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Table of contents :
1. Introduction
2. Geoffrey Chaucer: “The Miller’s Tale”
3. Aphra Behn: Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave: A True History (1688)
4. Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders (1722)
5. Samuel Richardson: Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740)
6. Henry Fielding: The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749)
7. Charles Dickens: Great Expectations (1861)
8. Thomas Hardy: “On the Western Circuit” (1891)
9. Henry James: “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903)
10. James Joyce: “Grace” (1914)
11. Joseph Conrad: The Shadow-Line: A Confession (1917)
12. Virginia Woolf: “An Unwritten Novel” (1921)
13. D. H. Lawrence: “Fanny and Annie” (1921)
14. Katherine Mansfield: “At the Bay” (1922)
15. John Fowles: “The Enigma” (1974)
16. Graham Swift: Last Orders (1996)
17. Conclusion
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Peter Hühn Eventfulness in British Fiction

Narratologia Contributions to Narrative Theory

Edited by Fotis Jannidis, Matı´as Martı´nez, John Pier Wolf Schmid (executive editor) Editorial Board Catherine Emmott, Monika Fludernik ´ Jose´ Angel Garcı´a Landa, Peter Hühn, Manfred Jahn Andreas Kablitz, Uri Margolin, Jan Christoph Meister Ansgar Nünning, Marie-Laure Ryan Jean-Marie Schaeffer, Michael Scheffel Sabine Schlickers, Jörg Schönert


De Gruyter

Peter Hühn

Eventfulness in British Fiction With contributions by Markus Kempf, Katrin Kroll and Jette K. Wulf

De Gruyter

ISBN 978-3-11-021364-5 e-ISBN 978-3-11-021365-2 ISSN 1612-8427 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Hühn, Peter, 1939⫺ Eventfulness in British fiction / by Peter Hühn ; with contributions by Markus Kempf, Katrin Kroll and Jette K. Wulf. p. cm. ⫺ (Narratologia. Contributions to narrative theory ; 18) ISBN 978-3-11-021364-5 (alk. paper) 1. English fiction ⫺ History and criticism. 2. English fiction ⫺ Stories, plots, etc. 3. Events (Philosophy) in literature. 4. Fiction ⫺ Stories, plots, etc. 5. Narration (Rhetoric) I. Title. PR830.P53H85 2010 8231.00924⫺dc22 2010001376

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de. 쑔 2010 Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, Berlin/New York Cover design: Christopher Schneider, Laufen Printing: Hubert & Co. GmbH & Co. KG, Göttingen ⬁ Printed on acid-free paper Printed in Germany www.degruyter.com

Preface This book describes a framework for the definition of the narratological term “event”, its specific dependence on the historical, socio-cultural and literary context, and its central function in the organization and the meaning of plot in narrative fiction. A series of analyses of individual British novels, tales and short stories demonstrates in detail how this concept can be put into practice for a specific contextual interpretation of the eventfulness of these texts. The adjective “British” is used here as a geographical rather than a political term referring to literature in English written in the British Isles through the centuries. The book is the result of work carried out under the leadership of Wolf Schmid and me in Sub-Project P11 “Ereignis und Ereignishaftigkeit in der englischen und russischen Literatur aus kulturhistorischer Perspektive” [“Event and eventfulness in English and Russian literature from the perspective of cultural history”] within the Hamburg Research Group “Narratology” established at the University of Hamburg by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation) on 1 April 2001. Work on Sub-Project P11 was funded from 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2007. Markus Kempf and Anja Burghardt participated as research assistants, Jette Wulf, Katrin Kroll and Tatjana Hahn as student assistants. I should like to thank them all for their help. Markus Kempf prepared four of the studies presented in this book. Katrin Kroll and Jette Wulf also both contributed one study each. For the translation of two analyses and the correction of several others I thank Alexander Starritt. I also thank Carola Goldmann for correcting some analyses and for the thorough final check of the entire book. Peter Hühn

Contents Introduction

PETER HÜHN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


LATE MEDIEVAL AND EARLY MODERN Geoffrey Chaucer: “The Miller’s Tale” (ca. 1390–1400) PETER HÜHN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Aphra Behn: Oroonoko (1688) PETER HÜHN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


18TH CENTURY Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders (1722) KATRIN KROLL. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Samuel Richardson: Pamela (1740) PETER HÜHN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Henry Fielding. Tom Jones (1749) MARKUS KEMPF . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


PREMODERN AND MODERNIST Charles Dickens: Great Expectations (1861)

PETER HÜHN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thomas Hardy: “On the Western Circuit” (1891)


MARKUS KEMPF . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 104



Henry James: “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903)

JETTE K. W U L F . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114

James Joyce: “Grace” (1914) PETER HÜHN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 125 Joseph Conrad: The Shadow-Line (1917)

PETER HÜHN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133 Virginia Woolf: “An Unwritten Novel” (1921) PETER HÜHN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145

D. H. Lawrence: “Fanny and Annie” (1921)

MARKUS KEMPF . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156

Katherine Mansfield: “At the Bay” (1922)

PETER HÜHN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 164

CONTEMPORARY John Fowles: “The Enigma” (1974)

PETER H Ü H N . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175

Graham Swift: Last Orders (1996) MARKUS KEMPF . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185 Conclusion

PETER H Ü H N . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 201

1 Introduction Peter Hühn 1. Defining Narrativity: Temporality, Eventfulness, Tellability Narrating as a communicative act combines two dimensions – the dimensions of sequentiality and mediation, i.e. the temporal sequence of happenings in the story world on the one hand and, on the other, the transmission of this sequence via a semiotic medium 1 (spoken or written language in literary texts, the combination of picture, sound and spoken dialogue in film or the actions and utterances of live characters, i.e. actors, on a stage in drama). In addition to the choice of a particular medium, mediation also comprises such phenomena as the standpoint, perspective and normative attitude of a presenter (a narrator) and the selection, presentation and arrangement of incidents (which convey an underlying, implicit perspective, commonly called the implied or abstract author). These two dimensions seem to be inherent – in various ways – in the binary opposition (and their three-level or four-level extensions) underlying the majority of narratological models such as histoire/récit, story/discourse, fabula/syuzhet, story/text. 2 Of these two dimensions, the temporal sequentiality alone is specific to narrativity. This is because all modes of communication and all types of discourse (argumentation, description, explanation as much as narration) necessarily presuppose some form of mediation and perspectivizing, in that they are transmitted in a given medium and presented from a particular position. Narratives, however, are distinguished from other text-types by the inherent temporal organization of what is mediated and communicated. 3 Two basic types of narration can be differentiated, each with a specific function. The most general type of narrative, tentatively termed “process narration”, is defined by a reference to a mere change of state or a succes_____________ 1 2 3

This is basically the definition adopted, e.g., by Prince (2008: 19): “an object is a narrative if it is taken to be the logically consistent representation of at least two asynchronous events that do not presuppose or imply each other”. See e.g. Genette (1980), Chatman (1990), Tomashevsky (1965), Rimmon-Kenan (2002), Abbott (2002). For a critical overview of these narrative parameters and a useful discussion of their theoretical difficulties and problems cf. Pier (2003). See e.g. Sternberg (2001: 115f.) and, generally, Sternberg (1990; 1992).


Peter Hühn

sion of such changes. This type is employed as a descriptive, informative, often explanatory way of tracing and communicating developments, processes or changes without necessarily raising expectations of interesting, surprising or unpredictable turns or deviations. Process narration seems to be used, inter alia, in the natural sciences, in historiography, in lawsuits, in diaries, travelogues, in sports casting, but also (for planning purposes) in informative genres such as recipes, instruction manuals and itineraries 4 or, prospectively, in weather reports. The second – more specific – narrative text-type requires something more crucial in addition to mere succession and change: an unexpected, exceptional or new turn in the sequential dimension, some surprising “point”, some significant departure from the established course of incidents, what Bruner succinctly refers to in his formula: “canonicity and breach”. 5 Recipients expect some such decisive change or turn, and a narrative lacking this kind of “point” will elicit the bored question “So what?” dreaded by every storyteller. Such decisive crucial turns will here be called “events” and accordingly this narrative text-type may be distinguished as “eventful narration”, as opposed to process narration. Such a crucial “point” generally functions as the raison d’être of a narrative, constituting its “tellability” or “noteworthiness”. 6 This obviously also applies to jokes, anecdotes, gossip and everyday conversational storytelling about personal experiences and likewise, more emphatically, to the great variety of literary narratives extending from highly schematised popular genres (including detective, crime and spy fiction as well as love and adventure stories) to novels belonging to the literary canon, short stories and ballads 7 , and, moreover, to drama and poetry. 8 Thus, tellability (and, ulti_____________ 4 5 6



These genres might be called proto-narrative. To become fully narrative a link with the attribution to a character is required. Bruner (1991: 11–13). Cf. Pratt’s (1977: 136, 144ff.) application of this notion to literary texts. Cf. Prince (2003: 97, 83; 2008: 2325). Fludernik (2003b: 245–46) refers to the dynamics between narrativity and tellability or point, drawing on Labov and other discourse analysts. Though based on her specific concept of natural narratology and experientiality, her notion that events (“points”) do not constitute narrativity in themselves but only through their emotional and evaluative overload can be linked to the approach adopted here for a description of eventfulness. The basic requirement of a “point” for narratives has been most extensively discussed by scholars analysing everyday or “natural” storytelling: cf. Labov & Waletzky (1967), Labov (1972); Ochs & Capps (2001); Prince (1983). Pratt (1977: 51ff., 136, 144ff.) discusses this point by applying Grice’s maxims to literature, especially to novels: she analyses the “display text” (i.e. the thematisation of the unusual), tracing the similarity between novels and natural narratives in this respect to the notions of the detachability of the display text and its susceptibility to elaboration. Cf. Hühn & Kiefer (2005).



mately, narrativity) can be said to depend on eventfulness. That is not to say that other features of the narrative text (including the particular choice and rendering of characters, incidents and setting, the specific style, use of wit and irony, etc.) do not also contribute to its tellability, with the occurrence of at least one event, however, remaining indispensable in all cases.9 The conception of narrativity inherent in the concept outlined above combines the two senses differentiated by Prince (1999: 43f.; 2008), Sternberg (2001) and Herman (2002: 100ff.) in the opposition of binary narrativehood and gradational narrativeness: eventfulness as the differentiating criterion of narrativity is both a binary category (a text is either narrative or not narrative, i.e. either features or does not feature events) and a scalar category (texts can be more or less narrative and thus rank higher or lower on the scale of eventfulness). 10 Furthermore, this additional requirement of eventfulness is contextsensitive 11 and consequently culturally as well as genre-specific, and historically variable. The context-sensitivity of eventfulness is a complex phenomenon that comprises the following aspects and must be specified with that in mind when analyzed with reference to actual narratives: the relevance – to the event – of the social and cultural setting depicted in the text; the relation of the event to social and cultural or literary phenomena outside the text; and the status of such an event within the contemporary world (whether common, rare or new). One particularly important type of context consists of other literary texts, which may serve as a frame of reference for the constitution of eventfulness in a narrative. 12 _____________ 9 10 11


Cf. the general overview of dimensions and aspects of tellability provided by Ryan (2005: 589–94) and Prince (2008: 2325). These two senses can be distinguished as an extensional and an intensional definition of narrativity – see Prince (2008: 20). Cf. Prince (1983), who discusses message and point as part of narrative pragmatics. He links the term “point” (pointless vs. pointed) to the phenomenon of relevance and stresses its context-dependence under two aspects: for the text and for the receiver. The need for a reconstruction of the context for the receiver is due to the fact that literary texts are not closely tied to the context of their production (534). Polanyi (1979: 209) seeks to answer the question “What do Americans tell stories about?”, using point (the noteworthy, the narratable, the interesting) as the main focus. The point of narrative, she argues, emerges from context reference, which is dependent on narrative or event structure (time), descriptive structure (material) and, most importantly, evaluative structure. She further distinguishes between the culturally interesting (with the broadest appeal, to the entire culture), the socially interesting (appeal to a group) and the personally interesting, noting that the interesting (in America) can be equated with the odd or the unexpected, the violation of a norm (211–12), although it is highly variable from a cultural perspective. For an (earlier) summary of the approach outlined in this introduction, see Hühn (2008). For a general, comprehensive overview of aspects of event and eventfulness, see Hühn (2009).


Peter Hühn

2. Modelling Eventfulness: Schema Theory and Lotman’s Concept of Sujet As for the definition of eventfulness, those narratological models that posit change as an additional constituent of narrativity 13 tend to be too general and lacking in specificity to account for the structure and status of what constitutes a change. 14 Further specifications are required with respect, in particular, to what counts as a decisive change and whether the measure of decisiveness can be determined on a purely textual basis. The most elaborate proposal so far for a definition of eventfulness is Schmid’s (2003) list of seven criteria. 15 Schmid names two absolute or necessary preconditions: reality and resultativity, i.e. changes must actually occur and they must be complete in order to qualify as events. These absolute criteria allow, however, for complex and qualified forms of textual realisation. Thus the mental act of wishing or dreaming as such may prove eventful under certain circumstances, even without the actual achievement of what is being wished or dreamt of. And a text may narrate just the beginning or the preparation of an eventful change and break off without actually presenting the completed event itself. Schmid adds five relative or gradational criteria: relevance, unpredictability, persistence, irreversibility and non-iterativity, i.e. changes can be more or less relevant, unpredictable, persistent, irreversible and singular, and their degree of eventfulness will vary accordingly. The relative significance of these five criteria for the measure of eventfulness is largely conditioned by the context, that is, dependent on the historical period and on socio-cultural phenomena as well as the literary genre and the individual features of the author’s entire oeuvre. Here, too, a fairly wide spectrum of textual manifestations is possible. Under certain circumstances, the repetition of a change may even raise the level of eventfulness instead of lowering it, e.g. winning in a game of chance. And there are genres in which certain events are predictable in principle but not in the concrete shape they take, e.g., the initiation of a young protagonist into his or her destined role in a fairy tale or the solution of a mysterious case in a detective novel or the final catastrophe in a tragedy. To supplement and contextualise such a definition of eventfulness, an analytical approach will be elaborated which combines two concepts of _____________ 13 14


E.g. Greimas (1987); Bremond (1973); Todorov (1977); Sternberg (2001). For an overview of different types of event in the sense of change, see Herman (2005: 151–52). Such a notion of event as (mere) change has to be clearly distinguished from the more specific concept of event proposed in the present article: event as a decisive and unexpected change. See also Schmid (2005), 20–22.



modelling sequentiality in narrative texts: cognitivist schema theory and Lotman’s semiotic model of the artistic text. Both concepts stress the semantic dimension of eventfulness as well as its correlation to textual and extratextual order and value systems, 16 thereby allowing for a precise explication of the relation of event to context. Schema theory 17 enables us to show how recipients make sense of narratives, as of any other kind of text, 18 by drawing on their knowledge of the world as determined by cognitive structures and semantic patterns that already exist in their minds and are, consequently, already meaningful. These operations are fundamentally the same as those routinely employed by people in ordinary real-life situations. In fact, these cognitive structures constitute a link between experience and understanding in the actual world and in fiction. Two broad types of such patterns may be distinguished: firstly, static schemata or frames, i.e. situational or thematic contexts into which a text is placed so as to be understood; and secondly, with particular importance for narratives and their plots, dynamic schemata or scripts, i.e. sequential or procedural patterns which underlie or organise a course of action or a succession of incidents. While frames are used to determine the thematic or situational relevance of what is happening (e.g. a love relationship between a man and a woman), scripts describe the abstract structures of stereotypical sequences of actions (e.g. the typical steps of conventional courtship) to which plots in a novel may refer. Frames and scripts are mutually correlated (as in the examples of love and courtship procedure) 19 . Schemata may be based on references to two different types of context: either to general experience and the knowledge of the real world (extratextual references to phenomena such as merchant shipping and the careers of ship’s officers and captains) 20 and to literature _____________ 16


18 19 20

Cf. Pratt (1977: 72–73), who stresses the context-dependence of relevance, pointedness and thus, by implication, eventfulness, although she does not use the term, referring instead to Labov’s notion of the “unspoken permanent agenda”; cf. also Culler’s (1975: 113ff., 140ff.) and Bruner’s (1991: 14–17) extensive and precise discussions of the contextsensitivity of narrative meaning and that of genre. Cf. e.g. Schank & Abelson (1977); Schank (1990); Herman (2002); Cook (1994). Schank & Abelson make a useful distinction between scripts, stereotypical sequences of actions or incidents of a situational, personal or instrumental kind; plans, procedures of achieving goals, conducted by actors; and themes, similar to what is normally called a [thematic] frame – the situational context of a person’s behaviour. Cf. Goffman’s (1986: 10–11) specification: “I assume that definitions of a situation are built up in accordance with principles of organization which govern events – at least social ones – and our subjective involvement in them: frame is the word I use to refer to such of these basic elements as I am able to identify.” The same goes for authors in the act of producing the text. Cf. the analysis of Richardson’s Pamela in the present volume (63î73). Cf. the analysis of Conrad’s The Shadow-Line in the present volume (133î44).


Peter Hühn

and the other arts (intertextual references 21 to literary models such as the detective’s search for the solution of a mystery) 22 . Furthermore, there are intratextual scripts which are established in the course of the work in question itself (such as the chain of illusory triumphs over illusion in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). A narrative text that conforms closely to a schema is, however, not noteworthy and therefore not eventful, since such a text only reproduces what is already known and expected. Eventfulness thus involves departure from a schematic pattern or script activated in the text. 23 Moreover, departure from an established pattern may vary in degree by dint of being more or less unexpected or exceptional, so that the concept of eventfulness is necessarily gradational. 24 Also to be taken into account are two important conceptual consequences entailed in cognitivist theory. Schemata (frames and scripts) are not inherent in textual structures in any ontological sense but must be inferred by the reader (and the literary critic) from specific cues or signals in the text, activated in his or her mind on the basis of his or her knowledge of the world, and correlated to the narrative. 25 In addition, relevant schemata will vary both diachronically and synchronically, the analysis of eventfulness thus involving identification and specification of those schemata that can be shown to be culturally, historically and generically germane: what counts as an event will thus have to be assessed with reference to the context in terms of genre, 26 culture, social group, historical period and author. For texts from a remote period and from a foreign culture, the relevant context in terms of world knowledge has to be reconstructed carefully. Furthermore, since the actual relevance of schemata and the status of events depend on the consciousness of a perceiving subject for whom a schema is relevant and, consequently, to whom an incident appears to be eventful, eventfulness will vary in relation to the entity or level in the textual setup (protagonist/character, narrator, author or reader). Thus, a development may be eventful for the protagonist or one of the other characters but not for the _____________ 21 22 23 24 25 26

Cf. Pier (2004). Cf. the analysis of Fowles’s “The Enigma” in the present volume (175î84). See Herman (2002: 85–86). Cf. Herman’s (2002: 86, 91, 100ff.) scalar definition of “narrativity” in contrast to the binary category of “narrativehood”. Schmid (2003) also conceives of eventfulness as a gradational category. See Herman (2002: 91, 95–96): the text cues recipients to activate certain kinds of world knowledge. See also Todorov (1977) and Barthes (1977). Herman (2002: 105) describes genres as script-based macrodesigns; Pratt (1977: 86) speaks about genres in terms of communicative conventions and felicity conditions. See also Schaeffer (1989).



narrator and the reader or vice versa, as in James Joyce’s short story “Grace”. 27 The cognitivist description of eventfulness and tellability may be supplemented by Lotman’s concept of sujet, which is centrally based on the notion of the event. 28 Lotman, too, construes eventfulness as a departure or deviation from a norm, the violation of an established order. He describes the basic normative order typically underlying a narrative text as a “semantic field”, using metaphorically spatial terms. This semantic field is sub-divided into two sub-fields (or sub-sets) by a boundary (or border) 29 which separates the scope of a particular set of features, norms and values from the domain of a different order with opposite norms. In Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela 30 , for instance, the semantic field can be identified as the hierarchical structure of society split into the two sub-fields of the lower (working) class and the aristocracy, which are defined by a concomitant set of contrastive features and norms: low vs. high status, poor vs. rich, being required to work vs. enjoying a leisured existence, dependent vs. independent (etc.). People belong to their respective class on account of their birth and origin. Crossing the boundary is normally impossible or prohibited for the figures within this sub-field, and, if it occurs, brought about by the protagonist (who thereby becomes a mobile figure), this fact is something noteworthy or significant in itself and constitutes an “event”. In Richardson’s novel, the servant-girl Pamela is finally married by an aristocrat (on account of her superior morality and exemplary social graces), thereby crossing the boundary between the two sub-fields, which counts as highly eventful because practically exluded by the prevailing social order. The elaboration of the semantic field and its binary subdivision is always culturally and historically specific î in this example conditioned by the context of the contemporary class-structure in Britain. Like Schmid, Lotman also defines events in gradational terms, since the extent of “resistance” a boundary puts up to being crossed (i.e. its degree of inviolability) conditions the degree of eventfulness. Although the terms of “field”, “boundary” and “boundary crossing” are not meant primarily spatially, but serve as metaphors for the modelling of abstract normative orders (although changes and events in literary texts do often manifest themselves in spatial form), Lotman’s terminology tends to suggest arrangements that are too simple and too concrete. For a more flexible and differentiated application of this approach, one must take into account that these norms may be situated on various levels and _____________ 27 28 29 30

Cf. the analysis of Joyce’s “Grace” in the present volume (125î32). Lotman (1977: esp. 23340); cf. Shukman (1977). These two terms are used as synonyms in the following analyses. See the analysis in this volume (63î73).


