Free and Direct Discourse in Jane Austen’s, Emma
Jane Austen is often considered to have one of the most compelling narrative voices in literature. Blurring the line between third and first person, Austen often combines the thoughts of the narrator with the feelings and muses of the focalized character. Emma is perhaps her most prominent example of free indirect discourse, where the narrator’s voice is often diffused into that of the characters. In the following passage, Emma takes on her role at match-maker between Mr. Elton and Harriet Smith, two naïve and somewhat air-headed characters in the novel.
Mr. Elton was the very first person fixed on by Emma for driving the young farmer out of Harriet’s head. She though it would be an
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It almost sounds as if Austen is bragging that Emma was the first to think of this earthshattering idea, but then again, was it Austen or Emma who was bragging? It is hard for the reader to decide. Emma thought the idea so obvious that everyone must have already thought it, but what made her idea better was that it was had first. If a strict third person narrator would have related Emma’s idea to us, we would not get as much insight into why it was such a good idea and Emma’s thought process on it. Perhaps a third person narrator would have simply said, “and then Emma had the idea that Mr. Elton could replace the unworthy farmer.” In the next couple of sentences, Emma continues her stream of consciousness by listing the qualities that make Mr. Elton a suitable match for Harriet. This portion of the passage reflects Emma’s subjectivity and can be considered “a transcript of [her] conscious thought” (Gunn, 40). These considerations were not being made by the narrator. The person telling Emma’s story has no gain or loss in who Harriet decides to marry, but to Emma, it is of the utmost importance. This shows that the stream must be originating from Emma’s consciousness, and not that of the narrator. The reader can hear Emma’s judgments especially in the phrase, “quite the gentleman himself,” which shows that she thinks all of these qualities that Mr. Elton possesses makes him a worthy gentleman, and thus a candidate for