but seems to do so for the show of it, the status is seems to impart to him. Look how big my garden is, look at all my hot houses, see how many pineapples I can produce, look at the fertility of my household.

Darcy strolls across his landscaped park and along the fish-filled streams of Pemberly. Mr. Knightly has farm land (and strawberry patches). Austen mentions shrubberies and woods. But, are kitchen gardens mentioned elsewhere.

Is Gen Tilney's taking Catherine to the kitchen garden, with it link to female sexuality & fertility, somewhat inappropriate? slightly off-color? We never answered this question in the meeting.

Frances Burkhardt

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Page Last Update 22 March 2003