Friday, March 13, 2009

Jane Austen: "Direct Quotes"?

Jane Austen (c. 1810)
Watercolour and Pencil Sketch
Possibly Drawn by Sister Cassandra
(Image from Wikipedia)

In reading Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, I've noticed something odd that has undoubtedly been noticed before. In chapter two, a statement of Sir Walter Elliot -- the vain but thriftless aristocrat being advised by his lawyer (Mr Shepherd), by his friend (Lady Russell), and, most rigorously, by his middle daughter (Anne) to 'retrench' in his expenditures -- occurs in paragraph 6:
How Anne's more rigid requisitions might have been taken is of little consequence. Lady Russell's had no success at all: could not be put up with, were not to be borne. "What! Every comfort of life knocked off! Journeys, London, servants, horses, table, -- contractions and restrictions every where. To live no longer with the decencies even of a private gentleman! No, he would sooner quit Kellynch Hall at once, than remain in it on such disgraceful terms."
In paragraph 7 follows the lawyer's quick response:
"Quit Kellynch Hall." The hint was immediately taken up by Mr. Shepherd, whose interest was involved in the reality of Sir Walter's retrenching, and who was perfectly persuaded that nothing would be done without a change of abode. "Since the idea had been started in the very quarter which ought to dictate, he had no scruple," he said, "in confessing his judgment to be entirely on that side. It did not appear to him that Sir Walter could materially alter his style of living in a house which had such a character of hospitality and ancient dignity to support. In any other place Sir Walter might judge for himself; and would be looked up to, as regulating the modes of life in whatever way he might choose to model his household."
No doubt, the oddity immediately discloses itself. Both Sir Walter Elliot and his lawyer, Mr Shepherd, speak of themselves in the third person! This is extremely odd for our contemporary era, but what is its significance for Austen's time?

I assume that this has something to do with the conventions of punctuation in Jane Austen's day . . . but I have no way of knowing for certain.

Can any of my readers explain what is going on here?

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8 Comments:

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Eshuneutics said...

I never noticed this. Bizarre. And I have no explanation...perhaps Jane had been on the bottle and become tipsy on Western civilisation and its weird punctuation.

 
At 10:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, one can never get quite enough of the West, of course. I'm looking forward to a bit of Westernizing this evening . . . in a very civilized manner, of course.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Julie Choi said...

There is a good reason for this phenomeon which literary critics call "free indirect discourse" or FID for short. The third-person framework is maintained as well as the past tense, but the diction and idioms are those that would have been used in the first person by the individual speakers. This style is a mix between direct and indirect quotation and has the benefit of creating the illusion of transparent transcription of a third-person subjectivity simply lifted from his/her thoughts or speech. The reader can get a very good feel for the "mind" of the character in a very elegant and economic mode of narration that does not rely on lengthy explanation on the part of the narrator about the shortcomings, etc. of the character in question. It is this style that is the basis for Austen's fame as such a great novelist, knowing, penetrating, ironic, sympathetic, etc. I hope this explanation helps!

 
At 2:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Julie. I had heard of FID but hadn't known that it uses quotation marks. I truly do learn something new every day.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:29 AM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

I don't want to contradict Julie, but I don't think free indirect discourse uses quotation marks in the way they're used here.

I'm away from home with the girls for a week, or else I'd check my copy of Persuasion. Is it possible the quotation marks are simply a mistake?

 
At 4:49 AM, Blogger Eshuneutics said...

Another quandary. If the author uses " " doesn;t that make it direct speech? In which case, it cannot be an "indirect" discourse, which is Kate Marie's point.

 
At 4:50 AM, Blogger Eshuneutics said...

"doesn;t" is eshuneutical discourse, otherwise know as a typo.

 
At 5:14 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

KM and Eshuneutics, thanks for the remarks. I've just posted another entry on this query and noticed your remarks as I was getting ready to post, so I've linked.

Jeffery Hodges

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