Peter Hühn

adopt diverse forms such as different social ranks, development stages, concepts of morality or mental attitudes, or more generally: different cognitive structures, value systems or world views. Since these normative orders are constituted by binary oppositions, they can be described in pairs of opposites: middle classes vs. aristocracy, immature youth vs. mature adulthood, rationality vs. insanity, ignorance vs. insight etc. The transition from one state (“sub-field”) to another often occurs not abruptly but in a long drawn-out process of gradual change. These categories enable the analyst to explicate the relation between the narrative text and its social or cultural context(s), determining the relevance and semantic significance of the narrated change. Lotman’s model allows for the conceptualisation of successive and progressive events, but also of regressive events. The protagonist may become immobile in the new sub-field or progress further, in which case the semantic field is re-defined, the previous second sub-field changing into a new first sub-field, which in turn is delimited by another boundary that the protagonist, if he or she remains mobile, may cross and so forth and so on. But it is also possible for the protagonist, having crossed the boundary, to retrace his or her steps, as it were, re-entering the old first field and revoking or cancelling the event. Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations 31 may serve as an illustrative example of successive and reversed eventful movements together with a re-definition of the semantic field. The protagonist Pip goes through three stages in the course of the novel: first, the rise from a blacksmith’s apprentice to the position of gentleman, a positive event within a socially defined field (social status); second, the cancellation of this rise (because morally discredited), a negative event within the same field; third, the re-definition of the semantic field in moral terms and Pip’s eventful development into a responsible and caring person capable of sympathy for others. The two approaches – the cognitivist and the semantic – complement each other in that schema theory offers a rigorous conceptualisation of the sequential coherence of actions, happenings and incidents, while Lotman provides a clear description both of the semantic framework and of the decisive turn within the sequential dimension as well as a more explicit definition of the status of the event in cultural and historical terms. Systematic research into the cultural and historical development of what counts as an event has so far been lacking. 32 _____________ 31 32

See the analysis in the present volume (87î103). The need for just such a research programme into diachronic and synchronic variability is mentioned by Herman (2002: 107–13; see also 86) and Fludernik (2003a).



3. Types of Eventfulness Events and the sequences in which they occur are usually ascribed to a figure, either an agent or a patient, i.e. to a character who actively initiates or passively undergoes a change. The decisive change can also occur in a collective, a group of people (as the ship’s crew in Conrad’s The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’) or in the physical or social setting of a story (as the national rebellion in Conrad’s Nostromo), but change of this kind will normally have a subsequent impact in the form of changing fortunes, relations, emotions and attitudes in one or more individuals. The causes of change are an important issue: Individual changes can be caused by physical, social, interpersonal or psychological actions or occurrences (such as a flash of revelation, epiphany or crisis). These individual sequences form different storylines (or plotlines), which – in a long story or a novel – usually interact and combine to produce the complex overall plot of the text. Three types of event can be distinguished, 33 according to the level of the narrative text on which the figure is located and on which the decisive turn or deviation takes place or, more precisely, to which it is ascribed: 34 (a) events in the happenings or story-world events situated at the level of histoire or story, within the narrated incidents, with the protagonist as agent or patient (as, for instance, in Richardson’s Pamela, where the change of the heroine’s social and marital status constitutes the event; prototypical examples are fairy tales with the hero or heroine conventionally undergoing an eventful change); (b) presentation events, located at the level of récit or discourse, with the narrator as protagonist who typically experiences a change in his or her attitude or consciousness, constituting a story of narration 35 (as, for instance, in Virginia Woolf’s “An Unwritten Novel”, 36 where the narrator radically changes her concept of making sense of other people by inventing stories about them; another example is John le Carré’s The Russia House and the narrator’s eventful change of attitude – in the course of his narration – from committed spy to critic of the secret service); (c) reception events, located at the level of reading, with the reader as agent; this type refers to cases where neither the protagonist nor the narrator is able or willing to undergo a decisive change, which the composition of the text (i.e. the implied author), however, signals as necessary or desirable and which the (ideal) reader is meant to perform vi_____________ 33 34 35 36

See Hühn & Kiefer (2005: 246î51). Stories and events do not exist in the world. Rather, they are constituted by the mediation through discourse in the first place. But the text can ascribe them either to the story-world or to the discourse level or else delegate them to the level of reception. Cf. Schmid (1982; 2005: 18, 268f.). See the analysis in the present volume (145î55).


Peter Hühn

cariously in his or her own consciousness 37 (as, for instance, in the short stories of Joyce’s Dubliners 38 , where characters invariably fail to achieve the eventful escape from the paralysing atmosphere of the city, an event the reader is induced to perform in his or her mind instead; examples of a different genre are jokes, which specifically require the reader to make the necessary connections and discover the point). 4. Eventfulness in British Fiction: The Selection of Texts and Arrangement of the Analyses This new approach to the plot analysis of narrative fiction from the aspect of eventfulness as constitutive of narrative tellability is explored in fifteen British novels, tales or short stories, i.e. examples taken from the corpus of narrative fiction written in the British Isles. These analyses have a twofold aim: first, to investigate the form, place and (degree of) realization of events within the narrative setup of the texts and, second, to determine the relevant contexts (and their types) on which the eventfulness in each case depends, and to trace changes (or continuities) of this contextdependence through the course of history. The historical range of the texts selected stretches from the late Middle Ages to the end of the 20th century with a special focus on the transition from 19th-century Realism to 20th-century Modernism (Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Katherine Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence). This period is especially focused on because it is during these decades that the notion of eventfulness, which still seemed largely intact during the 18th century, was variously problematized and eroded. For the sake of contrast, a small number of texts from different periods are grouped around this focus: two texts from the early stages of English fiction (Geoffrey Chaucer of the 14th, Aphra Behn of the 17th century) and three novelists from the 18th century (Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding) precede the transitional period around the turn of the 20th century and two examples from the end of the last century (John Fowles, Graham Swift) follow it. Most of the authors chosen belong to the canon of English/British fiction. The primary aim of the essays that follow is to demonstrate the method of applying the analysis of eventfulness to texts of different struc_____________ 37


Of course, readers are always meant to re-create the eventful change mediated by a text in their consciousness. But, in the case of reception events, the text refrains from narrating the event so that readers are required to complete the eventful development in their minds in direct contrast to what is narrated. Whether they actually do so is another matter. See the analysis of “Grace” in the present volume (125î32).



tures and from different periods and illustrate the benefits of this approach for an understanding of the plot-structure of these texts and its dependence on various context features. They are intended as models of how the approach outlined in this introduction could be put into practice, and not to provide comprehensive interpretations on the basis of a detailed discussion of previous assessments; references to criticism have therefore been restricted to selected representative works.

References Abbott, H. Porter (2002). The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge UP). Barthes, Roland (1977 [1966]). “Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives”, in Image Music Text, tr. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill & Wang), 79î124. Bremond, Claude (1973). Logique du récit. coll. « Poétique » (Paris: Éditions du Seuil). Bruner, Jerome (1991). “The Narrative Construction of Reality”, in Critical Inquiry 18 (1): 1î21. Chatman, Seymour (1990). Coming to Terms: The Rhetoric of Narrative in Fiction and Film (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP). Cook, Guy (1994). Discourse and Literature: The Interplay of Form and Mind (Oxford: Oxford UP). Culler, Jonathan (1975). Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP). Fludernik, Monika (2003a). “The Diachronization of Narratology”, in Narrative 11: 331î48. – (2003b). “Natural Narratology and Cognitive Parameters,” in Narrative Theory and the Cognitive Sciences, ed. David Herman. CSLI Lecture Notes No. 158 (Stanford: CSLI Publications), 24367. Genette, Gérard (1980 [1972]). Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, tr. Jane E. Lewin, Foreword by Jonathan Culler (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP). Goffman, Erving (1986). Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (Boston: Northeastern UP). Greimas, Algirdas (1987). “A Problem of Narrative Semiotics: Objects of Value”, in On Meaning: Selected Writings in Semiotic Theory, tr. P. J. Perron & F. H. Collins (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Pr.), 84105. Herman, David (2002). Story Logic: Problems and Possibilities of Narrative (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Pr.). – (2005). “Events and Event-types”, in Routledge Encyclopedia of Nar-rative Theory, ed. David Herman, Manfred Jahn & Marie-Laure Ryan (London & New York: Routledge), 151–52.


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Hühn, Peter & Jens Kiefer (2005). The Narratological Analysis of Lyric Poetry: Studies in English Poetry from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, tr. A. Matthews (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter). – (2008). “Forms and Functions of Eventfulness in Narrative Fiction”, in Theorizing Narrativity, ed. John Pier & José Ángel García Landa (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter), 141î63. – (2009). “Event and Eventfulness”, in Handbook of Narratology, ed. Peter Hühn, John Pier, Wolf Schmid, Jörg Schönert (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter), 80î87. Labov, William (1972). Language in the Inner City (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Pr.). Labov, William & Joshua Waletzky (1967). “Narrative Analysis: Oral Versions of Personal Experience”, in Essays on the Verbal and Visual Arts, ed. June Helms (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Pr.), 12–44. Lotman, Jurij (1977 [1970]). The Structure of the Artistic Text, tr. G. Lenhoff & R. Vroon (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Pr.). Ochs, Elinor & Lisa Capps (2001). Living Narratives: Creating Lives in Everyday Storytelling (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP). Pier, John (2003). “On the Semiotic Parameters of Narrative: A Critique of Story and Discourse”, in What Is Narratology? Questions and Answers Regarding the Status of a Theory, ed. Tom Kindt & Hans-Harald Müller (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter), 73î97. – (2004). “Narrative Configurations”, in The Dynamics of Narrative Form: Studies in Anglo-American Narratology, ed. John Pier (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter), 239î68. Polanyi, Livia (1979). “So What’s the Point?”, in Semiotica 25: 207–41. Pratt, Mary Louise (1977). Toward a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (Bloomington: Indiana UP). Prince, Gerald (1983). “Narrative Pragmatics, Message and Point”, in Poetics 12: 527î36. – (1999). “Revisiting Narrativity”, in Grenzüberschreitungen: Narra-tologie im Kontext / Transcending Boundaries: Narratology in Context, ed. Walter Grünzweig & Andreas Solbach (Tübingen: Narr), 43–51. – (2003 [1987]). A Dictionary of Narratology (Lincoln & London: Univ. of Nebraska Pr.). – (2008). “Narrativehood, Narrativeness, Narrativity, Narratability”, in Theorizing Narrativity, ed. John Pier & José Ángel García Landa (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter), 1927. Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith (2002 [1983]). Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics (London: Routledge). Ryan, Marie-Laure (2005). “Tellability”, in Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, ed. David Herman, Manfred Jahn & Marie-Laure Ryan (London & New York: Routledge), 589–94. Schaeffer, Jean-Marie (1989). “Literary Genres and Textual Genericity”, in The Future of Literary Theory, ed. Ralph Cohen (New York: Routledge), 167î87. Schank, Roger C. (1990). Tell Me a Story: A New Look at Real and Artificial Memory (New York: Scribner). Schank, Roger C. & Roger P. Abelson (1977). Scripts, Plans, Goals and Understanding: An Inquiry into Human Knowledge Structures (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum).



Schmid, Wolf (1982). “Die narrativen Ebenen ‘Geschehen’, ‘Geschichte’, ‘Erzählung’ und ‘Präsentation der Erzählung’”, in Wiener Slawistischer Almanach 9: 83110. – (2003). “Narrativity and Eventfulness”, in What Is Narratology? Ques-tions and Answers Regarding the Status of a Theory, ed. Tom Kindt & Hans-Harald Müller (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter), 17–33. – (2005). Elemente der Narratologie (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter). Shukman, Ann (1977). Literature and Semiotics: A Study of the Writings of Yu. M. Lotman (Amsterdam: North-Holland). Sternberg, Meir (1990). “Telling in Time (I): Chronology and Narrative Theory”, in Poetics Today 11: 901–48. – (1992). “Telling in Time (II): Chronology, Teleology, Narrativity”, in Poetics Today 13: 463–541. – (2001). “How Narrativity Makes a Difference”, in Narrative 9: 11522. Todorov, Tzvetan (1977 [1968]). “The Grammar of Narrative”, in The Poetics of Prose, tr. Richard Howard (Ithaca: Cornell UP), 108–19. Tomashevsky, Boris (1965 [1925]). “Thematics”, in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, tr. Lee T. Lemon & Marion J. Rice (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Pr.), 61î95.


2 Geoffrey Chaucer: “The Miller’s Tale” from The Canterbury Tales (ca. 1390–1400) Peter Hühn 1. Plot Structure: The Interlinking of Plotlines The story in Chaucer’s verse tale, or, more accurately, fabliau 1 “The Miller’s Tale” 2 encompasses four characters: three men (the carpenter John, the student Nicholas and the parish clerk Absolon) and one woman (John’s wife Alisoun), along with their actions. These actions are presented in the shape of three interwoven, event-containing plotlines, and each of these plotlines is in fact constituted through the relation of occurrences (in the form of both actively initiated and passively experienced incidents) to one of the three men as a protagonist. In contrast, Alisoun does not underpin an eventful plot sequence. The three plotlines, each related to one of the men, are constructed as analogous and competing in that they are all – although in different ways – directed at Alisoun, so that the woman represents the narrative object and, as such, merely reacts, developing no narrative strand of her own. The interweaving of the three plotlines is effected in the way they are actionally and thus also chronologically correlated and embedded. The base story is concerned with the carpenter and his emotional and intellectual state, particularly his obsessive love for Alisoun, and the behaviour it determines. In keeping with the conventions of the genre of the fabliau, the characters are not complexly psychologized in the modern sense, but are rather defined by a few attributes of personality and status. Thus the carpenter is characterized as rich, old and jealous, good-tempered and gullible. Decisive for the plot is first and foremost that he is governed by his affects, namely by his excessive love for Alisoun, and that he does not allow himself to be guided by reason or insight. Because of this, he is, despite his age, tempted into marrying the pretty and sensual eighteenyear-old Alisoun. This is, as the narrator explains at the outset (322732), a mistake caused by a lack of insight and one which violates the relevant code (the principle of equality as a basis for marriage). This comment _____________ 1 2

On the characteristics of the “fabliau” genre, as well as on the partial deviation of “The Miller’s Tale” from these, see below, ch. 3. Text quoted from Robinson (1966: 4855). Translations from Hill (2007: 6474).


Peter Hühn

makes the appropriate interpretative schemata explicit from the beginning. The frame established for John’s story is not primarily love, but rather the problem of blindness and insight, of affect and reason (3221ff.): He knew nat Catoun, for his wit was rude, That bad man sholde wedde his simylitude. Men sholde wedden after hire estaat, For youthe and elde is often at debaat (322730) 3 ;

the narrator also explicitly formulates the script in a metaphorical paraphrase: a transgression of this sort necessarily brings with it punishment in the form of suffering: “sith that he was fallen in the snare, / He moste endure, as oother folk, his care” (3231f.) 4 . This behaviour of the carpenter’s not only facilitates, but indeed ultimately provokes the development of a second plotline, the affair between Nicholas and Alisoun. Nicholas is introduced as an experienced, clever and discreet paramour: “Of deerne love he koude and of solas; / And thereto he was sleigh and ful privee” (3200f.). 5 And, encouraged by spatial proximity (as a lodger in the house) as well as Alisoun’s erotic attractiveness and sensuality (“likerous ye”, 32446 , cf. 3345), Nicholas flirts with her, attempts to seduce her and swiftly wins – partly because she is sensually unfulfilled – her willingness, in principle, to reciprocate his advances: “she hir love him graunted atte laste” (3290) 7 ; “this was his desir and hire also” (3407) 8 . The plotline introduced in this way is thus framed as a love affair which must be concealed and orientates itself on the sequential schema of courtship and seduction with the goal of secret, extra-marital sexual gratification as the desired event. This gratification, because it is conventional and predictable in the fabliau context, ranks relatively low on the scale of eventfulness. However, the realization of the script, or, to use Lotman’s categories, the crossing of the border through the embedding into the carpenter’s plotline, is faced with a particular obstacle: just as the marriage of the old carpenter with a “wild young” woman (3225) facilitates the initiation of the affair, so his obsessive jealousy (3224) hinders the affair’s fulfilment and makes specific labours and precautions necessary in the reaching of that goal, namely secrecy (“deerne”, 3297)9 and an _____________ 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

“He knew not Cato (for his wit was rude), / Who bade men wed in some similitude; / Men ought to mate with those of like condition, / For youth and age are oft in opposition”. “since he had fallen in the snare, / He must endure, like other men, his care”. “Skilled both in mirth and secret love he was; / And he was sly and subtle as could be”. “wanton eye”. “She granted him the love he asked at last”. “For this was his desire and hers as well”. “secret, discreet”.

Geoffrey Chaucer: “The Miller’s Tale”


ingenious ruse (“a wyle / This sely jalous housbonde to bigyle”, 3403f.) 10 . The resultant difficulty of crossing the border and the strategy employed by Nicholas to overcome it (predicting a flood, procuring and separately hanging up kneading troughs) increase the eventfulness of the night they spend together when it is finally realized, especially by means of the elaboration of the joke with which the carpenter is deceived: “Withouten wordes mo they goon to bedde / Ther as the carpenter is wont to lye” (3650f.) 11 . With that, the love story, as it initially appears, reaches its successful climax and is concluded. The story of Nicholas’ courtship and seduction of Alisoun is then contrasted with a rival’s – Absolon’s – courtship of Alisoun, introducing a third plotline. The frame, erotic love, mirrors that of Nicholas’ story. The script (courtship and the striving for gratification) is structurally similar in both, though with characteristic cultural differences. Where Nicholas, in his seduction techniques, is aggressive and unambiguously sexually interested (“and prively he caughte hire by the queynte”, 3275)12 , Absolon orientates himself towards the cultivated form of the script of courtly love, albeit in a highly, even grotesquely coarsened manner, with parodic implications: he courts his beloved with guitar music and singing, inter alia below her bedroom window (3352ff.), reacts to her indifference with stylised heartache (“this joly Absolon / So woweth hire that hym is wo bigon. / He waketh al the nyght and al the day”, 3372f.; 13 also 3658) and finally requests the favour of a kiss (3680, 3714ff.). The parodic components of his reference to this script reveal themselves in exaggerations and inappropriateness; for example, that he pays court in the same way to all the women in his vicinity, that he, during collection in church, does not accept donations from women on principle (3349ff.), that he sometimes courts Alisoun via middlemen and with gifts (of money) (3378ff.) and that he places excessive importance on his fashionably elegant exterior and his fine manners (“he was somdeel squaymous / Of farting, and of speche daungerous”, 3337f.) 14 . As with Nicholas, the interweaving of plotlines determines the difficulty in crossing the border and in the realization of the event: the rivalry with the luckier Nicholas prevents Absolon’s success: “She loveth so this hende Nicholas / That Absolon may blowe the _____________ 10 11 12 13 14

“a subtle plot … This simple, jealous husband to deceive”. “And with no further word they went to bed, / There where the carpenter was wont to be”. “And caught her stealthily between the thighs”. “this jolly Absalon / So wooeth her, that she is woe-begone. He neither sleeps by night nor yet by day”. “the man was far from daring / In breaking wind, and in his speech was sparing”.


