Abstract and Keywords
Though less popular and esteemed in her own time than better known novelists like Maria Edgeworth and Walter Scott, Jane Austen now occupies an exalted place in literary history, in part for inventing nineteenth-century British ‘realist’ fiction. Such fictions seem to represent ‘real life’; she found narrative techniques to give the effect of the real. One of the most important of these techniques has been called ‘free indirect speech’: loosely, a narrator’s third-person, supposedly detached voice ventriloquizes the language and thus the perspective of one of the characters. Austen’s experiments with this device, particularly in Emma, have a history; she had foremothers. Analysis of examples from Austen’s and Edgeworth’s works demonstrate that the use of free indirect speech came to Austen in part through Edgeworth’s experiments in Tales of Fashionable Life. Elaborated and extended by Austen in her novels, the device constitutes Austen’s lasting formal contribution to the realist novel.
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