Exploring narrative voice


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An exploration of the use of narrative voice within the novel 'Wuthering Heights'.

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Exploring narrative voice

  1. 1. The Narrative Structure Why play with time?
  2. 2. Critical view 1What happens if we take away the frame? To pension off the narrators andstraighten out the time scheme might tumble us more quickly into the ‘main’plot, but it’s doubtful whether we should then make any more sense of whatwould be left in the novel – or even be prepared to bother with it at all. It hasoften been pointed out how a summary of the plot proves totally inadequateto the effect of the novel as a whole, the extreme and frequently violentincidents reducing to a catalogue of melodrama and sensationalism. So wemust conclude that the narrative structure in Wuthering Heights – theconstant movement between contrasting alternatives of extremity andordinariness – is in fact not merely perverse, a surface (dis)organisation thatgets in the way of the ‘real’ story. I’d like to suggest that this movement shoulditself be seen as a part of the story – or, more accurately, of the way we makesense of the story.... the intricate ordinariness within which events andcharacters are gradually pieced together, the mosaic of dates andnarrators, provides a familiar and manageable context; a means by which wecan begin to grasp the scale, and gain access to the significance, of what isgoing on. (Paul Norgate, ‘The Almanac and the Window; Narrative,Time andViewpoint in the Structure of Wuthering Heights’)
  3. 3. Critical view 2Time in the novel is interestingly treated. Emily Brontë does view it asan imprisoning influence... but also as a valid means of structuringexperiences.This shows in her reliance on retrospect; a means ofrevealing the past identity of her characters....To Heathcliff ofcourse, time is the main enemy after Catherine’s death. His view of thepast is central to understanding his final state of mind. In the crucialchapter 29, he begins by recounting the previous night’s bargain withthe sexton, during which the years of anguished memory arecrystallized:‘She has disturbed me, night and day, through eighteenyears incessantly – remorselessly – till yesternight’.We can now makethe link between Heathcliff’s account of his visit to Catherine’s grave onthe night of her burial, and Isabella’s alternative account of thoseevents, made over one hundred pages earlier. Her unsympatheticversion is now balanced by Heathcliff’s expression of his suffering,‘tobeguile me with the spectre of hope, through eighteen years!’ – thehope that her spirit might continue to exist by his side. (JennyOldfield, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights: A Study Guide)
  4. 4. Critical View 3One of the most fascinating aspects of Wuthering Heights isEmily Brontë’s handling of time.The present or ‘now’ of thenovel is a little under a year from November 1801 toSeptember 1802. During this period the story passes throughthirty-one years of chronological time .... Once thechronological story is under way we are quickly drawn into itsatmosphere; however, lest we should forget that it is a talebeing told to an independent observer who has by chancebecome involved in the final stages of the events, we areconstantly referred back to Lockwood... Each of theseinterruptions occurs at a point when there is a powerful build-up of emotions in the reader; they serve momentarily to lowerthe tension, thus allowing the next build-up to begin from aslightly lower point. (Hilda D. Spear, Macmillan MasterGuide:Wuthering Heights)
  5. 5. Exploring Narrative Voice
  6. 6. 1. Introducing Lockwood – the ‘Frame Narrator’The narrator is a creation of the author used to:• organise• select• present information.The narrator may also:• comment and judge• directly address the reader• be a participant in the story• be a detached observer• be ‘transparent’, appearing to speak with the voice of the author.
  7. 7. 1. Introducing Lockwood – the ‘Frame Narrator’Lockwood is not the only narrator in Wuthering Heights. Hisnarrative contains all the other stories and narratives told inWuthering Heights. Critics term this kind of narrator the‘frame narrator’.We are going to explore three extracts taken from early in thenovel. All three extracts are narrated by Lockwood.1. Read the extracts, annotating them with anything you cantell about the narrator and the way he is telling the story.2. Based on these extracts, what sort of narrator would yousay Lockwood is? Use the descriptions on the following slideto help you define the type of narrator Emily Brontë hascreated in Lockwood.