Peter Hühn

bukkes horn” (3386f.) 15 . The contrast between the two competing plotlines, especially regarding the differences in the difficulty of crossing the border, is underlined by the direct synchronisation (again with a slight chronological staggering) of Nicholas’ success and Absolon’s failure: Absolon undertakes a renewed, optimistic attempt at courtship on, of all nights, Nicholas and Alisoun’s eventful night of passion. As a result of this coincidence, the previous failure of his courtship worsens (clearly because of a mischievousness caused by the sexual gratification of the happy lovers) to become an explicit rejection (3709ff.) and subsequently a humiliating duping by Alisoun (a kiss on her naked bottom, the so-called “misdirected kiss”, 3720ff.). This drastic prevention of the border crossing and denial of the eventful fulfilment of Absolon’s love plot produces in him an abrupt change in frame and script, with the occurrence of a contrary positive event of a different type: his fervent loving, not just for Alisoun but in general, is completely extinguished (“Of paramours he sette nat a kers”, 3756)16 , and he is healed 17 (“For he was heeled of his maladie”, 3757) 18 ; that is, he suddenly gains insight into the falseness of his previous conduct and is henceforth capable of assessing things correctly. 19 Absolon’s plotline is thus framed in a new way and its polarity re-directed – from the erotic to a cognitive dimension – and, in this respect, brought to an eventful conclusion. This conclusion has the practical consequence that Absolon’s hardwon insight turns him into a well-suited means, for his part, of punishing false behaviour in others. This punishment is subjectively motivated as revenge for the ignominy suffered (3746ff.) and this motivation is indeed portrayed as problematic, in that he is even willing to sell his soul to Satan for it (3750). 20 However, the motivation for an act of punishment clearly must be separated from its function – in the sense of an overarching governing principle, so to speak – in the sanctioning of wrong behaviour. While Alisoun’s trick appears to be justified, since she wants to take re_____________ 15 16 17 18 19


“it is Nicholas she loves, indeed, And Absalon may go and blow the horn”. Compare the generalised explanation with a proverb in 3392f. “He rated love not worth a piece of cress”. Calabrese (1994) points to Ovid as the source for the mechanisms appearing here for curing passionate love (recognition of drastic female physicality). “He was clean purged of all his malady”. The assumption of a cure is suggested by the narrator’s use of the term “maladie”, though Absolon’s reaction of hysterical repugnance tends not to communicate the impression of sobering insight. Cf. also Walker (2002: 78), who sees in Absolon a manifestation of childishly immature ideas about female sexuality, as fostered in the context of the Marian cult (89ff.). Cf. Novelli (1968) on details of the conversion as well as Walker (2002) on the problematization of the cure aspect.

Geoffrey Chaucer: “The Miller’s Tale”


venge for her harassment by Absolon and, objectively, the punishment prompts his cure, Nicholas’ plan to repeat and enhance Alisoun’s successful prank is in itself the expression of a wrong and punishable attitude: his purpose is motivated by pure Schadenfreude and is indicative of his presumptuousness and his flagrant misjudgement of another person. As a result of precisely this misjudgement, he exposes himself to punishment by means of a trick similar to that which he had intended to play on another: Absolon provokes the re-enactment of Alisoun’s trick (presenting the bottom for a kiss), Nicholas falls for it and is punished with a blow to the bottom from a red hot ploughshare (3810). Hence, in the second plotline, Nicholas’ love affair, a re-directed sequel takes place, after the successful conclusion of the love story: Nicholas makes himself guilty of wrong behaviour, in his blinded assessment of his own abilities and those of others (ultimately comparable with Absolon), and is appropriately punished for it. However, unlike in the Absolon plotline, that does not entail the discarding of the love story, but, on the other hand, nor does the punishment lead to insight and a change in his behaviour. His mental reaction is not reported, but only his (and Alisoun’s) pragmatic behaviour in response to the situation in the wake of his punishment, namely that they declare the carpenter mad and thereby prevent the exposure of their trick, thus enabling them to protect themselves from discovery: for whan he [the carpenter] spak, he was anon bore doun With hende Nicholas and Alisoun. They tolden every man that he was wood … (3831ff.)21

This means that this love story is not, like Absolon’s, subject to a change in frame and script, but rather that an element (Nicholas’ punishment) is added, though this belatedly reduces the eventful fulfilment of the love story. However, its importance in the entire plot constellation of “The Miller’s Tale” lies primarily in its function in the base story. Just as Absolon, after his punishment and cure, functions as a means of punishment in the story of Nicholas and Alisoun, so, after Nicholas’ punishment, the two of them function as a means of punishment in the story of the carpenter. After the conclusion of both of these embedded plotlines, the base story of John the carpenter is eventually taken up again from the beginning, continued under the influence of the events of the other two stories, and brought to an end. A consequence of the eventful cure and insight of Absolon, the blow (actually intended for Alisoun) to Nicholas’ naked bottom with the red hot ploughshare triggers a chain reaction which con_____________ 21

“For hardly had he spoke, when Alisoun / And Nicholas both talked him down at once, / Telling all those who came that he was mad”.


Peter Hühn

stitutes a negative event in the carpenter’s narrative line: Nicholas’ cry of pain, calling for water, is interpreted by the carpenter as an indication of the flood, as a result of which he cuts the rope holding the kneading trough, crashes to the ground, breaking his arm and causing a public gathering of his neighbours. In this public sphere created by the accident, he is unable to assert his factually accurate explanation of the fall, but is, on the contrary, forced to suffer, in addition to his physical injury (the broken arm), the experience of being declared of unsound mind and made the object of the crowd’s ridicule: “But stonde he moste unto his owene harm” (3830) 22 , “The folk gan laughen at his fantasye … / And turned al his harm into a jape” (3840ff.) 23 and “he was holde wood in al the toun” (3846) 24 . The carpenter, however, draws no conclusions whatsoever from these experiences: even with hindsight, he does not understand the aim of Nicholas’ deception, does not see that his original fear, of being made a “cokewold” (3226) 25 , has indeed been realized, and does not recognise that he himself is to blame for everything that has befallen him, as a result of his wrong conduct (marrying a young woman at his age, folly, great gullibility). Since he does not perceive these mistakes, it is impossible for him to draw any conclusions from them and change his behaviour. It is for this reason – in regard of both this level and the level of events – that a latent negative event, as it were, is introduced into the carpenter’s plotline, the significance and gravity of which he himself does not see. But the reader, due to his widened perspective, is placed in a position so as to understand the connections, that is, to connect cause and effect and thus undergo a process of realization to gain – in the place of the carpenter – the relevant insight, in the sense of a reception event. Over and above that, the whole story of the duping and humiliation of the carpenter functions on an over-arching level as an element in a different plot. In the context of the plot of, and during the interaction on, the pilgrimage to Canterbury, this tale serves the narrator, the miller, as a disparaging sideswipe at his travelling companion the “reeve” (bailiff), a carpenter by profession, during the dispute between the two which is put into practice in the prologue of this tale (31363166, Robinson 1966: 478) and in the reeve’s subsequent prologue (38593920, Robinson 1966: 55), as well as in the latter’s tale itself, in which a miller is duped and humiliated in similar fashion. The act of narration can be characterised as eventful on this level, in the sense of a presentation event, though with a relatively small degree of eventfulness, which, in the subsequent tale of the _____________ 22 23 24 25

“But he must still digest his accident”. “Everyone laughed at this strange fantasy ... / And made his injury a kind of joke”. “They thought him crazy all about the town”. “cuckold”.

Geoffrey Chaucer: “The Miller’s Tale”


reeve – because it is expected as an opposing re-enactment – becomes even smaller. 2. The Ethical and Didactic Context: The Role of Reason The development and eventfulness of the stories in “The Miller’s Tale” may be examined in reference to two differing contemporary contexts and have a different significance in each – firstly, the general ethical and didactic function of literature in the Middle Ages and, secondly, the particular, primarily entertainment-oriented genre conventions of the fabliau. 26 Reference to the ethical implications and their didactic mediation, of which, according to prevailing opinion, the function of literature in the Middle Ages consisted, 27 has already been made in different ways in this analysis. Correspondingly, the successful or unsuccessful processes of realization within the narrative can be placed inside the parameters of a particular model of the world and of humanity, as well as the principles of conduct derived from this model, both of which may be reconstructed in the following way. The text repeatedly differentiates, in various forms and from varying perspectives, between wrong and correct conduct (though without offering a simple formula for it). For instance, the narrator expressly points out the principle of compatibility of spouses (3227ff.) and, above all, to the harmfulness of affect and illusion: “which a greet thyng is affeccioun! / Men may dyen of ymaginacioun, / So depe may impressioun be take” (3611ff.) 28 . These attitudes are harmful because they prevent recognition of the true state of affairs, orientation on clear judgement and guidance by reason. This shows itself first and foremost in the way that the carpenter’s obsessive concern about his wife blinds him to Nicholas’ deceit. Affects also have an equally negative effect in that the carpenter allows himself to be lured into the trap by Nicholas’ flattery (notifying him exclusively of the prediction: 3405; comparing him to Noah: 3534ff.). _____________ 26

27 28

Patterson (1990) applies a different context for these as well as all other Canterbury Tales, a late-medieval class conflict between the peasantry on one side and the aristocrats as well as the Church on the other, along with Chaucer’s ambivalent attitude to these two factions. Accordingly, he allocates the characters to these classes, the miller and the carpenter to the peasantry, Absolon to the Church, and then associates the farming class with the “natural law”, which, in his opinion, manifests itself in Alisoun’s being as well as in the elegant plot solution. This contextualisation seems very forced: neither the interpretation of the carpenter (and the miller) as representatives of the peasants, nor the use of the language of the natural as applied to agriculture are convincing. Cf. Cooper (1991: 100f.), and Mitchell (2004: esp. 79ff.). “What a power may lie in perturbation! / A man may die of his imagination, / So deep is the impression it may take!”.


Peter Hühn

The decisive value of reason as a guiding authority in this model of behaviour emerges clearly from the variously articulated criticisms of madness (“woodnesse”, 345229 ; “madde”, 3557ff. 30 ; “vanytee / fantasye”, 3835 31 ; “wood”, 3848 32 ). The accusation, finally repeated by all, that the carpenter is insane, does not apply literally, but certainly in the deeper sense of the word, for he has not allowed himself to be guided by reason: “The man is wood, me leeve brother” (3848) 33 . This also applies to his gullible faith in Nicholas’ prediction of a flood (3516f.), shortly after he had fundamentally condemned any such belief (“Men sholde not knowe Goddes pryvetee”, 344960, esp. 3454 34 ). This passage implies, as the central element of the underlying philosophy, a norm of human selfrestraint and self-denial before the omnipotence of God. It is for this reason that the attempt to read the future is condemned. Man should instead rely on his reason. The carpenter flagrantly violates these principles when he unhesitatingly takes up Nicholas’ contrary invitation: “Thou mayst nat werken after thyn owene heed” (3528)35 . The correct principles are thus variously formulated in the text in passing, usually not as an invitation or a criticism, but indirectly, in the comments of the characters, so that, for example, the carpenter does not act in accordance with correctly recognised principles, or Nicholas turns those principles around in order to mislead the carpenter. The characters as well as the reader must each equally make use of their reason to guide the correct application of the principles. In accordance with this ethical and didactic context, the various frames of the two plotlines, the one sexual love, the other insight and morality, are hierarchically arranged and the particular events within “The Miller’s Tale” along with them. From this perspective, the erotic dimension serves as material for the higher-ranking cognitive-moral level, as a medium in which the validity of the normative principles is manifested. However, reason should not be understood merely as the guideline for human conduct, but also as representing, over and above that – as one can infer from the way the events unfold – the governing principle in the depicted world. 36 The mechanisms of reprisal for false conduct by the three _____________ 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36

“madness”. “be mad”. “folly”, “delusion”. “mad”. “The man is mad, no doubt, dear brother”. “Men should know nothing of God's privacy”. “Thou canst not hope to work by thine own head”. Farrell (1989: 776) points to central passages in Boece, Chaucer’s translation of Boethius’ popular text De consolatione philosophiae, which explain that God’s reason (“devyne re-

Geoffrey Chaucer: “The Miller’s Tale”


men, namely that their actions, guided by affect and not reason, contribute, obliquely and without their knowledge, to their punishment, establish a form of poetic justice behind the backs of the characters. 3. The Genre-Specific Context: The Conventions of the Fabliau “The Miller’s Tale” can basically be assigned to the genre of the fabliau (or fablel), the genre, practised in the 13th and 14th centuries, particularly in northern France, of the merry, frivolous and coarsely realistic verse tale, using a sharp wit to lampoon the behaviour of stylised characters or classes, mostly with an emphatically amoral tone and a tendency to subversion regarding the established moral and social order, especially in the presentation of the gratification, with relish, of officially unaccepted urges such as sexuality. 37 These specific features of the genre essentially determine the concrete burlesque circumstances of the plotlines in “The Miller’s Tale”, i.e. the entirety of the erotic motifs used, the cunning of the tricks and pranks, and the coarsely frivolous comedy of punishment. 38 As a result of this second contextual frame of reference, the conventions of the genre, it initially appears that the hierarchical relation of the levels of morality and eroticism has been inverted. This is because the genrespecific comedy of this arrangement of themes has, by nature, the tendency to undermine the relevance and seriousness of the cognitive-moral dimension of eventfulness. 39 This shows itself, for instance, in the way the central principles of human self-denial, particularly in the prohibition of the investigation of God’s secret resolutions (“pryvetee”, 3454), are coarsely attenuated by the incorporation of the same word into completely different, ignoble contexts: for example when, in the prologue, God’s secret is offhandedly equated with that of a wife (“An housbonde shal nat been inquisityf / Of Goddes pryvetee, nor of his wyf”, 3163f.40 ), 41 or _____________

37 38 39


soun” [“divine reason”], IV.P6.61-63, Robinson 1966: 368) rules over the world: “O thow Fadir, … that governeth this world by perdurable resoun” (III.M9.1-3, Robinson 1966: 350). On Chaucer’s use of the conventions of the fabliau cf. e.g. Muscatine (1957), Cooper (1991: 95ff.), Cooke (1978: 176184). Cf. David (1976), 95ff., who sees a connection here with native traditions (of “festive comedy”) and the carnivalesque (following Bakhtin). Cf., by contrast, Cooke (1978: 183), who sees no contradiction here, but rather emphasises the aesthetically satisfying balance of the denouement, which he does not see as moral. Cooper (1991: 101ff.) and Kolve (1984: 160, 214f.) emphasise the removal of a moral sense by the genre context of the fabliau. Kolve (1984: 158ff.) justifies these amoral tendencies by the dominance of natural elements, the youthfulness of the characters and the playfulness of the piece. “A husband should respect, upon his life, / The privacy of God and of his wife”.


Peter Hühn

when the carpenter’s report to Alisoun about Nicholas’ prediction of the flood, and her far superior secret understanding are formulated with precisely this word: to his wyf he tolde his pryvetee, And she was war, and knew it bet than he, What al the queynte cast was for to seye. (3603ff.)42

The partial undermining of the ethical code, despite it being – as shown – clearly cited at various points, by moments of amoral burlesque also includes the furious personal motivation of Absolon’s revenge for his humiliation. A further attenuation of the serious and didactic meaning unfolds from the parodic intertextual resonance of “The Miller’s Tale” with the preceding “Knight’s Tale”, with its conventional courtly love theme, which is parodied by both the not at all courtly seducer Nicholas and the grotesquely soulful, feminine figure of the courtly lover, Absolon. 43 This tendency to undermine the seriousness of the tale with burlesque is, however, revoked in that “The Miller’s Tale” deviates in a decisive way from central characteristics of the fabliau. 44 The subversive, anarchic moments of the genre result primarily from the favouring of the private, the gratification of private, individual wishes and urges, typically in the form that the protagonists, with the help of their cleverness and ingenuity, realize their personal desire for sex, money or revenge (etc.), and contrive to dupe or cheat others, entailing the unpunished violation of moral norms (Farrell 1989: 777). In “The Miller’s Tale”, this conventional feature applies only to Alisoun’s revenge for Absolon’s harassment. The punishments of Nicholas and of the carpenter, which follow as the plot unfolds, happen unintentionally, as it were, not as the result of a directly intended action, not as the satisfaction of a private desire, but rather come _____________ 41

42 43


The comic, subversive tendency is strengthened by an obscene secondary meaning of the word “pryvetee” in Middle English: as well as a secret, a secret plan or goal or private concerns, the word can also denote the sexual organs. See Oxford English Dictionary, “privity” (earliest record 1375). “And told his wife of all this secrecy. / She knew it well; and knew far more than he / What all this curious tale betokeneth”. This parodic reference has often been noted; for example, by Muscatine (1957: 222ff.), Cooper (1991: 103ff.), David (1976: 95f.) and, with particular sophistication, by Rigby (1996: 46ff.). The text itself indirectly signals this reversal when, after the knight’s tale, the miller, with drunken brazenness, seizes control of the conversation and, although it is not his turn according to the order of social station, introduces his story with the following justification: “a noble tale …, / With which I wol now quite the Knyghtes tale” – “a noble tale ... / With which to pay the Knight off for his tale” (31267, Robinson 1966: 47). On the following, compare Farrell (1989), who brings out, precisely and convincingly, “privacy” as an implication of the French fabliau, and the consistent deviation from it in “The Miller’s Tale” in the sense of a manifestation of the divinely sanctioned principle of reason.

Geoffrey Chaucer: “The Miller’s Tale”


about due to the interlinking of circumstances, behind the backs of the characters. The punishment thus establishes some form of poetic justice (Farrell 1989: 783ff.): in the (almost completely) passive formulation of the result of these developments (385054), there is an absence of any kind of reference to intentional individual activity, to an initiator. As Farrell (1989: 780ff.) points out, this sudden change in the plot development from the favouring of the private to the super-individual establishment of a plot is mirrored in the appearance of the word “pryvely” / “pryvetee”, which is repeatedly used in the planning and initiation of Nicholas’ and Absolon’s narrative strands, and, in the final instance, to characterize Nicholas’ intended re-enactment of Alisoun’s trick, the presentation of his naked bottom (3802), a secret, private prank, which no longer succeeds. Within this modified genre-specific context of the conventions of the fabliau, the serious, moral-oriented eventfulness henceforth shows itself in the comically unexpected reversal of the narrative, in the surprisingly drastic duping of the characters, in whom particular errors of conduct are satirically mocked and accordingly punished. It is possible to recognise the fundamental appropriateness of the punishments for irrational conduct which violates the rule of moderation, of self-denial and of prudentia (for the three men, in any case), despite its grotesque escalation.45 What must be added to the principles of human action guided by reason is that the cultural and intellectual-historical contextual dimension of the eventfulness consists in this reference to the normative order. That only the three men are punished, but not Alisoun, appears to restrict the fairness of the denouement, 46 but can perhaps be explained in that Alisoun, unlike the three men, does not, for her part, act intentionally, does not initiate a narrative line and thus does not make herself guilty of irrational conduct, but is rather the object of the others’ behaviour, in that she does nothing but react. What is significant about this conclusion is that the violation of sexual morality as such is clearly not, in any instance, what is punished, but rather the violations of the rule of reason, and that this punishment is not imposed by a transcendent authority, but appears suddenly and spontaneously as a result of the interlinking of (false) actions. It is a matter of an immanent dynamic mechanism, without any (even verbal) recourse to God. When “Goddes pryvetee” is mentioned (3454, 3558), these are just clichéd formulas, which the characters employ in their interaction as a sign _____________ 45 46

Kolve (1984: 215f.) briefly points out this self-regulating, immanent order. Her amoral sensuality (as it is underlined by the accumulation of animal and plant metaphors in her desciption, 3233ff.) is even, in a sense, given acceptance and reward by the plot.


