Free Indirect Discourse, Gender, and Authority in Emma, Howards End, and Mrs. Dalloway
Jane Austen said of Emma, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like" ( Austen- Leigh, 1 57)). E. M. Forster said of Margaret and Helen in Howards End that "occasionally the swish of the skirts . . . irritate[s]" ( Furbank, 1:190). Virginia Woolf said of Mrs. Dalloway: "The doubtful point is the character of Mrs. Dalloway. It may be too stiff, too glittering and tinsely" ( Writer's Diary, 61). Uttering these reservations in private about the representation and reception of their "heroines," Austen, Forster, and Woolf signal their/our problem with "who is speaking here." For how do Emma, Margaret, and Clarissa Dalloway emerge from the text? How can we describe the shifting, viscous relations between author, implied author, narrator, and these heroine- focalizers? Who speaks for whom? And what role does the construction of gender in narrators, focalizers, and characters play in our understanding of the novels' unfolding? While our dilemma as readers is to untangle our response to the polyphony of voices calling to us, surely some of our delight and pleasure stems from this confusion of voices, this confusion of gender.
In Emma, Howards End, and Mrs. Dalloway, we discover that a struggle is being waged between narrators and character-focalizers for control of the word, the text, and the reader's sympathy, a struggle paradigmatic of the conflict between conventional gender roles and of the resistance to traditional narrative authority in which a masterly male subject speaks for and over the female object of his gaze.