  8. 8. A narrator can:Either: Or:• belong to the same reality • stand outside the story as the characters (‘diegetic’) (’extradiegetic’) • tell the story without any• participate in the story involvement• be perceptive • misread events• play a role in the story • be ‘invisible’ (reader is (reader is aware of the unaware of any narrator or narrative voice) narrator as a character) • be unreliable (deliberately• be reliable (reader believes deceitful) or inadequate what the narrator relates) (unperceptive)
  9. 9. Extract One• 1801 – I have just returned from a visit from my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist’s Heaven – and Mr Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name. (p45/p3/p1)
  10. 10. Extract TwoI obeyed; and hemmed, and called the villain Juno, who deigned, atthis second interview, to move the extreme tip of her tail, in token ofowning my acquaintance.‘A beautiful animal!’ I commenced again. ‘Do you intend parting withthe little ones, madam?’‘They are not mine,’ said the amiable hostess more repellingly thanHeathcliff himself could have replied.‘Ah, your favourites are among these!’ I continued, turning to anobscure cushion full of something like cats.‘A strange choice of favourites,’ she observed scornfully.Unluckily, it was a heap of dead rabbits – I hemmed once more, anddrew closer to the hearth, repeating my comment on the wildness ofthe evening.(pp52-53/pp10-11/p7)
  11. 11. Extract Three‘It is strange,’ I began, in the interval of swallowing one cup of tea andreceiving another, ‘it is strange how custom can mould our tastes and ideas;many could not imagine the existence of happiness in a life of such completeexile from the world as you spend, Mr Heathcliff; yet, I’ll venture to say, that,surrounded by your family, and with your amiable lady as the presiding geniusover your home and heart –’‘My amiable lady!’ he interrupted, with an almost diabolical sneer on his face.‘Where is she – my amiable lady?’‘Mrs Heathcliff, your wife, I mean.’‘Well, yes – Oh! you would intimate that her spirit has taken the post ofministering angel, and guards the fortunes of Wuthering Heights, even whenher body is gone. Is that it?’Perceiving myself in a blunder, I attempted to correct it. I might have seenthat there was too great a disparity between the ages of the parties to makeit likely that they were man and wife. (pp54-55/p13/p9-10)
  12. 12. 2. Experimenting with Voice• The next two extracts are taken from early in Wuthering Heights.1. In groups of four, read the two extracts and talk about the following questions:• Of the two extracts which narrative voice appears more subjective?• Which narrative voice seems more reliable and accurate?• Which narrative voice do you find most engaging, or powerful, or affecting?
  13. 13. Extract One: Lockwood1801 – I have just returned from a visit from my landlord– the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. Thisis certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do notbelieve that I could have fixed on a situation socompletely removed from the stir of society. A perfectmisanthropist’s Heaven – and Mr Heathcliff and I are sucha suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. Acapital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmedtowards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw sosuspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when hisfingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution,still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name.(p45/p3/p1)
  14. 14. Extract Two: Nelly• We crowded round, and, over Miss Cathy’s head, I had a peep at a dirty, ragged, black-haired child; big enough both to walk and talk – indeed, its face looked older than Catherine’s – yet, when it was set on its feet, it only stared round, and repeated over and over again some gibberish that nobody could understand. I was frightened, and Mrs Earnshaw was ready to fling it out of doors: she did fly up – asking how he could fashion to bring that gipsy brat into the house, when they had their own bairns to feed, and fend for? (pp77-78/pp36-37/p31)
  15. 15. 3. Two Narrative Voices – Nelly and LockwoodIndividually, annotate the following extracts with any differences younotice in terms of their style and language.Discuss your notes in pairs. As a group decide on a difference in eachof the following categories:• vocabulary (for example, is it high or low frequency? colloquial or Standard English?)• sentence structure and length (simple, complex, compound?• punctuation (varied, or restricted to commas and full stops?)• tone (for example confident or hesitant?)• The effect of these linguistic choices on the narrative voice.How does the language the characters use help to create a particularimpression of them or influence the reader’s view of what they arelike?