Peter Hühn

of their naiveté (the carpenter) or their cunning (Nicholas). 47 The complete absence of a religious basis for the social norms becomes especially striking in light of the continuous accumulation of religious motifs in the concrete surroundings of the narrative: 48 Nicholas plays a religious song (3216), Alisoun goes to church tarted up (3307ff.), Absolon is a parish clerk (3312f.) and “censes” (i.e. burns incense before) all the women on religious festival days (3339ff.), mystery plays about Noah (3518, 3560) and Herod (3386) are alluded to etc. It is possible to interpret these two features – the emphasis on the principle of reason and the immanent autonomy of the punishment mechanism – as indicators of a modern tendency: Neither does God intervene in the happenings, nor is the tale concerned with Christian norms, not even with sexual morality. In this sense, “The Miller’s Tale” can be read as a tale that limits itself exclusively to the concrete, worldly living conditions of humanity and discards the governing religious code. 49 But because of the coupling of these two oppositional contexts, “The Miller’s Tale” exhibits a complex event structure full of suspense. This is because the relationship between the ethical-cognitive narrative problem and the anarchic, lust- and comedy-oriented sequence of events is, in principle, contradictory in so far as the genre-specific context of the fabliau tends to coarsely attenuate the tale’s didactic implications. The effect of the comedy is indeed, through the deviation of “The Miller’s Tale” from the conventions of the genre, particularly in the last part, turned around so that it supports the poetic justice establishing itself behind the consciousness and intentions of the characters, as well as the system of actions guided by reason, which forms its basis. However, a tension does remain between the serious normativeness and the burlesque humour. 50 Concerning the form of the eventfulness, the positive or negative changes in the characters (i.e. the three men) can be classified as events in the happenings. But the eventful inversion, the sudden reversal, is meant to enter into the reader’s consciousness in two ways. Firstly, the tale and its humour are oriented on the amusement of the reader (or listener) by the characters as they are duped and their conduct mocked. Secondly, it is only the reader who can trace back the appropriateness of the punishment to its cause, the irrational conduct of the characters; they themselves are _____________ 47 48 49 50

Cf. Rigby (1996: 48), who points out that religious interpretative paradigms of characters (Nicholas and Alisoun) are described as “fantasie” and “vanytee” (3835). Cf. Pearsall (1986: 130). Cf. Rigby (1996: 46f.). This ambivalence is described by Rigby (1994: 28) with the Bakhtinian category of doublevoiced discourse, especially in reference to the relationship between “The Miller’s Tale” and “The Knight’s Tale”.

Geoffrey Chaucer: “The Miller’s Tale”


incapable of recognising this connection (least of all the carpenter, nor Absolon, who does not know whom he has struck or why). In this sense, in this tale it is a matter of reception events, and actually the special form of the reception event in which the sudden change to laughter or Schadenfreude expresses itself in close connection with moral insight. Translated by Alexander Starritt

References Robinson, F. N., ed. (21966). The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (London: Oxford UP). Hill, Frank Ernest (2007). Chaucer. The Complete Canterbury Tales in the Translation by Frank Ernest Hill (London: Arcturus). ———— Arner, Timothy D. (2005). “No Joke: Transcendent Laughter in the Teseida and the Miller’s Tale”, in Studies in Philology, 102: 14358. Calabrese, Michael (1994). “The Lover’s Cure in Ovid’s Remedia Amoris and Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale“, in Modern Language Notes, 32: 13î18. Cooke, Thomas D. (1978). The Old French and Chaucerian Fabliaux: A Study of Their Comic Climax (Columbia & London: Univ. of Missouri Pr.) Cooper, Helen (21991). The Canterbury Tales. Oxford Guides to Chaucer (Oxford: Oxford UP). David, Alfred (1976). The Strumpet Muse: Art and Morals in Chaucer’s Poetry (Bloomington: Indiana UP). Farrell, Thomas J. (1989). “Privacy and the Boundaries of Fabliau in the Miller’s Tale”, in English Literary History, 56: 77395. Kolve, V. A. (1984). Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative: The First Five Canterbury Tales (London: Edward Arnold). Mitchell, J. Allan (2004). Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Chaucer and Gower (Cambridge: Brewer). Muscatine, Charles (1957). Chaucer and the French Tradition (Berkeley: Univ. of California Pr.). Novelli, Cornelius (1968). “Absolon’s ‘freend so deere’: A Pivotal Point in the Miller’s Tale”, in Neophilologus, 52: 659. Patterson, Lee (1990). “‘No Man His Reson Herde’: Peasant Consciousness, Chaucer’s Miller, and the Structure of the Canterbury Tales”, in Lee Patterson, ed. Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain, 1380-1530 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Pr.), 11355. Pearsall, Derek (1986). “The Canterbury Tales II: Comedy”, in The Cambridge Chaucer Companion, ed. Piero Boitani & Jill Mann (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 12542.


Peter Hühn

Rigby, S. H. (1996). Chaucer in Context: Society, Allegory and Gender (Manchester: Manchester UP) Walker, Greg (2002). “Rough Girls and Squeamish Boys: The Trouble with Absolon in The Miller’s Tale”, in Elaine Treharne, ed. Writing Gender and Genre in Medieval Literature: Approaches to Old and Middle English Texts (Cambridge: Brewer), 6191.

3 Aphra Behn: Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave: A True History (1688) Peter Hühn Aphra Behn’s tale Oroonoko 1 is, in many respects, shaped by the interference of differing, partly contradictory, ideologies, normative systems, traditions and genres, especially that of heroic romance and a tendency to realism, of an aristocratic code of honour and bourgeois acquisitiveness, of a conservative adherence to social hierarchy and a progressive desire for mobility and liberalism, of public, collective values and individualist, private attitudes. 2 This internal contradictoriness is evident in the structure and course of the narrated story, with the discrepant superimposition of a range of heterogeneous discourses onto a traditional script. 3 These consist, on the whole, of possible references to contexts outside the work, which constitute its specific meaning, on the one hand an intertextual reference to a traditional genre (the script for the plot), and, on the other, references to social or political normative and action systems within English society at the time (the varying discourses). As a result of the interaction of these discourses, the eventfulness of the narrated story presents itself in an ambivalent manner unusual for the period. The ambivalent status of the event and the problem of its meaning are also decisively determined by the way they are conveyed, through the attitudes, values and commentaries of the narrator, who vouches emphatically for the truth of the narrated happenings, but who is simultaneously (and opaquely) linked closely to a number of these contradictory discourses. _____________ 1 2 3

Edition used: Behn (1992: 73141). See e.g. the listing of various aspects by Holmesland (2001); cf. also Ferguson (1994: 155ff.). The term discourse will be used – provisionally and somewhat formulaically – in the following to denote a system of meanings, orders and norms, which is largely coherent in itself, and which determines the perception, interpretation and assessment of a socio-cultural environment as well as the practical behaviour of the characters within it, i.e. connecting language and behaviour. Discourses of this sort are established in contemporary (for the author) extratextual reality – as those parts or segments of a period’s or society’s doxa that apply to particular social domains – and form, in this sense, the context of the work, which is to be reconstructed and consulted to facilitate a (historically) appropriate understanding. The manifold literature on Oroonoko denotes these structures with various terms, such as code, discourse, ideology, narrative.


Peter Hühn

1. The Intertextual Script The script underpinning the tale can be reconstructed as the classical plot paradigm of the heroic romance’s love story, as it is found in the Greek novels of late antiquity, in the French novels of the 17th century 4 , which were also popular in contemporary England, as well as in the pastoral novel 5 and also in English Renaissance drama. 6 In its basic elements, this model concerns itself with the development of the love of an ideal couple (or multiple couples), against resistance and through perils, until their unification and marriage are finally achieved. Despite numerous variations, the following three phases are prototypical of this romance script: firstly, the original encounter of the lovers and genesis of their love; secondly, the extended middle section, consisting of separation, threats, ensnarement and, in general, the obstruction of their relationship, in which they prove and preserve themselves with their steadfastness and their loyalty in their love; thirdly, their eventual re-unification after the overcoming of all obstacles. The dynamism of this script is produced by the conflict between the passionate desire of the lovers to be united in marriage and the opposing circumstances of the world around them, which thwart this desire over and again (in the form of coincidences, rivalries, envy, revenge etc.). The lovers are physically, morally and socially outstanding representatives of their gender and station: he brave and strong, she virtuous and steadfast, both beautiful in their own way, both displaying perfect conduct and an exemplary and also moral disposition. The ideals they embody are differentiated by gender and are of an explicitly aristocratic nature. This is particularly evident in the characteristics represented by the man: chivalrous courage and political capacity to rule as well as social dexterity, but also in the dignity, grace, modesty and refinement of the woman. These ideal characteristics, motivated by the strength and purity of their love for one another, make it possible for them to overcome all obstacles and to withstand all attacks. The script clearly relates to a particular social and cul_____________ 4 5


As well as, incidentally, in the German Baroque novel. Examples – Greek: Heliodorus’ Aethiopica (3rd century AD), Achilles Tatius’ Leucippe and Clitophon (3rd century AD); French: Madeleine de Scudéry’s Artamène ou le grand Cyrus (164953) and Clélie, histoire romaine (165460), Honoré d’Urfé’s L’Astrée (160727), La Calprenède’s Cléopâtre (164758); English: Emanuel Ford’s The Most Pleasant History of Ornatus and Artesia (1598?, 1634), George Mackenzie’s Aretina; or, The Serious Romance (1660), Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery’s Parthenissa (1654î76) as well as Thomas Lodge’s Rosalynde, Euphues Golden Legacie (1590), the material for Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Examples: Shakespeare’s As You Like It with a positive and Romeo and Juliet with a negative outcome. Brown’s reference to the “Herculean hero” and the aristocratic coterie theatre, inter alia with the conflict between love and politics (188ff.), does not seem particularly convincing, since he restricts his discussion to the figure of the hero.

Aphra Behn: Oroonoko


tural-historical context – the aristocracy, whose values and self-image are being ideally presented, upheld and celebrated as well as a high sensibility to love. The romance is a genre of variation and represents what Lotman calls the “aesthetics of identity”, 7 i.e. the event (the fulfilment of their love) is, in principle, expected; only when it will occur and how it will actually be reached are left open. Described with the help of Lotman’s sujet categories, the script of the romantic love story exhibits the following abstract structures. The two semantic sub-fields are distinguished by the difference in the status of the realisation of the protagonists’ love and, connected with that, their relation to their social environment: separation vs. unification, non-fulfilment vs. fulfilment of their love, alienation from their environment vs. recognition of the ancestral social role of the aristocrat and, with that, often disruption of the hierarchical order vs. its reestablishment. The position of the two protagonists in the first field is unstable as a result of their nascent love, which has not yet been fulfilled and marks the present situation as inadequate and in need of change, placing them in opposition to their present environment. The border consists of the manifold hindrances, resistances and delays that stand in the way of fulfilment. The extended variation and intensification of such obstacles defines the difficulty in crossing the border and accordingly raises (albeit quantitatively) the degree of eventfulness. The crossing of the border is reached as a result of the lovers’ incorruptible steadfastness in their love against ensnarement and temptation (particularly for the women) and of the active overcoming of adverse obstacles (particularly by the men). Once the unification (and marriage) – and, accompanying that, the recognition of the protagonists in their ancestral high stations and roles by the rest of the community – has eventually been concluded, integration into the second field has been completed and the situation is stable. 2. The Script and the Realistic Settings Oroonoko confronts this script with various social and economic structures, as well as corresponding normative systems, 8 by placing it in two real geographical areas – the west African country Coramantien (the Gold Coast, now Ghana) and the West Indian (at the time still English, and shortly thereafter Dutch) colony of Surinam (now Suriname). As a result,

_____________ 7 8

Lotman (1977). Lotman contrasts the aesthetics of identity and the aesthetics of opposition. Cf. the clear distinction between these areas in Rosenthal (2004: 152f.).


Peter Hühn

the conversion of this script into a plotline is considerably complicated. These settings present realistic elements in a way that, in the 18th century, would become constitutive of the novel, in contrast to the fantastic, idealising romance. 9 The realistic quality of the happenings and the setting is underlined throughout by the narrator – from the subtitle (“A True History”), through the numerous authentications of her own account by means of her role as eyewitness and on the basis of her personal acquaintance with the protagonist (75ff. et passim), to the thematizing of the writing process itself (108, 140f.). 10 The realistically portrayed living conditions, value systems and balances of power in these two areas are ultimately what cause the plot to deviate from the ideal script paradigm (see below). Coramantien is a feudal society with both an autocratic king at its peak and a military nobility that has to protect the continued existence of the country as well as affirm its power in the constant wars with its neighbours, and which gains honour and secures its affluence by selling prisoners of war into slavery. The central values of this nobility are rank and power, for which high birth is a pre-requisite, and which are granted based on bravery and quality of military leadership, and which are expressed in honour, self-esteem and recognition by the community. The king is positioned at the top, furnished with near absolute power and, in practice, not subject to the law. It is a strictly hierarchical society, based on unconditional loyalty to superiors and on power over those lower down, which shows itself symptomatically in the “divine homage” (109) paid to Prince Oroonoko by the Africans whom he himself had sold into slavery (105, 109). In contrast, Surinam is characterised by two different social structures. On the one hand, at the highest, political, level, a hierarchical system prevails, in which the colony is ruled by England and ultimately by the English king, who controls the administration via the governor. Aristocratic norms apply, which are similar to those in Coramantien, though less absolutist. On the other hand, the existence of that society is economically based on large-scale agriculture (sugar production on plantations) and on trade (including with the products of the indigenous Indians), which is based on the bourgeois values of acquisitiveness and profit, in a system of mercantile capitalism. 11 Alongside these two dominating systems and political and economic discourses, a moral code of liberalism and human_____________ 9 10 11

The contrast between novel and romance is then also poetologically reflected and discussed, e.g. by William Congreve and Clara Reeve. Cf. the description of the combination of the structures of romance and realistic novel in Holmesland (2001: 60f.). Cf. Brown (1999: 191ff.).

Aphra Behn: Oroonoko


ity operates in Surinam, which aims at the selfless recognition and protection of man in his humanity. This code is often at odds with the society’s political and economic values, but is not supported by everyone (and, crucially, not by those in power). The (realistic) element binding the two areas together, albeit with characteristic differences between them, is slavery and the slave trade, i.e. the systematic use of people as objects, as commodities and capital goods. 12 Whereas slaves in Coramantien – as prisoners of war who have been sold – represent booty and trophies from heroic, quasi-national hostilities, and augment the honour of the victors, 13 i.e. principally function in the aristocratic discourse, 14 in Surinam they serve primarily in the mercantile discourse as an economic factor (a workforce) and as items of trade that are bought according to need and cost. 15 In practice, the connection between these two areas is established by slave traders, as exemplified by the English captain who buys slaves in Coramantien and sells them in Surinam, abiding by no moral norms whatsoever as he does so. Thus he unscrupulously takes his trading partner, Oroonoko, captive as he tarries on the ship, flagrantly breaking his word and enslaving him too. Slavery is legal in both countries, though in Surinam it comes into conflict with the moral discourse in certain circumstances, albeit only in cases of socially high-ranking, educated slaves such as Oroonoko, “the royal slave”. Here the aristocratic discourse again exerts influence through its value system, which stems from England in the form of Royalist ideology and which had asserted its validity in the conflicts of the civil war between Royalists and Parliamentarians, with the eventual victory of the former in the Restoration, and which interferes with other discourses in the trading and plantation society of the colony. Its basis is adherence to the social hierarchy, with the absolute authority and power of the king (cf. the allusions to Charles I and Charles II, 80 and 115). This value system is now applied to Oroonoko.

_____________ 12 13 14 15

Cf. the precise description in Rosenthal (2004: 152) and Lipking (2004). The practice of slavery reflects the hierarchical social structure of Coramantien: only the ordinary prisoners of war are sold into slavery; those of higher rank buy their freedom (78f.). Whereby the sale, as a commercial act, actually constitutes a contradiction of the feudal principles, though it is not perceived as such. Whereby the contradictory socio-political discourse is also involved here, in so far as the planters are aristocrats and in that the Stuart kings also participate in the slave trade (see below).


Peter Hühn

3. Script and Novel: Positive and Negative Eventfulness In the traditional novels based on the heroic-galant script, the eventfulness consists in the crossing of the border leading to the re-unification of the lovers. This border-crossing is foreseeable, as with all genres of variation, because it conforms to the script, but it is heightened in degree by long delays and constant threats to its conclusion. This is a positive event, conforming to the script, brought about by reciprocal fidelity as well as resistance and vigour in the face of hostile forces. In Oroonoko, the lovers – predominantly as a result of the power relationships and living conditions in the realistically portrayed settings – do not succeed, despite short-lived unification and a temporary approach to their goal, in permanently and conclusively overcoming the resistance and obstacles they face. In fact, in the end, both die in extremely gruesome ways: Oroonoko kills his lover to prevent her falling into the hands of their enemies and being raped and, shortly thereafter, is himself executed in inhumane fashion. This denouement signifies a radical departure from the script and thus constitutes a negative event 16 with a very high degree of eventfulness, 17 in that not only does the positive crossing of the border fail, but the protagonists are also physically and mentally destroyed. The significance of this event is negative: the norms of the aristocratic social order and the high value of ideal individualistic love are not confirmed, but succumb to stronger forces of a different nature. What this failure is based upon and what it means depend on the particular geographical, historical and cultural localisation of the scripts, and the discourses associated with it as a result. The reference to precisely this aristocratic love script as well as, to an even higher degree, to its coupling with particular discourses, constitutes the cultural-historical and socialhistorical (extratextual) context of the novel. The following sub-chapters will first sketch the unfolding of the love plot in correlation with the romance script and, subsequently, examine the impact of the geographical areas and their normative systems on the development of the plot. 4. Characters, Plot and Events in Oroonoko The two protagonists are portrayed as the ideal male and female embodiments of exemplary characteristics (79ff.). Oroonoko is distinguished by _____________ 16 17

As an example of a different event construction, cf. Visconsi (2002), who reads this turn of events allegorically as the (anticipated) triumph of barbarism over civilisation in England. The positive or negative event bound up with this script is, incidentally, not primarily mental (as in later centuries), but manifests itself entirely physically and socially.

Aphra Behn: Oroonoko


his high birth (“prince” and the grandson of the king, thus “royal”), highest military leadership qualities and bravery (commander in chief after the death of the old general), by his great beauty, sense of honour, magnanimity, love of justice, extensive education and perfect manners (including the European languages, taught by a French tutor), and combines martial toughness and competence with fine sensibilities and an ability to love (“as capable of love, as ’twas possible for a brave and galant man to be”, 81). As such, he represents the ideal of a universally educated and talented aristocrat, something akin to the “uomo universale” of the Renaissance: capable even of reigning well, and of governing as wisely, had a great soul, as politic maxims, and was as sensible of power as any prince civilized in the most refined schools of humanity and learning, or the most illustrious courts (81).

