Academic journal article Style

The Source of "Dramatized Consciousness": Richardson, Austen, and Stylistic Influence

Academic journal article Style

The Source of "Dramatized Consciousness": Richardson, Austen, and Stylistic Influence

Article excerpt

To his observation that Henry James was, like George Eliot, "a great admirer of Jane Austen," F. R. Leavis adds the following footnote: "He can't have failed to note with interest that Emma fulfills, by anticipation, a prescription of his own: everything is presented through Emma's dramatized consciousness, and the essential effects depend on that" (10n). Perhaps he has in mind passages in Emma such as the following:

"Have you any idea of Mr. Knightley's returning your affection?"

"Yes," replied Harriet modestly, but not fearfully--"I must say that I have."

Emma's eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like her's, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress. She touched--she admitted--she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet's having some hope of a return? It darted through her, with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself! (335) (1)

Here Harriet's supposedly reciprocated feelings for Knightley force Emma to acknowledge the truth of her own heart. "A few minutes" of reflection are enough for revelation to be reached. Notice that the trajectory by which Emma arrives at the truth, from touching, to admitting, to acknowledging, is first described indirectly, from the vantage-point of an external narrator, and then presented more directly, as the narrative enters into her mind. It is Emma who asks herself "Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley, than with Frank Churchill?" and "Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet's having some hope of a return?" Her consciousness could be said to be "dramatized" here if by this is understood the narrative's attempt to re-enact, rather than describe externally, the character's actual thought-processes. From "Why was it so much worse" onwards the reader is granted intimate access to Emma's thoughts and anxieties, leading up to her final moment of anagnorisis. Notice, though, that the narrator's perspective is partly retained through the use of the past tense and the third person; Emma's thoughts would have been "Why is it so much worse [...] ?" and "Mr. Knightley must marry no one but me!"

Though it is going too far to claim that "everything" in the novel is presented in this way, there are certainly many other instances of the narrative slipping into Emma's consciousness. Take her first encounter with Mr. Martin as she and Harriet bump into him on the Donwell road:

Emma was not sorry to have such an opportunity of survey; and walking a few yards forward, while they talked together, soon her made her quick eye sufficiently acquainted with Mr. Robert Martin. His appearance was very neat, and he looked like a sensible young man, but his person had no other advantage; and when he came to be contrasted with gentlemen, she thought he must lose all the ground he had gained in Harriet's inclination. Harriet was not insensible of manner; she had voluntarily noticed her father's gentleness with admiration as well as wonder. Mr. Martin looked as if he did not know what manner was. (28)

Emma's first impression of Mr. Martin is heavily influenced by her prejudices against his social background and her plans for Harriet. In her mind he is simply an obstacle to Harriet's elevated future, and she is already rehearsing the grounds on which he will be supplanted. The final two sentences must, from the context, come from Emma's perspective rather than the narrator's. "She thought" is a strong hint that representation of her consciousness will follow, and "her father," referring to Mr. Woodhouse, a clue that her perspective predominates. With "Mr. Martin looked as if he did not know what manner was," the narrative must be inside Emma's mind, even though no linguistic signals have explicitly marked the point of entry, and again the past tense remains as an indirect feature. …

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