  16. 16. NellyExtract 1‘Why, sir, she is my late master’s daughter; Catherine Linton was her maidenname. I nursed her, poor thing! I did wish Mr Heathcliff would removehere, and then we might have been together again’ ....‘Very old, sir, and Hareton is the last of them, as our Miss Cathy is of us – Imean, of the Lintons. Have you been to Wuthering Heights? I beg pardon forasking; but I should like to hear how she is?’ (p75/pp34-35/p29)Extract 2‘Rough as a saw-edge, and hard as whinstone! The less you meddle with himthe better.’... ‘It’s a cuckoo’s, sir – I know all about it; except where he was born, and whowere his parents, and how he got his money, at first – And Hareton has beencast out like an unfledged dunnock – The unfortunate lad is the only one, inall this parish, that does not guess how he has been cheated!’(p76/p35/pp29-30)
  17. 17. LockwoodExtract 1Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carvinglavished over the front, and especially about the principal door, abovewhich, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins, and shameless little boys, Idetected the date ‘1500’, and the name ‘Hareton Earnshaw’. I would have made afew comments, and requested a short history of the place, from the surlyowner, but his attitude at the door appeared to demand my speedy entrance, orcomplete departure, and I had no desire to aggravate his impatience, previous toinspecting the penetralium. (p46/p4/p2)Extract 2I, who had determined to hold myself independent of all social intercourse, andthanked my stars that, at length, I had lighted on a spot where it was next toimpracticable, I, weak wretch, after maintaining till dusk a struggle with lowspirits, and solitude, was finally compelled to strike my colours, and, under pretenceof gaining information concerning the necessities of my establishment, I desired MrsDean, when she brought in supper, to sit down while I ate it, hoping sincerely shewould prove a regular gossip, and either rouse me to animation, or lull me to sleepby her talk. (p74/p33/p28)
  18. 18. 4. Dual Narration1. Read the descriptions of the two main narrators on the handout.Individually, decide which descriptions most aptly fit Lockwood, whichNelly, and any that fit both. Find examples from the novel to illustratethe descriptions you choose for each narrator.2. With a partner, compare your descriptions of Nelly and Lockwoodand share the textual evidence you found to support your decisions.3. In pairs, attempt to find opposites in the descriptions. What doesone narrator do that the other does not?4. Are there any descriptions which you want to challenge, adapt orqualify in some way? If so, re-write the description so that you arehappy with it and explain to your partner the reason you have changedit. For example, you may have identified ‘often suppresses informationand deceives’ as best describing Nelly. However, you may want tochallenge the description, arguing that ‘sometimes she suppressesinformation but without the intention to deceive.’
  19. 19. The function of the dual narrationNow you’ve explored in some detail the main narrative voices inWuthering Heights and the different roles taken by Lockwood andNelly, try this ‘what if?’ task:• What if Brontë had used a single first person narrator?• What if Brontë had used a single third person narrator?• What if the novel had been ‘written’ entirely by Lockwood• What if the novel had been ‘recounted’ entirely by Nelly?What are your thoughts about the reasons Emily Brontë may haveused the dual narration in Wuthering Heights?• to highlight the partial and subjective nature of the narrative voice?• to show the reader that they must find the truth of the story?
  20. 20. 5. A Critical Take on Nelly’s VoiceOn the next slide is an extract from StephenJacobi’s essay ‘The Importance of Not BeingNelly: a Structuralist Approach’• As we read it through, try to bullet point the main points he seems to be making about Nelly’s narration
  21. 21. Stephen Jacobi, ‘The Importance of Not Being Nelly: a Structuralist Approach’‘Rough as a saw-edge, and hard as whinstone! The less you meddle with him the better’ (Chapter 4)This is Nelly’s ‘characteristic’ tone. The vocabulary is simple, and the sentences are short, almostbreathless, often broken by colons and semicolons, and containing both questions and exclamations.There is also a great sense of the ‘personal’ – the respectful repetition of ‘sir’, the colloquial phrasingand the willingness to give an opinion.However, once Nelly begins her narration, the briefly established characteristic tone quickly becomesdiluted, or combined with and punctuated by a series of other modes of narrative voice. Acomparison of the different voices will clarify this.First, there is Nelly’s mimetic mode (... the characteristic tone already noted) ...Compare this to another moment of ‘her’ narration (when she is giving information, rather thanreporting her own speech), when Master Linton inadvertently insults Heathcliff:‘... but Heathcliff ’s violent nature was not prepared to endure the impertinence from one whom heseemed to hate, even then, as a rival. He seized a tureen of hot apple sauce, the first thing that cameunder his gripe, and dashed it full against the speaker’s face and neck; who instantly commenced alament that brought Isabella and Catherine hurrying to the place.’ (Chapter 7)This passage occurs only two pages after the first example, but here the reader has an objectified,impersonal account of Heathcliff ’s character, not really in the accustomed manner of Nelly at all. Thesentences are evenly balanced, with the punctuation being used to control the rhythm, rather thanbreaking it ... .... Emily Brontë does actually admit a proliferation of ‘languages’ into her text ... .I have already identified one of these types of language (or modes of discourse) as Nelly’s ‘mimeticmode’, whilst the other, which is a more objective, evenly balanced voice, is the ‘diegetic’ mode.
  22. 22. Lockwood on Nelly’s narrationThe two quotations below are in Lockwood’s voice. Whatconnection can you find between the quotations includedhere and the critical extract? Why do you think EmilyBrontë has her frame narrator, Lockwood, comment onNelly’s ‘style’?• ‘You’ve done just right to tell the story leisurely. That is the method I like; and you must finish in the same style. I am interested in every character you have mentioned, more or less.’ (p102/p62/p54)• I have now heard all my neighbour’s history, at different sittings, as the housekeeper could spare time from more important occupations. I’ll continue it in her own words, only a little condensed. She is, on the whole, a very fair narrator, and I don’t think I could improve her style. (p192/p157/p137)