As the narrator emphasises, these are all core European values, so that Oroonoko corresponds entirely to the image of the ideal English aristocrat, whereby his black skin colour signifies a merely superficial difference (80f.). 18 Imoinda represents (equally conforming to European – again, gender-specific – norms) the precise female ideal counterpart, with the characteristics of high social station (daughter of the old general) and of beauty, “modesty”, “softness” and ability to love as well as perfect manners (“sweetness of her words and behaviour”, 82): “she was female to the noble male; the beautiful black Venus, to our young Mars” (81). Their initial encounters trigger spontaneous affection and love on both sides and swiftly lead to marriage vows, which conform to European norms of a permanent exclusive relationship (in contrast to African polygamy, 83). This marriage needs only to be physically consummated after the obligatory prior notification of the king. It is at this point that the resistance and obstacles set in. The king, despite being old and impotent (he is over 100), desires and claims Imoinda for himself, and takes her into his harem, albeit a break with moral conventions (the protected validity of an extant marriage, 85, 86), but also a sign of his absolute power, superior to all other rights, according to the absolute hierarchical structure. This prerogative signifies their separation, but does not yet preclude a later honourable unification, as Imoinda’s “virgin honour” (94) remains intact. After this, the lovers are brought together twice more, albeit each time in strictly limited and restrictive circumstances, which, although they make the physical consummation of their love possible, deny them the recognition of their love as well as of their personal rights and their social status. On the first occasion, they _____________ 18

Cf. Brown (1999: 186ff.). In contrast, Gallagher (1996) makes the black skin the central interpretative moment of the text in terms of three references (authorship, kingship, commodification), which seems to me to amount to an over-interpretation.


Peter Hühn

meet secretly in the king’s harem and consummate their love and their marriage (94). This unification is, however, limited to that moment, must be hidden and leads, because it is discovered, to a significant intensification of their separation – a sign of the extreme inclemency of the first field for their love: the king, now regarding Imoinda as “polluted” (96), sells her into slavery while Oroonoko believes that she has been sentenced to death as a punishment. On the second occasion, they unexpectedly encounter one another some time later by chance in Surinam (111ff.), to where both have been sold independently of one another – Imoinda as a result of repudiation by the king, and Oroonoko after having been kidnapped through the underhanded betrayal of the English slave trader to whom he had sold his prisoners of war. Due to the generosity and liberalism of Trefry, the administrator of the governor’s estate, the lovers – as slaves, renamed Caesar and Clemene and thus robbed of their original identity – are able to marry and lead a normal marriage in relatively pleasant living conditions (113) and are expecting a child. They are also promised that they will soon be freed. However, the lovers perceive their unification as incomplete (113), as they are denied their freedom, the recognition of the social position to which they are entitled and even their identity (in the allocation of new, foreign names). The lack of social recognition injures particularly Oroonoko in his aristocratic self-image (“his large soul, which was still panting after more renowned action” (114), in his identity based on his heroic achievements and honour: “he accused himself for having suffered slavery for so long” (ibid.). They are painfully aware of the constraints of captivity, particularly in light of the imminent birth of their child, since this enslaved existence will extend into all subsequent generations of the family: “he was the last of his great race. This new accident [Imoinda’s pregnancy] made him more impatient of liberty” (113), “Imoinda […] did nothing but sigh and weep for the captivity of her lord, herself, and the infant yet unborn” (125). The promised manumission is a long time coming and eventually becomes untrustworthy. The actual crossing into the second sub-field, however much it already seems partially realised and despite the promise that it will be completed in the near future, effectively does not take place. The narrator and other well-meaning people attempt to distract Oroonoko from what he is missing and from the unsatisfying situation with conversation and opportunities for replacement sporting activities (“diversions”, 115; “diverted”, 125). But these attempts ultimately trigger his decision to become active himself and force the crossing of the border – by means of a militarily organised escape with other slaves (125ff.). The plan to cross the border actively does not only aim to serve the realisation of their love in freedom, in the self-determination of the indi-

Aphra Behn: Oroonoko


vidual with social recognition of his high station, but its methods also involve Oroonoko’s aristocratic identity as a successful military leader and heroic fighter. After initial successes (a rousing speech, departure and combat with the white militia) the descent into defeat and catastrophe begins, often interrupted, but always taken up again: when the whites use whips, the traditional means of punishing slaves, against Oroonoko’s followers, they desert him and surrender (129f.). He, too, eventually surrenders under the promise of a general pardon (131f.), which, however, is immediately broken by the deputy governor of the colony, Byam, who has Oroonoko captured and whipped – a further link in the chain of his betrayals by whites, from which he has ultimately learnt nothing. That Oroonoko, despite his bad experiences of betrayal and breach of trust, is repeatedly taken in by false promises is a symptom of tactical-cognitive deficits in his character, but must also, over and above that, be assessed as an indication of weakness in the aristocratic code based on honour and trust, 19 particularly when in confrontation with such different discourses as the unscrupulous profit motive of mercantilism. Oroonoko’s reaction to this extremely destructive humiliation is an act of desperation, revenge on Byam, which, however, also fails (135ff.). In light of the hopelessness of a positive change to his and Imoinda’s situation, he plans his revenge as a heroic act, recovering his honour by the commitment and sacrifice of his own life as well as that of Imoinda. He kills her first to prevent her being raped but is then unable to summon the physical strength to carry out his revenge. As a further sign of his disintegration, he mutilates himself as he is discovered. His eventual execution after having been restored to health is staged, to his absolute humiliation and destruction, as an intensifying fragmentation of his physical integrity (hacking off of his limbs, his nose and ears etc.). 20 In this state of deepest degradation and violation, he demonstrates stoic steadfastness and strength in that he gives no sign that he is in pain and smokes a pipe until the end. Despite the fact that Oroonoko retains his composure during his gruesome humiliating death and demonstrates in passive suffering the strength that he would otherwise employ in martial activity, the end of the plot is a story of radical failure. Not only does the actively pursued positive border crossing fail, but a return to the status quo ante is no longer _____________ 19


Both the large relevance of honour and trust as aristocratic values, as well as of their expected validity among the whites and in the colony, is indicated in Oroonoko’s declaration as he leaves the slave ship of the treacherous captain: “let us […] see if we can meet with more honour and honesty in the next world we shall touch upon” (106). Cf. also 107, 114, 127. Gallagher’s (1996) thesis that Oroonoko, as a result of this self-fragmentation, becomes, in line with the two bodies theory of kings, “all the more singularly immortal” (253) is difficult to follow through.


Peter Hühn

possible – the lovers experience a negative border crossing into absolute annihilation. This is the central event of the tale – instead of a transition to the condition of their love’s eventual fulfilment, both characters, and their love, are extinguished. That Oroonoko feels forced to kill his wife and that he is then incapable of carrying out his revenge signal the depth of this failure and the magnitude of his strategic collapse in the face of these enemies. However, it is more than the mere backfiring of a plot. Over and above that, the way the plot develops attests to the destruction of the ideal of Oroonoko’s personality – in the killing of his wife as well as in his failing force and strength of will and even before that in his absolute, ultimately helpless obsession with thoughts of revenge, the corruption of the structure of his personality reveals itself, a self-destructive compulsion that must be understood as the consequence of external influences and distortions. The particular structure of the negative event can now be defined more precisely. It is not a question of the mere non-attainment of the desired goal, but rather of a fundamental failure that comprises the premises of his personality as well his values (love and the superiority of the aristocracy) and then destroys and disavows them. 21 All that remains is a last heroic, stoical gesture of defiance (smoking the pipe). It must be added that the failure and disavowing of the aristocratic value system through its association with Africans functions largely as a way of superficially distancing the relevance to England. 22 Therein lies a central function of black skin colour, as a means of disguise (“bating his colour”, 81). The next question that presents itself is what are the reasons of this fundamental failure and, with that, the meaning of the event. In order to answer this question, the geographical and social embedding of the script, and – determined by that – the confrontation of the feudal, aristocratic order and value systems with the mercantile capitalism of the modern world, 23 must now be examined in greater detail, as well as the medium, the personal attitude and depictive intention of the narrator; two aspects that, admittedly, are difficult to separate, since the narrator simultaneously appears as an active figure in the narrated world.

_____________ 21 22 23

A different construction of this event can be found in Ortiz (2002), who – by mixing the levels of plot development and the narrator’s control – investigates the narrative position between imperialist authority and its undermining (particularly at the end). For a different interpretation, cf. Gallagher (1996). Cf. Holmesland (2001: 70f. as well as 65 and 67).

Aphra Behn: Oroonoko


5. The Problematization of the Event The social hierarchy of the aristocratic discourse varies in validity between the areas and societies of Africa and the West Indies, with corresponding consequences for the possibility of realising the script in the unfolding of the plot. In Coramantien, the protagonists’ love comes into conflict with the practical reality of the hierarchical value system, and they become its victims: the king’s privileges and code of honour are the cause of Imoinda’s “confiscation” and subsequent enslavement. That Oroonoko is also enslaved is the consequence of an unscrupulous trading attitude in conjunction with European colonialism. The institution of slavery is common to both areas but with differing functions within different discourses. In Coramantien, slavery is associated with aristocratic principles (slaves are booty in heroic battles that increase honour); in Surinam, with mercantile purposes (slaves are commodities and means of production that increase profit). Independent of these varying social functions, slavery transforms people from the subjects of their actions into objects. In that the two protagonists are enslaved, they lose their power over themselves and the autonomy of their actions, and, with that, the possibility of striving directly for a happy re-unification in the spirit of the love script. When they act with this intention still, they offend against established power structures and expose themselves to punishment and further restriction of their freedom of movement, and even to the loss of their lives. In total, three complexly interlaced systems, made up of principles of values and conduct, have an effect on the situation of the protagonists, which can be formulaically designated as the mercantile, moral and aristocratic discourses (and which represent the most important extratextual references to tendencies and forces in contemporary English colonial society at the end of the 17th century). As slaves who have been bought and paid for, Oroonoko and Imoinda are, for the colonists in Surinam, primarily an investment, a factor of production in the economic process, and, in this respect, their value depends on their deployability and availability, from which arises a fundamental interest in suppressing every form of independence or insubordination. In opposition to that stands the moral discourse, the liberal, humane convictions of some whites, who attempt to support Oroonoko and Imoinda and to further the development of the love plot towards becoming a positive event. Trefry and the narrator, in particular, provide the lovers with the freedom to lead their marital life (after Trefry had brought them together in the first place), promise them their freedom and return to their homeland, care for Oroonoko later when he is injured, and stand, in principle, on his side against the brutal, repressive forces represented by


Peter Hühn

deputy governor Byam (134). Trefry even abstains – for moral, humane reasons – from bending Imoinda to his will, though he desires her. However, the efficacy of the moral discourse is clearly qualified. Trefry gives his promise of manumission only half-heartedly and does not seriously pursue it; he, together with Byam, convinces Oroonoko to surrender, and thus supports, through his gullibility, Oroonoko’s betrayal and subsequent punishment (129, 131); in the end, he allows himself to be duped by Byam so that the latter can illegally seize and execute Oroonoko. The narrator shares the others’ fear of mutiny and an uprising of the slaves (132), flees and is not present at the execution. This conduct, however, does not only indicate that the liberal, humane forces are comparatively weak and ineffective, but rather that, without determined resistance, they, to some extent, can be misused or even secretly share the attitudes of the governing power in the colony in its interest in control over the slaves. 24 This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that even the liberal whites are, as colonists, beneficiaries of an economic system based on slavery and are in no way opposed to slavery in general (but merely, as an exception, lend their support to educated, aristocratic slaves, i.e. those of equal station 25 ). As a result of her passionate endorsement of colonialism (115) and support for the Stuarts, the narrator reveals herself to be particularly compromised in this regard, since the Stuart kings were actively involved in the slave trade and profited from it. 26 These tendencies interact with the effect of the aristocratic discourse – which, despite differences of degree, connects the African country with the West Indian colony (as well as, ultimately, the English motherland) – on Oroonoko’s role as a slave and his reaction to slavery. 27 Thus, Oroonoko and Imoinda are treated with respect by well-meaning liberals such as Trefry and the narrator, separated from the other slaves and relieved of work duties (108f.), since they are of equal station to the European aristocrats. In this respect, the moral discourse is applied only in accordance with the aristocratic discourse. Oroonoko’s understanding of himself, even in slavery, is also based on just such a fundamental social distinction between the classes. As a result, he feels nothing in common with the other slaves and can contemptuously explain and criticise the flight of his followers in the escape attempt in terms of their inborn slave nature (“he was ashamed of what he had done, in endeavouring to make those free, who were by nature slaves“, 130). Accordingly, he sees no contradiction between his own current complaints about his enslavement _____________ 24 25 26 27

Cf. Ferguson (1999: 217), with reference to the conduct of the narrator at the end. Cf. Ferguson (1994: 177ff.; 1999: 218). Cf. Lipking (2004: 173f., 179). Cf. Brown (1999: 195f.).

Aphra Behn: Oroonoko


and the fact that he himself had previously sold free people into slavery, who were actually brought to Surinam with him, and that he encounters slaves previously sold by him, whom he allows to revere him as a great man (109). That he sees no contradiction in this as a result of his selfdefinition as aristocratic becomes even more apparent when he promises to pay for his freedom from slavery with a great number of slaves (113).28 On the basis of this view of social hierarchy, the narrator produces, in her presentation of the happenings, an analogy between the execution of Oroonoko and that of Charles I, 29 which Oroonoko himself had mentioned with abhorrence at the beginning: he had heard of the late Civil Wars in England and the deplorable death of our great monarch, and would discourse of it with all the sense, and abhorrence of the injustice imaginable (80).

Seen from this perspective, characteristics of the aristocratic martyr are implicitly attributed to Oroonoko. It is also ultimately to this discourse that the motive out of which the narrator has written the present report belongs: for the glorification of this great man and for the safekeeping of his renown (108, 140f.), both also pre-eminently aristocratic values. The practical validity and moral justification of the aristocratic concept of social hierarchy are, however, called into question by a series of examples of failure by the authorities and of the misuse of power for base human desires. 30 In Coramantien, this pertains to the old king, who uses his autocratic power in contempt of the rules protecting marriage in order to satisfy his lust, his jealousy and his vanity; in Surinam, this applies to Byam, who, entirely without scruple, unrestrainedly, underhandedly and brutally exploits his power to satisfy his aggression and desire for revenge (128f.), but it also pertains ultimately to the governor himself, who, through his absence and his lack of control over his deputy, neglects his duties. The cases of misuse of autocratic power contribute directly to the failure of the love plot. As mentioned above, the breaches of promise can be viewed as dishonourable and unaristocratic, and one can judge the fact that Oroonoko repeatedly falls victim to them as a sign of his rigid adherence to aristocratic principles, despite his contradictory experiences, and as strategic and political deficits as a result of this. This tendency is strengthened in another respect by further examples of human misconduct and deficient morality, namely by the countless cases of betrayal and breaches of promise to Oroonoko by the Europeans _____________ 28 29 30

Cf. Lipking (2004: 172) and Holmesland (2001: 68). Brown (1999) sees here – over-subtly – an allegory of the end of the kingship system as a result of the victory of mercantile capitalism (197ff.), Visconsi (2002), in even more general terms, the return of barbarism. Cf. Rosenthal (2004: 158ff.).


Peter Hühn

– massively and perfidiously by the English slave trader (underhanded capture and enslavement, 102, as well as breach of the promise to set him free upon reaching Surinam, 103, 106), less deliberatedly by Trefry, and also by the narrator (also by not giving him his promised freedom, 112, 113, 114), and, again, underhandedly by Byam with the support of Trefry (131). These cases reveal the corruption of the Europeans, and specifically the Christian Europeans (as emerges from the dispute between Oroonoko and the English captain about misdeeds and the relationship to God, 103ff.). Also corrupt, though, are some representatives of the African country (the king and several of his advisors). All these cases contribute, together with the forms of misuse of authority discussed, to the failure of the script development and to the negative event. The implicit criticism of the moral corruption of, particularly, the European, but also (though not so strongly) the African authorities is contrasted with, and distinguished by, the opposing image of the native Indians, who live without malice or dissimulation in a paradise-like natural state, in a golden age (75ff., 115f.). 31 On balance, the effect of the different discourses and norms of conduct on the development of the plot is that, in their interactions, they tend to obscure the meaning of the negative event. That a (negative) event is at hand is indisputable, but what it means is problematized. The failure of the heroic script as such, particularly when bound up with the hero’s strategic deficits and his disintegration and degeneration at his death, implies on the one hand the decay of aristocratic values, which the royalist narrator, on the other, defiantly defends, and which she still sees realised in the stoic behaviour of the dying Oroonoko. 32 But her exemplification of these values by associating Oroonoko’s execution with that of Charles I reveals the narrator’s suspicion that these values are faced with ruin. This belief is supported by the numerous examples of corruption of the authorities. On the other hand, the gruesome death of Oroonoko appears as the victory of the opposition, the mercantile spirit, though again in a corrupt form, strengthened by general human selfishness and unscrupulousness, so that the impression cannot be given that the aristocratic discourse is being displaced by an honest, sustainable counter-discourse in the form of the bourgeois principle of acquisition and profit. A further possible value system, that of a liberal, humane morality, has also shown itself to be ineffective and corrupted. As a result, the negative event is characterised by _____________ 31 32

Though this is partially restricted later, when grotesque details about them are reported, such as the rituals of self-mutilation in the competition for military leadership positions (124). Cf. Rosenthal (2004: 162). Ferguson (1994) sees, primarily, a victory for the narrator as author here, in the competition with Imoinda for Oroonoko’s body.

Aphra Behn: Oroonoko


the heterogeneity and contradictoriness of its implications and conveys, as a whole, the image of an ending and ruin with no prospect of a fresh start, particularly for the aristocratic and moral value systems. The eventfulness as the constitution of meaning is thus not suspended (because even the undermining of positive elements of meaning is meaningful), but extensively problematized. The eventfulness is perceived differently by different entities in the novel. For Byam and most of the other settlers, Oroonoko’s execution is a positive event, the putting down of a revolt and the averting of a threat to their existence. For Oroonoko, his death represents the fundamental failure of his entire value order, the extent of which he appreciates at least partially, since he realises the failure of his revenge as a last furious gesture of resistance to his humiliation (smoking the pipe should also be interpreted as a further last gesture of self-assertion). For the narrator, the death of Oroonoko appears to be – as mentioned – ambivalent: negative as the unjust killing of a great man and as the revealed dominance of the absolutised mercantile principle against the aristocratic value order, positive as the heroic-tragic affirmation in failure of the values he represents. Though the narrative perspective attempts to determine the attitude of the reader in the positive regard, he can however – on the basis of his secondorder observation – see through the motives and intentions of the narrator (e.g. her latent complicity with Oroonoko’s enemies in her fear of a slave revolt, 132) and, as a result of that, the eventfulness must be perceived as even more problematic. Translated by Alexander Starritt

References Aphra Behn. “Oroonoko, or The Royal Slave: A True History”, in Oroonoko, The Rover and Other Works, ed. Janet Todd (London: Penguin, 1992), 73-141. ———— Brown, Laura (1999). “The Romance of Empire: Oroonoko and the Trade in Slaves”, in Janet Todd, ed. Aphra Behn. New Casebooks (London: Macmillan), 180î208. Ferguson, Margaret (1994). “News from the New World: Miscegenous Romance in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko and The Widow Ranter”, in The Production of English Renaissance Culture, ed. David L. Miller, Sharon O’Dair, Harold Weber (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994), 15189.


Peter Hühn

Ferguson, Margaret (1999). “Juggling the Categories of Race, Class and Gender: Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko”, in Janet Todd, ed. Aphra Behn. New Casebooks (London: Macmillan, 1999), 209î33. Gallagher, Catherine (1996). “Oroonoko’s blackness”, in Aphra Behn Studies, ed. Janet Todd (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 23558. Holmesland, Oddvar (2001). “Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko: Cultural Dialectics and the Novel”, in English Literary History 68: 5779. Lipking, Joanna (2004). “‘Others’, slaves, and colonists in Oroonoko”, in Derek Hughes & Janet Todd, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Aphra Behn (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 166î87. Lotman, Jurij M. (1977 [1970]). The Structure of the Artistic Text, tr. G. Lenhoff & R. Vroon (Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Pr.). Ortiz, Joseph M. (2002). “Arms and the Woman: Narrative, Imperialism, and Virgilian Memoria in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko”, in Studies in the Novel 34: 11940. Rosenthal, Laura J. (2004). “Oroonoko: reception, ideology, and narrative strategy”, in Derek Hughes & Janet Todd, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Aphra Behn (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 151î65. Visconsi, Elliott (2002). “A Degenerate Race: English Barbarism in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko and The Widow Ranter”, in English Literary History 69: 673î701.


4 Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders (1722) Katrin Kroll Defoe’s novel The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders 1 presents the life of the eponymous heroine which covers about 70 years and which she herself tells retrospectively and chronologically. The story can roughly be summed up as follows: Moll is the daughter of a convicted criminal in London’s famous prison Newgate. Soon after her birth she is abandoned because her mother is deported to the American colonies. She spends a short time with relatives, later with gypsies and finally comes to live most of her childhood in an orphanage. At fourteen, she becomes the housemaid of a wealthy family and after some time the mistress of their eldest son. Later she marries five times and between the third and the fourth marriage, she works as a high-class prostitute, until her main occupation becomes theft and robbery. Moll is already 48 by then. At 60, she returns to Newgate – this time as a convicted criminal. She almost faces capital punishment, which is then reduced to deportation to the American colonies. In America, Moll attains freedom, builds up a plantation with her fourth husband, who was deported along with her, and finally returns to England as a rich lady at the age of 70. If we want to find out whether this story contains events and, if so, what constitutes them, there are two frames which promise to be interesting: first, the socio-economic, frame which refers to Moll’s outer development, and second, the moral-religious frame, which helps to assert the inner development Moll does or does not undergo. 1. The Socio-Economic Frame The socio-economic frame is clearly linked to an event on the story level, namely the social and economic success Moll achieves after her deportation to Virginia. Consequently, the act of crossing the border between the two sub-fields can be described as a social advancement. The opposition that corresponds with it is that of ‘low social position’ vs. ‘high social position’. ‘Financial situation’, ‘property’ and ‘social esteem’ are the most _____________ 1

Edition used: Defoe (1989).


Katrin Kroll

significant categories indicating Moll’s social position throughout the novel. At the same time, however, the term ‘social advancement’ seems too imprecise for Moll’s development. It can rather be understood as a process of acquiring a secure place within society. Therefore, the oppositions ‘without’ vs. ‘within’, ‘having no position’ vs. ‘having a position’ and also ‘insecurity’ vs. ‘security’ characterize the two sub-fields more adequately. 2 An analysis of the main qualities of the first sub-field makes this more evident. Before her deportation to Virginia, Moll’s life is marked by instability and change. The numerous transformations which her financial situation and social status undergo again and again prevent her from reaching a permanent and stable position. This state of instability begins right after her birth: born in prison and left by her mother soon after her birth, young Moll lives in numerous different homes and has various people that provide for her. She starts off at the lowest possible social position – without financial means, without social esteem or property. She depends on relatives who take care of her during the first years of her life. At the age of three, she leaves them in order to roam about with a gang of gypsies – a group of people that typically do not belong to a certain place, neither in a spatial nor in a social sense. 3 Having spent some time in an orphanage, where she naturally has to depend on the benevolence and money of others, she works as a housemaid for about three years. After she quits the job, Moll’s social and financial situation takes various turns. During most of the stages of her adult life, Moll is closely connected to the social rank of her husbands: her first spouse is the younger son of her employer, a gentleman. Next, she marries a textile tradesman, who becomes bankrupt, then a well-to-do plantation owner in Virginia and after that a seemingly rich gentleman, who turns out to be penniless. What follows is a short time in which she works as a prostitute until she marries her fourth husband, a bank clerk. After his death, Moll turns to illegal means and earns her living as a criminal – and finally arrives where her life began, in prison. This change of husbands and “professions” corresponds with permanent fluctuations of Moll’s financial situation. She is not able to keep a certain social and financial status (let alone acquire property), and, consequently, the first sub-field cannot be identified with a particularly low social position which would then be transformed into a high social position, but with not having an established place in society at all. _____________ 2 3

Cf. also Hühn (2001: 337ff.). Interestingly, it remains obscure how that comes about – whether the gypsies kidnap her or whether she readily and freely joins them.

Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders


Still, if we look at things from Moll’s perspective, it is quite obviously not her goal to attain just any permanent place in society but to reach a preferably high position – the first sub-field comprises Moll’s failing attempts to become a member of middle-class society. Even as an eightyear-old girl, Moll utters the wish to become a gentlewoman 4 (cf. 48). At first her concept of “gentlewoman” is still quite modest – a gentlewoman is simply someone who earns her money by her “Fingers Ends” (48), i.e. through needlework instead of working as a housemaid. However, through her contact to the mayor’s family that starts inviting her to their house, she soon begins to feel that being rich has a number of other conveniences in store. Hence, her concept of “gentility” changes: “I had such a Taste of Genteel living at the Ladies House, that I was not so easie in my old Quarters as I us’d to be, and I thought it was fine to be a Gentlewoman for I had quite other Notions of a Gentlewoman now than I had before” (53). From this moment, Moll strives to become a gentlewoman in its true meaning (respectively to live accordingly) – her intentions go far beyond simply averting starvation. 5 Particularly with her second husband, Moll leads a life of luxury (cf. 105) – which they actually cannot afford – and she marries her fourth husband mainly because of “the glittering show of a great Estate, and of fine Things” (199), which he promises her. She also keeps a maid whenever possible (cf. 183, 210, 286) and when she explains her reasons for leaving London and going to Northern England, she very poignantly sums up what she expects from life: “I found I could not live here under a Houndred Pound a Year, unless I kept no Company, no Servant, made no Appearance, and buried myself in Privacy” (183). Moll does not choose a life of work to attain her goals – she realises herself that she could have made a living by needlework (cf. 263) – , but expresses her affinity to the life of a gentlewoman: as a housemaid or seamstress her life would have been arduous, have left little leisure time and surely not have provided her with riches but only with essentials. The second sub-field which Moll reaches towards the end of the novel is, in contrast with the first sub-field, a stable and secure position within middle-class society. In America, Moll succeeds in building up a large plantation. She employs numerous servants and workers (according to her estimation, she buys land which can be worked by 5060 people, cf. 415) _____________ 4


By the term “gentlewoman” I do not refer to its original meaning, i.e. being part of the aristocracy but to its more general sense of holding a high social position, being well-off, and, above all, not having to work. Accordingly, the term can be applied to aristocrats as well as parts of the middle class. The term has been used with this meaning since the end of the 16th century, cf. Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “gentlewoman” 4a. The concept of “gentleman” has, of course, to be interpreted analogously. Even if this is what she often claims, cf. 126, 182, 256, 258.


Katrin Kroll

and is at last able to live quite luxuriously (cf. 424). When she returns to England she brings at least £1,000 6 with her. As Moll herself says about her and Jemy’s situation in America, they live “in very considerable Circumstances” (426). Moll’s wish of becoming a gentlewoman has finally come true – she attains financial wealth, becomes a landowner and enjoys social respect. This situation has to be understood as permanent and final, which is implied in the fact that the novel ends thus and gives the reader no reason for doubts. A significant change in Moll’s situation is improbable – as Moll herself assumes (cf. 415) – because the fortune she accumulated seems more than enough to finance her remaining years (in the meantime she has turned 70). The crucial question that remains is how and through what forces the crossing of the boundary is facilitated. Clearly, Moll herself actively works on achieving her aims – by two sometimes overlapping schemes. Her first strategy is to gain wealth by an advantageous marriage (cf. 99f., 103f., 126, 196 199, 241). This procedure is a relatively conventional strategy – and a legal one. However, almost from the beginning this strategy is undermined by a second one which finally prevails. In order to become a gentlewoman she more and more resorts to morally doubtful and even criminal means  a course of action to which the protagonist’s name already alludes. At Defoe’s time, a number of famous female criminals were named “Moll”: Moll Pines, Moll Hawkins, Mary Firth (who is mentioned in the novel and was better known as Moll Cut-Purse, cf. 266) and, above all, Moll King. The latter seems to be the main model for the fictional Moll Flanders – Moll Cut-Purse was a known pickpocket arrested in 1718 and then deported to America. Furthermore, the surname ‘Flanders’ is suggestive, too: in England women from Flanders had been particularly popular as prostitutes since the middle ages. 7 Consequently, it is no surprise that until she is convicted a number of elements of her life fit into a particular social script: the course of lives of contemporary criminals. 8 Even while she still primarily follows the marriage scheme, first signs of this script manifest themselves in as much as Moll deludes all of her husbands, except the _____________ 6 7 8

During the nine years she spends in Virginia – apart from her and Jemy’s starting capital of about £600 (cf. 392), which they invest in goods – the plantation she inherits from her mother yields about £100 a year, her own plantation earns her £300 in its eighth year. Cf. Blewitt (1989: 4). Apart from that, the name, of course, refers to a kind of cloth (“Flanders Lace”, 275) which Moll, among other things, steals in the novel and which signifies, thereby, criminal activities. One reason why Defoe knows his topic so well is, among others, that he spent some time in prison, which, apart from Moll Flanders, is evident in the biographies of criminals and essays on this topic he wrote, e.g. The History and Remarkable Life of John Sheppard (1724), The True and Genuine Account of the Life and Actions of the Late Jonathan Wild (1725), An Effectual Scheme for the Immediate Preventing of Street-Robberies (1728).

Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders


second spouse, in one way or the other: 9 she deceives her first husband with regard to her virginity and attracts her third and fourth husband by pretending to be rich. The time in which she works as a prostitute (between her third and fourth spouse) is a more direct anticipation of her later career as a criminal. Moreover, since she is never divorced from her second husband (and, by the way, the fourth) – which would have been difficult to achieve at the time –, she lives in bi- or rather polygamy for many years. Finally, Moll falls into a criminal life after her fifth husband dies and a new one is not available. She becomes a thief of various kinds now, especially a shoplift and pickpocket, which were typical female forms of crime at that time, 10 and again works as a prostitute for a short period. Both strategies, however, do not lead to the crossing of the boundary: Moll does not control her life; it is more as if things happened to her. Furthermore, there are several forces and circumstances which make the boundary resistant to her attempts of crossing it. Above all, the society she lives in is characterized by rigid class barriers – there is no character in the novel that rises in society without making (criminal) detours on their way. Second, Moll’s world or rather the society she lives in is marked by its deviousness. Throughout the novel, Moll is subdued by numerous deceptions which make it difficult for her to see through the motives of others, to assess the consequences of her own actions, and, hence, to act successfully. 11 A striking example of this is the failure of Moll’s marriage strategy. Her first lover behaves as if he wanted to marry her but at no time intends to do so; the second pretends to be a gentleman but is in fact bankrupt. 12 What contributes to foiling Moll’s crossing of the boundary are unlucky incidents which she cannot control. At various moments, Moll thinks that she has reached the second sub-field of wealth and social esteem, which, however, turns out to be a misapprehension: her first husband, the young gentleman, dies an early death, just as her happy life with her fifth husband ends, when he dies. Unlucky circumstances and – unintended – deception finally come together in her marriage with her third husband, a wealthy plantation owner in Virginia, who turns out to be her halfbrother. But the reason for the difficulty of crossing the border is not only grounded in bad luck and a rigid society but also in Moll herself, i.e. her lack of reasonable judgement and her questionable choice of means. In the case of her second husband Moll lets herself be easily deceived and does not inspect the bridegroom’s financial circumstances thoroughly (cf. _____________ 9 10 11 12

Cf. Arnold (1985: 217). Cf. McLynn (1991: 93). Cf. Hühn (2001: 337f.). What has to be mentioned, though, is that Moll pretends to be rich, too, i.e. has started to resort to deception as a means as well.


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199). Her fourth marriage with Jemy is ruined as much by herself as by him – had she at least been honest regarding her (non-existing) fortune, this marriage, which turns out to be a financial catastrophe, would not have taken place at all. Moll’s criminal activities lead her even further away from her actual goal: Although she succeeds in accumulating money during her life as a thief, she is still far away from being a gentlewoman because she lacks the social recognition which would be necessary in order to be a member of the middle class. Her criminal actions finally lead to her imprisonment and the death sentence. At this moment, Moll is further away from her aims than ever before. To sum up: with regard to the positive event within the social frame of Moll’s actions, these have been counterproductive so far – with the execution at hand, they even seem to steer towards a negative event. The crossing of the border in a narrower sense – Moll’s way out of prison to the well-off position she finally reaches – is not effected by her behaviour, or at least only to a very small degree. The main conditions for the event to happen are that the execution of the death sentence is first postponed and then transformed into deportation. Both measurements are only partly promoted by her actions – the actual decisions that facilitate these happy turns are beyond her control. The positive development of Moll’s situation is furthermore promoted by the following circumstances, which are not within her control either: In prison she accidentally meets her fourth husband, Jemy, who succeeds in being pardoned and deported, too, so that – in the end – Moll does not have to build up her new life in Virginia all on her own. Furthermore, she is supported, firstly, by the captain, who helps to free her for money, secondly, by her son in Virginia, who supports her with money from her dead mother’s plantation and, finally, by a Quaker from the neighbourhood. Moll’s own contributions to her success are her statements of repentance which make the chaplain support her cause, the fact that she owns money which she invests in goods for her future life and the resolve with which she builds up the plantation. Finally, the function of the plantation itself is not to be underestimated with regard to Moll’s final wealth and security – it is property which guarantees Moll, for the first time in her life, a stable income. In as much as the strong resistance of the boundary that mirrors the rigid class barriers in England at the beginning of the 18th century, Moll’s crossing of the boundary signifies a relatively high eventfulness within its social context, or, to put it differently, from the perspective of contemporary readers. What makes the event additionally exceptional within the historical context is the fact that Moll’s deportation turns into financial success. Thereby the original social function of deportation – punishment (cf. 383) and social proscription (cf. 391, 393) – is circumvented: what was

Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders


intended to be a social fall turns in the novel into a social rise. The fact alone that her sentence is turned into deportation is not unusual since deportations were common practice at Defoe’s time. 13 However, a deported person would hardly have the chance to become a respected member of middle-class society. Most of them became workers or even slaves at the plantations and did not have any opportunity to save large sums of money; many of them returned to England as soon as possible but only to become criminals again. 14 Moll’s fate also turns out to be highly eventful when seen in an intertextual context – against the backcloth of contemporary criminal biographies, a genre to which I will return later in more detail. This genre was widely known and accepted at Defoe’s time; the texts followed a number of conventions so that we can suppose that contemporary readers must have had specific expectations towards texts of this genre. The plot of Moll Flanders, however, significantly deviates from the script established in this genre, mainly because the actual cause for and integral part of criminal biographies does not occur in it: the delinquent’s execution. Quite in contrast to the laws of the genre, Moll not only survives but even becomes rich in the end. 15 The only aspect which might be seen as limiting the degree of eventfulness is the fact that not only Moll but also Jemy and her mother undergo a similar development. Both of them are deported too, and then become socially and economically successful as farmers. Consequently, we have to say that for these two – although the novel does not focus on their fates – the two sub-fields are obviously constituted like Moll’s and they too, cross a boundary in the novel. 2. Eventfulness within the Moral-Religious Frame and the Relation between the Two Frames The crucial question that remains is whether the change in Moll’s outward situation corresponds to an inner change, i.e. whether the social rise is connected to a transformation of Moll’s moral and religious views and

_____________ 13 14 15

Cf. McLynn (1991: 277, 285ff.). After the number of deported criminals had sunk between 1685 and 1718 due to the resistance of American settlers, deportations became more frequent again with the Transportation Act of 1718. Cf. McLynn (1991: 289). Moll’s assertion that a lot of readers would have preferred a “compleat Tragedy, as it was very likely to have been” (369) seems to allude to this prominent deviation from the script.


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behaviour. 16 In the following, it will become clear that the answer to the question of whether the moral-religious frame contains an event or not, depends on the respective narrative level – on whether we adopt the perspective of the protagonist, the empirical author, the contemporary reader or a modern reader. For Moll, the protagonist and narrator, there definitely is an event: she vehemently claims to have undergone a decisive inner change by referring to the script of conversion. According to her, the conversion comes about while she is in prison – this is where and when the moment of crossing the boundary would have to be located. If we follow her train of thought, her inner change begins when she first sees Jemy in prison. Her compassion for him and the notion of being responsible for his fate trigger feelings of guilt and remorse in her (cf. 356ff.). She ends her reflections on Jemy with “in a word, I was perfectly chang’d, and become another Body” (357). However, this short résumé does not seem to refer to actual inner change but to the fact that Moll’s mind and spirit are no longer in a state of resignation (cf. 355) and are woken to new life. She does not feel true repentance at this point (cf. 358). But when she is waiting for the death sentence to be carried out, she starts seeing a chaplain under whose influence the said conversion is brought about: It was now that for the first time I felt any real signs of Repentance; I now began to look back upon my past Life with abhorrence, [...]. The word Eternity represented itself with all its incomprehensible Additions, and I had such extended Notions of it, that I know not how to express them […]. With these Reflections came in, of mere Course, severe Reproaches of my own Mind for my wretched Behaviour in my past Life; that I had forfeited all hope of any Happiness in the Eternity that I was now going to enter into […]. (364f.)

The evaluations Moll uses (“wretched”, “abhorrence”) clearly demonstrate her realisation that her past deeds were morally reprehensible and that her feelings of repentance have a Christian dimension. This becomes especially evident when she calls into play the concept of “eternity”. Throughout the novel, there are further indications of Moll’s inner change: she frequently declares her repentance (cf. 266, 268, 421, 427) and often appears as an overt narrator retrospectively condemning her behaviour before her imprisonment (cf. 64, 67f., 168, 177, 415, 420f., 427), emphasising the moral lesson which the reader can learn from her story (cf. 62, 179, 243, 369, 409). In addition, her newly-won belief in providence as the _____________ 16

This question has been frequently and controversially discussed in the secondary literature. Blewett (1989) e.g. assumes a fundamental change, while Suarez (1997) and Caton (1997) deny the change and Faller (1993) considers it ambiguous. Often, the problem of Moll’s change is connected with the question of which position the abstract or even real author takes, cf. the overview in Goetsch (1980: 271ff.).

Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders


shaping force of her life seems to verify her inner change: Moll states that her transgressions as well as the unlucky coincidences in her life (before her conversion) have to be ascribed to the “Devil in my Bosom” (199, cf. also 254, 263, 268) or were brought about by an “invisible Hand” (251, cf. also 44, 138, 154, 213, 268, 336). Similarly, she attributes the happy turns to a “merciful Providence” (369, cf. also 408, 420, 421). If we follow Moll’s interpretations and statements, the first sub-field of the semantic field is marked by moral corruption and, along with it, a lack of belief and conduct according to Christian values. In contrast, the second sub-field has to be constructed as a morally and religiously stainless life marked by repentance and by obeying God’s commands. On second glance, however, Moll’s crossing of the border within the moral-religious frame appears doubtful. From a modern perspective it is disconcerting that even after her conversion Moll so strongly pursues material goals. While still in prison Moll realises that material goods are unimportant: how gross, how absurd did every pleasant thing look? I mean, that we had counted pleasant before; especially when I reflected that these sordid Trifles were the things for which we forfeited eternal Felicity (364f.)

but her actions show that material interests remain the guiding force for her decisions: her preparations for the journey to America predominantly consist in settling her financial affairs and in providing herself with goods for her life in Virginia and devices supposed to make the trip more agreeable (cf. 389, 393). Consequently, Moll and Jemy pass the journey itself quite conveniently if not luxuriously. Apart from furniture which Moll buys only for the crossing (cf. 389), she and Jemy reside in a comfortable passenger cabin, eat at the captain’s table and provide themselves with “several Necessities” such as Brandy, Sugar, Lemons etc. to make Punch, and Treat our Benefactor, the Captain; and abundance of things for eating and drinking in the Voyage; also a larger Bed, and Bedding proportion’d to it; so that in a Word, we resolv’d to want for nothing in the Voyage (397f.).

After arriving in the colonies, Moll devotes all her actions to building up a profitable plantation – with success, as we know. This behaviour implies that Moll still has not given up her main aim in life: becoming a gentlewoman. 17 Even when she meets her son again her main concern in her dealings with him is to secure her inheritance, the estate of her mother (cf. 410f.). That Moll has not given up her economic view of life also manifests itself in the résumés which she as the narrator makes at the end of _____________ 17

Cf. also the luxury articles she has others send her from England so that Jemy, who has less means than she, can look like a gentleman again (424).


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each phase in her life: these résumés have a predominantly financial focus, they are balances in the true sense of the word (cf. 102, 107f., 156, 180, 253, 392, 426). However, if we take into account the historical-cultural context of Calvinism it soon becomes obvious why Moll’s continuing economic perspective on life would not have contradicted her proclaimed conversion in the eyes of contemporary readers and Calvinist Defoe. 18th-century Calvinism does not see a conflict between material striving on the one hand and belief and morality on the other. The frames ‘religion’ and ‘economy’ are not conceptualised as opposites, on the contrary: in their continuous striving for certainty of their salvation Calvinists used to interpret economic success as a sign of God’s saving grace and of being among the chosen ones. 18 Consequently, Moll perfectly fulfils the script of the rueful penitent in the specific historically and culturally determined form of a Calvinistic story of conversion, so that for the empirical author Defoe and contemporary readers Moll’s story would have constituted a moralreligious event. From their perspective, the relation between the two frames can be constructed as a causal one: the inner, moral-religious change would have been seen as prerequisite of the later economic and social rise – only after she repents, turns to God and strives for social advancement with legal means can Moll succeed. A modern reader or a reader who does not share the Calvinist world view, however, will have difficulties in finding Moll’s continuing material striving in accordance with a conversion. Especially the fact that Moll does not offer any compensation for her deeds, but, on the contrary, keeps her hauls and builds her future life upon them is hard to reconcile with a moral-religious change. Consequently, Moll’s assertion that she wants to begin her new life on a “new Foundation” (383) can be understood as highly ironic. However, even if we neglect the problem of Moll’s pursuit of profit, the text contains other indications that leave room for doubts whether Moll’s repentance continues after the described moment in prison and whether she fundamentally changes. Firstly, there are the statements of the fictive editor. With regard to Moll’s life, he explicitly speaks of two contrasting phases of her life, a “criminal Part” and a “penitent Part” (38), but at the same time he mentions that it was necessary to polish up the manuscript: “the Copy which came first to Hand, having been written in Language more like one still in Newgate, than one grown Penitent and Humble, as she afterwards pretends to be” (37). At the end of the preface, he furthermore assumes that towards the end of her life, Moll has been _____________ 18

Cf. Arnold (1985: 52).

Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders


“not so extraordinary a Penitent” (42) as while in prison. Thereby, he questions the depth and permanence of her conversion. 19 Secondly, these doubts are heightened by other aspects of Moll’s behaviour after her supposed change. By avoiding the punishment of working on a plantation she circumvents one important aspect of repentance, i.e. atonement. The fact that she strongly plays down her crimes in front of Jemy (cf. 376f.) and lies to her son when it comes to her past and her present circumstances (cf. 418, 426) does not speak in favour of a moral change of the protagonist either. Finally, we have to discuss the evaluations and comments which the – seemingly reformed – narrator Moll gives. These very often do not comply with what we would expect of a reformed sinner: Moll frequently undermines the scheme of interpretation which she has tried to establish by contrasting the unmistakably negative evaluations of her past deeds with positive assessments and attempts to portray herself as a victim rather than as a perpetrator. A prominent example of this is the way she describes the time when she was the mistress of the mayor’s son in Colchester: she sees herself as “a very sober, modest and virtous young Woman” (57) and her lover as solely responsible for what happened – as a seducer who deceived her (cf. 57, 61). In a similar way, she blames others for having married her half-brother, although it was she who deliberately tried to attract him by pretending to be rich (cf. 123). Moll draws the same passive, victim-like picture of herself when it comes to her fourth marriage. She depicts herself as “a Bag of Money, or a Jewel dropt on the Highway, which is a Prey to the next Comer” (182) and makes others responsible for her husband’s deception (cf. 201, 207). That these assessments are euphemisms and that Moll is not an innocent victim is quite obvious. For instance, a conversation between her and the mayor’s son reveals that Moll is much less naïve to male wiles of seduction than she pretends to be (cf. 73). Thereby, she indirectly and unintentionally questions the role of the victim she ascribed to herself. When it comes to her third marriage it turns out that Moll is, again, less naïve and much more responsible for the way things develop than she maintains – she uses trickery in order to help the Captain’s Lady to a husband (cf. 119ff.) and with one of her lovers she plays “as an Angler does with a Trout” (cf. 195). Finally, what may strike readers as inconsistent is the fact that Moll condemns her past actions as often as she describes her own and others’ criminal practices in an almost admiring way. In her opinion, a fellow criminal, for instance, steals _____________ 19

Another aspect worth mentioning is whether the chaplain’s fears, which he expresses strikingly often that Moll could soon fall back into her old ways and his urgent admonitions that she should remain repentant (cf. 368, 370, 371, 372, 386) do not additionally raise doubts in the reader regarding Moll’s character.


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watches “so dexteriously that no Woman ever arriv’d to the Perfection of that Art, so as to do it like her“ (cf. 266). She describes her own crimes similarly: “I grew the greatest Artist of my time, and work’d myself out of every Danger with such Dexterity, […]” (280, cf. also 311). The fact that Moll frequently tries to minimize her own guilt or even describes her past actions in a self-admiring way leaves room for concluding that deep inside she is not as convinced of her own guilt and wickedness as she pretends.20 Consequently, especially from a modern perspective, there are reasons not to speak of an event on the moral-religious level. Moll’s attempt to divide her life into two opposite halves can be interpreted as a stylisation that is consistent with fictive reality only in a limited way. If we assume that there is no event within the moral-religious frame, Moll must be called an unreliable narrator and the relation between the two frames appears in a different light too: from this point of view, Moll excessive striving for wealth is one of the main reasons why we must deny her a deeper moral-religious change – Moll does not change because material motives continue to dominate her actions and her morals. However, since the text leaves room for modern readings as well as the perspectives of the protagonist and narrator Moll, the empirical author Defoe and the historical reader, we have to conclude that on the level of the abstract author, Moll’s change remains ambivalent. What becomes evident, though, is that the contradictions which modern readers perceive do not stem from Defoe’s artistic deficiencies – as some critics assume21 – but from differences in 18th-century and modern world views. However, no matter how we assess Moll’s change, it is noteworthy that the script of conversion is not only implicitly activated by the text, but quite openly referred to by Moll as the valid interpretation of her life story – which brings up the question: why does Moll cling to this script? What function does this attempt to interpret her life along the script of conversion have? On the one hand, this reference surely allows Moll to see her life not as a chaotic mayhem but as an orderly, meaningful and goal-directed whole. Particularly the idea that the positive turn her life takes could be a sign of God’s interference can be understood as a wish for coherence, because in retrospect it seems to give her life a direction and meaning. However, by splitting her life in two contrasting halves, it does not only become understandable in a neutral sense: behind this, we can see Moll’s wish to draw a positive picture of her present self, a picture _____________ 20


Moll’s statements about the moral status of others are often contradictory as well and hence suggest that she does not hold strong moral views. A striking example of this is when she calls her fence and landlady “my good old Governess” (279) on the one hand and a “wicked Creature” (ibid.) on the other. Cf. Watt (1974: 98f., 118).

Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders


in which she can believe. Hence, Moll’s reference to the script of conversion also has the function to create identity. And there is one more aspect to it: by interpreting her life as a story of conversion Moll also gains assurance of her spiritual salvation, i.e. of a positive future after her death. 22 Finally, in correspondence with the ambivalence of Moll’s inner change, the novel activates two diverging scripts belonging to the contemporary genre of criminal biographies mentioned before. This genre has two main forms, picaresque biographies – which foreground the adventurous and, partly, the fantastic, which have an episodic structure, glorify the protagonists and primarily intend to entertain the reader – and the predominantly religiously oriented biographies. 23 The latter are dominated by their devotional function: they denounce the delinquent’s crimes and focus on his final turning to God. Typically both variations manipulate or at least stylise the facts in order to produce the effect they aim at. 24 Taking into account the mentioned discrepancies, Moll’s interpretation of the story can be seen as an attempt to write a spiritual criminal biography, which is, however, undermined by the ambiguity of her inner change. Apart from the fact that the missing execution and Moll’s final wealth are deviations from both genres, the novel contains numerous elements which do not fit into the script of the spiritual criminal biography: the way Moll’s life before her imprisonment is rendered in a rather episodic way and the admiration she sometimes expresses for her deeds and adventures are features which Moll Flanders shares with the picaresque criminal biography. One could argue that by this deviation from the script of the spiritual criminal biography, the moment of stylisation is laid bare as a constitutive mechanism of the genre and its devotional function. If we follow this line of thought, the novel even seems to possess a meta-fictional quality (which, though, does not constitute another event, to be more specific: a presentation event). Still, in a very subtle way the reference to the said genres highlights the (potential) events in the happenings and, at the same time, their ambiguous relation to the literary as well as the culturalhistorical context.

_____________ 22 23 24

Cf. also Hühn (2001: 338f.). Cf. Faller (1993: 4ff.), Gladfelder (2001: 33), Arnold (1985: 70ff.) and Bell (2004: 409). This connects Moll Flanders, of course, to genres akin to the criminal biography, i.e. the picaresque novel, the confessional novel and the Puritan spiritual autobiography. Cf. Faller (1993: 22), Arnold (1985: 95).


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References Defoe, Daniel (1989). The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (London: Penguin Classics).

———— Arnold, Christof K. (1985). Wicked Lives. Funktion und Wandel der Verbrecherbiographie im England des 17. und frühen 18. Jahrhunderts (Heidelberg: Winter). Bell, Ian A. (2004 [1985]). “Moll Flanders, Crime and Comfort”, in Moll Flanders, ed. Albert J. Rivero (2004). London: Norton. (Reprint of: Ian A. Bell: Defoe’s Fiction. Totowa: Barnes & Noble 1985, 115î52), 403–36. Blewitt, David (1989). “Introduction”, in Defoe, Daniel (1989). The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (London: Penguin Classics), 1î24. Caton, Lou (1997). “Doing the Right Thing with Moll Flanders: A ‘Reasonable’ Difference between the Picara and the Penitent”, in College Language Association Journal 40: 508î16. Faller, Lincoln B. (1993). Crime and Defoe: A New Kind of Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge UP). Gladfelder, Hal (2001). Criminality and Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England: Beyond the Law (Baltimore etc.: Johns Hopkins UP). Goetsch, Paul (1980). “Defoes ‘Moll Flanders’ und der Leser”, in GermanischRomanische Monatsschrift 30: 271î88. Hühn, Peter (2001). “The Precarious Autopoiesis of Modern Selves: Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders and Virginia Woolf’s The Waves”, in European Journal of English Studies 5: 335î48. McLynn, Frank (1991). Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford UP). Suarez, Michael F. (1997). “The Shortest Way to Heaven? Moll Flanders’ Repentance Reconsidered”, in 1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era 3: 3î28. Watt, Ian (1974 [1957]). The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (London: Chatto & Windus).

5 Samuel Richardson: Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded (1740) Peter Hühn On one level, Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Pamela 1 can be described as a story of love and marriage, tracing the relation between Pamela Andrews and Mr B., from their first acquaintance through a protracted period of various, mostly violent, forms of “courtship”, conflicts of unilateral desire and virtuous rejection, confusions and clarifications of their mutual declaration of love, their eventual wedding and the beginnings of their married life. But the primary emphasis rests less on the emotional and subjective side of their emergingt love relationship than on the nature of the obstacles separating the couple and making the way to their ultimate union long, difficult and problematic: their divergent social origins and moral attitudes. 2 1. The Social Order and the Two Conventional Scripts for Love Stories The “semantic field” or overall context is defined primarily in social terms and is sub-divided hierarchically by a strict class boundary into the wealthy, leisured aristocracy, represented by Mr B. and his family (his mother Lady B., recently deceased, and his sister, Lady Davers), on the one hand, and, on the other, the working (bourgeois) class, represented by the servants – among them fifteen-year-old Pamela Andrews and her poor, hard-working parents, but also by the housekeeper, Mrs Jervis, and the clergyman, Mr Williams. 3 This social order is characterized by strict stability and inflexibility: people are born into their respective classes and stay in them throughout their lives. Thus all characters in the world of the novel are immobile figures insofar as their positions are firmly and unquestionably fixed in their respective sub-fields. Only Pamela’s place in _____________ 1 2 3

Page references, to Richardson (2001), are cited in the text. For a general historical contextualization of the love topic, cf. Watt (1963). For a general overview of the novel, see Kinkead-Weekes (1973) and esp. Doody (1974: 14î78). Although there are also social differences among these positions, they are not separated by a strict impermeable boundary and appear insignificant from the perspective of the aristocracy.


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the lower-class sub-field turns out to be unstable and insecure from the start. This is due to two aspects of her situation, both connected with her sex and age: her role as an unprotected servant girl in an aristocratic family after her benevolent maternal mistress’s (Lady B.’s) death and her being a sexually attractive, nubile young woman. As far as her relations with the opposite sex are concerned, two scripts are available to Pamela (according both to social norms and literary conventions): marrying someone from her own class or being seduced by a member of the aristocratic class. 4 Whereas the first alternative is apt to complete and consolidate her social integration in the first sub-field, the second option, while seeming to permit the crossing of the boundary into the higher, aristocratic sub-field, would eventually result in her moral and social degradation and cause her to be expelled from her original social position into a morally inferior second sub-field (she would be “ruined”, as the usual phrase puts it). This change would entail a re-definition of the structure of the semantic field in primarily moral terms (albeit with social consequences). In the course of the novel’s development, these two alternative scripts are actually presented to Pamela as practical possibilities, in the form of two different plotlines. The main plotline is constituted by Mr B., the libertine son of her former mistress, attempting to subject her to the second (seduction) script, by persistently and perfidiously trying to seduce her, against her strong and virtuous resistance, by flattery, the use or threat of force and, ultimately and most elaborately, by tempting her with the promise of an established position in aristocratic circles as his kept mistress, with the prospect of marriage sometime in the future. At one point in this plot progression, she is offered marriage by a member of her own class, Mr Williams, 5 in accordance with the first script, as a means of warding off the threat to her moral integrity and securing a safe and firm position for her in the first sub-field. With respect to the second alternative, the seduction plotline and the concomitant prospect or illusion of a boundary crossing, the novel provides explicit definitions of the boundary from either side, as it were, corroborating the rigorous separation of the two sub-fields. At the very beginning of the novel, Pamela’s parents, warning her against Mr B.’s designs, specify the constitutive norms of the lower-class sub-field, in opposition to the corrupt standards of the aristocracy, as moral integrity _____________ 4 5

These two scripts actually underlie the plot patterns of two types of the female love novel prevalent at the time: the courtship novel and the seduction/rape tale. See Doody (1974: 18ff.). Though Mr Williams’s position as a clergyman is somewhat higher up the social scale than that of the servant girl Pamela, the society of the novel clearly places them in the same class, far beneath the aristocracy.

Samuel Richardson: Pamela


and religious strictness: honesty, goodness, hard work, virtue, piety and trust in God and his Providence. Virtue is considered superior to wealth and even to life: “we had rather see you all cover’d with Rags, and even follow you to the Churchyard, than have it said, a Child of ours preferr’d any worldly Conveniencies to her virtue” (14).

With reference to a flattering gift by Mr B. to Pamela, her father admonishes her: “Arm yourself, my dear Child, for the worst; and resolve to lose your Life sooner than your Virtue. […] what signify the Delights that arise from a few paltry fine Cloaths, in Comparison with a good Conscience?”,

adding, “It is Virtue and Goodness only, that make the true Beauty” (20). While the parents thus define the boundary from below, Lady Davers demarcates it from above later in the novel, again with direct reference to Pamela’s person and position, when her brother contemplates taking her as either a mistress or a wife. She admonishes her brother in a letter: “ruining a poor Wench that my Mother lov’d, and who really was a very good girl; […] of this you may be asham’d; […] it would be very wicked in you to ruin the Wench […]. So that I beg you will restore her to her Parents, and give her 100 £ or so, to make her happy in some honest Fellow of her own Degree”;

but marrying her would be “utterly inexcusable”, a gross violation of the superior state of the noble and old family tradition: “ours is no up-start Family; but as ancient as the best in the Kingdom; and for several Hundreds of Years, it has never been known that the Heirs of it have disgraced themselves by unequal Matches; […] [a] handsome Gentleman as you are in your Person; so happy in the Gifts of your Mind, that every body courts your Company; and possess’d of such a noble and clear Estate; and very rich in Money besides, left you by the best of Fathers and Mothers, with such ancient Blood in your Veins, untainted! for you to throw yourself thus, is intolerable” (257).

Because of their literary and social conventionality, the practical realization of either of these two scripts would not rank high on the scale of eventfulness. Marrying Mr Williams, on the one hand, would merely confirm and perpetuate Pamela’s original membership, by birth, of the first sub-field, corroborate the existing order and thus prove not at all eventful, which is highlighted by the explicit advocacy of such a marriage by the two staunch defenders of the inviolable boundary between the fields mentioned above: Pamela’s father (159f.) and Lady Davers (cf. 257). If Pamela were to succumb to seduction, on the other hand, this would ultimately lead to her moral and social debasement, thereby undermining her place in the first field and relegating her to an altogether inferior position. This course of action would constitute a negative event, but one of a relatively


Peter Hühn

low degree on account of its common occurrence, both in literature and in life. 6 2. Pamela’s Eventful Crossing of the Class Boundary For a variety of reasons, however, Pamela refuses to follow either of the two conventional scripts. 7 The seduction script is resolutely and persistently rejected by her on purely moral grounds in spite of her unconscious but growing love for Mr B., even after she gradually becomes aware of it: “O good sir […] O my Heart will burst […] but, on my bended Knees, I beg you, Sir, to let me go tomorrow, as I design’d! And don’t offer to tempt a poor Creature, whose whole Will would be to do yours, if my Virtue and my Duty would permit” (84). 8

She declines Mr Williams’s marriage proposal because of her latent, though strong, attachment to her “master” (as the reader may gather from her behaviour), although she explicitly states as her reason for refusal that she has no plans to marry yet: “There is not the Man living, that I desire to marry; if I can but keep myself honest, it is all my Desire; and to be a Comfort and Assistance to my poor Parents, if it should be my happy Lot to be so, is the very Top of my Ambition” (143).

Pamela’s rejection of the two conventional scripts and concomitant roles eventually enables her to cross the normally impassable rigid class boundary, i.e. to marry Mr B. and thereby move into the superior field of _____________ 6



The novel does, in fact, contain a detailed reference to such a plotline with the usual development, in the figure and history of Sally Godfrey, introduced towards the end of the novel by Lady Davers in an attempt to belatedly disrupt the marriage agreement between Mr B. and Pamela (431f., 478ff., 501). Although Sally Godfrey comes from a “good” family, her fate is basically that of seduction and rejection by the adolescent Mr B., with the concomitant moral corruption and fall. That Pamela’s life might have followed a similar course is explicitly articulated by Mr B. himself, when he describes his original designs on her as intending “to make my Pamela change her Name, without either Act of Parliament or Wedlock, and be Sally Godfrey the Second” (486). That the customary dire consequences are avoided is due to his bad conscience and his benevolence (he provides for her and their child etc.: 478ff.). Cf. the analysis of the ideological implications of the specific narrative treatment of this alternative plotline by Rivero (2001). Doody (1974: 35î78) reads Pamela as a pastoral comedy, thus relating the plot-structure of the novel to a particular generic script: “It is a comedy, a story of love’s vicissitudes which ends happily: ultimately a wedding is celebrated by which the right partners are united, and the social order enriched. It is not a simple comedy because of its darker, more disturbing elements” (35). This can be accepted as a plausible historical reading. The present narratological analysis is not to be understood as an alternative interpretation to such an approach but rather as the explication of the underlying abstract structure of the novel’s plot, even if read as a pastoral comedy. See also Pamela’s rigorously outspoken rejection of Mr B.’s “proposals” (2001: 188ff.).

Samuel Richardson: Pamela


the aristocracy – an event prepared over a long period of time and finally brought about largely as a result of decisive changes in Mr B.’s attitude: a conception of love for Pamela (83); offer of cohabitation with a vague prospect of marriage after a test year (191f.); recognition from her journal and letters of her unselfish loving attachment to him in spite of his brutal and deceitful behaviour (250f.); and finally, unreserved declaration of love and proposal of marriage (259ff., esp. 270) as well as acknowledgement of her moral superiority as a model for his own life (269ff.): “let me tell my sweet Girl, that, after having been long lost by the boisterous Winds of a more culpable Passion, I have now conquer’d it, and am not so much the Victim of your Love, all charming as you are, as of your Virtue; and therefore I may more boldly promise for myself, having so stable a Foundation for my Affection; which, should this outward Beauty fail, will increase with your Virtue, and shine forth the brighter, as that is more illustriously display’d, by the augmented Opportunities which the Condition you are now entering into, will afford you” (341).

In the final analysis, the crossing of the boundary is essentially effected by the overriding of social with moral norms. 9 Although Pamela’s transition from the first to the second semantic sub-field, i.e. from the lower to the higher social status, is ultimately achieved with the brief, but legally and religiously binding, ceremony of the wedding in the chapel (344ff.), the boundary is crossed not as a sudden or random occurrence, but as an integral part of a protracted process which, in addition to the preliminary psychological and moral changes, includes the customary wedding preparations and especially the long drawn-out efforts to overcome various serious obstacles resulting from family and social circumstances, such as Lady Davers’s hostile opposition (415ff.) and the neighbouring gentry’s reservations or outright antagonism. 10 Nor is the achievement definitive and final: the two-volume sequel of the novel published a year later (1741) reveals that Pamela’s position in the second sub-field is not yet secure, but must be earned and further confirmed through her exemplary behaviour. All these difficulties testify to the inherent strength and stability of the subdivision of the semantic field and the firm resistance of the boundary to transgression. Therefore, the fundamental transformation of Pamela’s social status represents a very _____________ 9


Cf. Morton (1971), who ascribes the decisive movement of the plot to the spiritual regeneration of Mr B. and other characters through the effect of Pamela’s virtue. He locates in the novel “two planes of action, the vertical plane of the social scale and the horizontal plane of spiritual regeneration; and their intersection comes at the point of B’s repentance” (256). Mai (1986), in his detailed formal analysis of the structure of plot-development, distinguishes two successive conflicts which postpone the final resolution: the threat to Pamela’s virtue and the hostility of society, both of almost equal length.


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high degree of eventfulness, since it constitutes a grave violation of the hierarchical social norms in favour of emotional and moral values as well as a radical deviation from both the seduction script and the conventional marriage script. Deviation from the conventional marriage script is strikingly highlighted by the fact that Mr B. chooses Mr Williams, whose marriage proposal to Pamela could have resulted in Pamela’s integration into the first sub-field, to officiate at the wedding ceremony (309ff., 344ff.). Pamela’s social elevation and marriage into the aristocracy constitutes an event on the level of the happenings in that the protagonist’s (social) position in the world depicted in the novel has decisively changed. That this change clearly counts as eventful is acknowledged by the protagonist herself as well as by other inhabitants of the novel’s world, e.g. by Lady Davers and the neighbouring gentry, whose initial rejection or condemnation and subsequent acceptance of Pamela’s advancement function as an internal indicator of eventfulness. Thus the event is collectively established and recognized as a social fact in the world of the novel, not merely as a changed attitude or consciousness. Richardson’s Pamela represents an almost prototypical, straightforward example of eventfulness, the basic structure of which resembles that of fairy tales (such as Cinderella) but is made more complex by the social, moral and religious dimensions of the change, which are constituted through the specific historical and cultural context within which the love plot is placed. Furthermore, the plotdevelopment of Pamela is also prototypical in that the novel possesses a homogeneous structure with respect to eventfulness, i.e. its eventfulness is endorsed by the novel as a whole and on all of its various narrative levels such as those of character, narrator, implied author, author and reader. 11 3. The Modality of the Event and the Degree of Eventfulness What is socially and culturally significant about the specific modalities of Pamela’s eventful transgression of the boundary is her seeming passivity and lack of ambition. 12 She does not actively aspire to such an elevation, but is granted it as a reward for her active efforts in another respect, namely, her unwavering rejection of Mr B.’s advances and her moral ex_____________ 11 12

For an example of a heterogeneously structured story in which a change counts as an event only on some, but not on all, levels, see the analysis of Joyce’s “Grace” in the present volume, pp. 125î32. Brown (1993) has shown how Richardson preserves Pamela’s artlessness and innocence, while at the same time indicating to the perceptive reader the underlying drift of the plotdevelopment î through ‘speaking pictures’ (emblems, tropes, allusions etc.): “The presence of the ‘speaking picture’ permits us, as secondary readers, to break free of the narrators’ subjective reportage” (130).

Samuel Richardson: Pamela


emplariness in connection with an underlying intuitive confidence in Mr B.’s fundamental goodness. And even after his proposal of marriage and the subsequent preparations for her firm establishment in the second field as his wife, Pamela continues to stress her humbleness, unworthiness and inferiority, habitually addressing her husband as “Sir” and calling him “my Master” in her letters and in her diary. Moreover, she never refers to her social elevation in terms of her own achievement or merit but invariably ascribes it to God’s Providence (cf. e.g. 274f., 332, 345f.).13 In keeping with her persistently reactive nature, she discovers and acknowledges her love for Mr B. only after he has first declared his love to her (270).14 Although Pamela’s crossing of the normally impassable boundary through her marriage clearly constitutes a “revolutionary” event, it is essential to realize that the subdivision of the semantic field into two different classes remains completely intact. 15 Her social ascent is presented as absolutely singular and exceptional, not at all as a model to be imitated. The references later in the novel to Sally Godfrey also serve to underline this singularity. Nor does this event signal a weakening of class divisions. On the contrary, the novel, especially in its latter part, employs various means to corroborate the validity of such distinctions and to stress the exclusivity, as well as the stability, of the aristocratic world. One important factor is Pamela’s own attitude, of which there are two aspects. On the one hand, even before entering this world as a wife, she possesses all the appropriate aristocratic skills (in manners, language, writing, dancing, dressing etc.), mostly acquired in the service of her former mistress, so that she fits perfectly well into the social life of aristocratic families.16 Even her fastidious sense of sexual virtue has to be considered less a lower-class than an upper-class female trait. 17 In both respects, she is fundamentally different from all other servants in the novel. On the other hand, Pamela unmistakably acknowledges and endorses social distinctions and values through her humble and respectful behaviour, as mentioned above. Moreover, through the beneficial effect of her virtue and goodness _____________ 13 14 15 16 17

For a comprehensive description of the relevance of Providence for the world order in the novel and its religious foundation, see Fortuna (1980). For the significance of the underlying concept of woman’s role in love, cf. Watt (1963: 160ff.). Cf. Flint (1989: 505). Koretsky (1983) also stresses that Pamela’s very exceptionality argues against her being an example of social advancement (e.g. 53). In addition, the social status of her family is curiously raised towards the end of the novel so as to enhance her affinity with the aristocratic sub-field. Cf. Flint (1989: 506f.). Cf. Bowen (1999: 267, 269, 272). What was new and provocative was attributing such an attitude to a servant-girl. Cf. Watt (1963: 172).


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on Mr B., his sister and others, she can even be seen as improving and strengthening the cultural superiority of the aristocratic order.18 4. The Historical Context of Eventfulness: the Evidence of Contemporary Reactions The high degree of eventfulness represented by this marriage in violation of the rules is demonstrated by contemporary reactions to Pamela. 19 Satirical and polemical attacks on the novel, such as Henry Fielding’s Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741) and Eliza Haywood’s AntiPamela: or Feign’d Innocence Detected (1742), question the protagonist’s artlessness, naivety and passivity and accuse her of hypocrisy, scheming and manipulation. 20 Thus radically discrediting her on a moral level, 21 they seek to invalidate, as well as reduce in degree, the eventfulness of Pamela’s marriage and social elevation by ascribing its success to dissimulation and deceit and, therefore, to design. This ascription of motives is calculated to re-define the structure of the event: to denigrate it as the disreputable result of a low, cunning stratagem instead of a reward for moral strength. The marriage would still be considered an event but an immoral one. These hostile reactions to Pamela are clearly formulated from an upperclass position (Fielding was an aristocrat) and thus indirectly testify to the context-dependence of the event in the novel. 22 Something similar goes for positive reactions to Richardson’s novel, such as its many imitations and continuations (e.g. John Kelly’s Pamela’s Conduct in High Life [1741]), 23 which, tellingly, often give the heroine an aristocratic birth (ini_____________ 18

19 20 21 22


The relation between social and moral norms has been variously interpreted, e.g. as incompatible tendencies by Flint (1989). However, since the class boundary is unmistakably corroborated despite Pamela’s rise, one can argue that the moral reformation of the aristocratic family of the B.s through the influence of her essentially bourgeois values does not so much symbolize the rise of the middle class as strengthen the superiority and legitimacy of the aristocracy. For a detailed overview of contemporary reactions, see Keymer & Sabor (2005). Cf. Keymer & Sabor (2005: 83ff.). Cf. Bowen (1999: 258ff.) and Doody (1974: 71ff.). One underlying motive seems to have been the anxiety that Pamela might encourage female servants’ sauciness or even their aspirations of upward mobility. “[Pamela] overthrew classical literary decorum in making a low, ungrammatical female its heroine; it overthrew social barriers in presenting a misalliance as not only possible but in given circumstances desirable. […] Shamela shows what a revolutionary book Pamela could seem. Richardson’s novel affronted the old Etonian in Fielding, and he registered the reaction of the Establishment” (Doody 1974: 74). Cf. Doody (1974: 74ff.).

Samuel Richardson: Pamela


tially unknown, but revealed later on). 24 As a result, the high degree of eventfulness of Pamela’s marriage is considerably reduced, apparently because this radical deviation from the established social order was felt to be unacceptable – another indirect indication of the dependence of the event on the class context. That such a marriage across the class-divide is both highly exceptional 25 and of profound relevance becomes particularly apparent through reference to the historical context, i.e. the social, cultural and religious conditions and practices in force at the time the novel was written. Central contextual features are, firstly, the hierarchical class system in Britain and its practically impermeable boundary between the lower (the working and the middle) classes and the aristocracy; secondly, the ethical emphasis on which the middle class bases its dignity and self-respect, the norms of honesty, working for one’s living and, especially with regard to women, sexual “virtue”, in contradistinction to the aristocratic values of rank, wealth, leisure, pleasure and, with particular respect to men, loose sexual morals; and thirdly, the ban on female initiative in pursuing love and marriage and the repression of female self-awareness with regard to feelings towards men, which delimits the agency of women as protagonists, confining their scope of action to reactivity and submissiveness. In addition, the notion of divine Providence guiding human destiny functions as an important overarching schema, 26 especially for Pamela, since it shifts (or projects) the agency denied to women onto a superior, benevolent power and thus religiously sanctions her violation of social boundaries: in the end, she can “acknowledge, with thankful Humility, the blessed Providence, which has so visibly conducted me thro’ the dangerous Paths I have trod, to this happy Moment” (274). It is only retrospectively that Pamela is able to recognise the religious consistency of her eventful social transformation, which, in the final analysis, may be identified as a partly secularised version of the puritanical conversion-and-redemption script and is thus specifically dependent on the cultural and historical context of Richardson’s novel. 27 The novel certainly contains numerous indicators of these contextual norms and values. For instance, Lady Davers’s letter to her brother for_____________ 24 25 26 27

For a detailed discussion of Kelly’s novel, see Keymer & Sabor (2005: 66ff., esp. 77f.). Cf. Bowen (1999: 261). For an overview of the relevance of this theological notion for Richardson and his time, cf. Fortuna (1980). In addition, one can read the novel in yet another, political context, as Dussinger (2001) has suggested, by construing an analogy between, on the one hand, Pamela’s letter-writing as a means of articulating as well as fortifying her moral self-confidence and Mr B.’s attempts at getting hold of these letters and controlling their effect on others and, on the other, the “ferocious print wars” between opposition and government at the time.


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bids him to marry Pamela on account of the unbridgeable hierarchical distance between the two families (257), and Mr Andrews states that he would not “own” his daughter if she were “dishonest,” i.e. had allowed herself to be seduced (292). In fact, these two characters generally act as a mouthpiece for endorsing the values and principles separating the two social fields, with Mr B.’s sister trumpeting the social superiority and exclusivity of the aristocracy and Pamela’s father representing middle-class moral integrity and ideological self-assuredness (cf. also 13f., 20, 52, 37). In spite of such indications within the text, however, eventfulness is, ultimately, not a textual property, but has to be inferred and constituted by readers by relating the textual cues to their knowledge of the period. Although the text can thus be seen to provide appropriate cues, readers may miss the point of the event, and in particular they may fail to appreciate the relevance and difficulty of the transition if they are ignorant of the contemporary social and ideological context of the novel or if they apply an inappropriate frame of reference. Richardson’s type of eventful plot structure – the social elevation of the heroine to the upper classes through marriage, as a result of her moral exemplariness – subsequently contributed to the formation of a new literary convention based on a social and psychological script for later novels. Examples ranging from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) to William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1848), Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861) and George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871/72) reveal growing difficulties, however, due to the proliferation of obstacles on the part of the protagonists and/or of society and to the social circumstances that affect the actual possibility of eventful transformation, until they prevent transformation altogether.

References Richardson, Samuel (2001). Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded, ed. Thomas Keymer & Alice Wakely (Oxford: Oxford UP) [text based on the first edition of 1740]. ———— Bowen, Scarlett (1999). “‘A Sawce-box and Boldface Indeed’: Refiguring the Female Servant in the Pamela-Antipamela Debate”, in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 28: 257î86. Brown, Murray L. (1993). “Learning to Read Richardson: Pamela, ‘Speaking Pictures,’ and the Visual Hermeneutic”, in Studies in the Novel, 25 (2): 129î51.

Samuel Richardson: Pamela


Doody, Margaret Anne (1974). A Natural Passion: A Study of the Novels of Samuel Richardson (Oxford: Clarendon). Dussinger, John A. (2001 [1999]). “‘Ciceronian Eloquence’: The Politics of Virtue in Richardson’s Pamela”, in Passion and Virtue: Essays on the Novels of Samuel Richardson,

ed. D. Blewett (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Pr.), 27î51. Flint, Christopher (1989). “The Anxiety of Affluence: Family and Class (Dis)order in Pamela: or, Virtue Rewarded”, in Studies in English Literature 1500 – 1900, 29: 489-514. Fortuna, James Louis Jr. (1980). ‘The Unsearchable Wisdom of God’: A Study of Providence in Richardson’s ‘Pamela’ (Gainesville: Univ. Presses of Florida). Keymer, Thomas & Peter Sabor (2005). ‘Pamela’ in the Marketplace: Literary Controversy and Print Culture in Eighteenth-Century Britain and Ireland

(Cambridge: Cambridge UP). Kinkhead-Weekes, Mark (1973). Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist (London: Methuen). Koretsky, Allen C. (1983). “Poverty, Wealth, and Virtue: Richardson’s Social Outlook in Pamela”, in English Studies in Canada, 9 (1): 36î56. Mai, Hans-Peter (1986). Samuel Richardsons “Pamela”: Charakter, Rhetorik und Erzählstruktur (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner). Morton, Donald E. (1971). “Theme and Structure in Pamela”, in Studies in the Novel, 3: 242î57. Rivero, Albert J. (2001 [1993]). “The Place of Sally Godfrey in Richardson’s Pamela”, in Passion and Virtue: Essays on the Novels of Samuel Richardson, ed. D. Blewett (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Pr.), 52î72. Watt, Ian (1963 [1957]). The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding (Harmondsworth: Penguin)

6 Henry Fielding: The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) Markus Kempf Henry Fielding’s great neo-classical novel Tom Jones 1 published in 1749 is a rich, multifaceted, complex and very long text with a large cast of characters, an intricate plot comprising a vast number of episodes and some embedded tales, numerous intertextual references and frequent metanarrative comments. In accordance with the semantic focus on eventfulness in the present project, the following analysis will rigorously concentrate on the main stages in the life and development of the protagonist, as the basic plotline of the novel, under three aspects: the sequential structure of Tom Jones’s story, the form and relevance of his border crossing and the contemporary cultural context, by which this crossing is defined as an event. 2 1. The Two-Part Plot-Structure of the Novel Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones narrates the eponymous protagonist’s life from the moment he is found as an abandoned baby and adopted by Squire Allworthy up to the disclosure of his parentage and his marriage, that is to say, until he enters adulthood and finds his rightful position in society. 3 This period of twenty-one years is subdivided into two sections, _____________ 1 2 3

Citations (identified by page number as well as book and chapter) refer to Fielding (1985). For a general overview and discussion of the plot, cf. Crane (1995: 683–99). The following analysis will restrict itself to reconstructing the plot as the (model) life story of a young man within the specific social context of contemporary England, as a kind of Bildungsroman or coming-of-age novel. There have also been various attempts at quasiallegorical readings of Tom Jones; see, e.g., the political approach of Wang (1997: 89–134), who reads the novel as a story about choosing the rightful ruler for the government of the state, and the psycho-analytical approach of Boheemen (1987: 44–100), who reads the novel as a “family romance”. Stevenson (2005) provides a more historical type of focus stressing connections between Tom Jones’s plotline and the lives of two contemporary personages, Bonnie Prince Charlie and Richard Savage. Yet another, more formal and narratologically interesting, approach is offered by Brown (1997: 86–110), who draws on the structure of rhetorical tropes (metaphors, metonymies etc.) as a basis, on the one hand, for associating the text with the political situation in England and, on the other hand, for reconstructing the mechanism underlying the proliferation of episodes.

Henry Fielding: Tom Jones


the second of which is again subdivided into two shorter phases. The first section (books I–VI) covers Tom Jones’s formative years up to the age of 21 at Allworthy’s country seat Paradise Hall. The second – decisive – section starts with Tom’s banishment from Paradise Hall owing to his own acts of indiscretion and the intrigue of Blifil, Squire Allworthy’s nephew, against him. This narrative section, which covers only a few days, presents the protagonist’s adventures, first, on the road and in country inns on his way to London (books VII–XII) and, subsequently, within the aristocratic society of the capital (books XIII–XVIII). 4 In semantic respects, the two-part plot-structure is centrally conditioned by the fact that Tom crosses the same boundary twice. The plot starts with an unmerited, passive, premature crossing of the (social) boundary: Tom, as a foundling, an illegitimate baby of presumably socially low descent, is graciously adopted into the aristocratic family of Squire Allworthy, a social elevation which is later reversed (when he is banished by the squire). But in the end – having acquired moral maturity through his experiences in the country and the metropolis, discovered his true identity and married Sophia – he crosses the boundary again and this time for good. Thus, Tom’s plotline consists of the repetition of a specific eventful movement, failing the first time, succeeding at the second attempt. The semantic field and the final boundary crossing, in Lotman’s terms, are essentially defined by oppositions in three respects: lower class vs. aristocracy 5 (regarding Tom’s position in society), desire vs. fulfilment (in his relation to Sophia), immaturity, naivity, impulsiveness, credulity, carelessness vs. maturity, world knowledge, self-discipline, prudence (with regard to his mind, attitude and behaviour). Accordingly, Tom’s plotline is framed in three ways: social status, love, cognitive and moral psychology. These three frames are interrelated and partly mutually dependent, as is shown, e.g., by the play with the multiple meanings of the name “Sophia”, which refers to the person of the concrete woman as object of Tom’s love as well as to his personal wisdom and maturity. In the last analysis, however, the frames are arranged hierarchically with the moral-cognitive aspect claiming a position of relative priority. Tom’s cognitive and moral improvement functions both as a precondition for his marriage to Sophia and as a justification and confirmation of his (eventually revealed) aristocratic rank. _____________ 4 5

Watt (1963: 288f.) points to the neat subdivision of the novel into three compositional groups of six chapters each. Although it turns out in the end that this social opposition does not actually apply to Tom after all on account of his concealed aristocratic birth, the class difference serves an important function for the plot-development in large parts of the novel.


Markus Kempf

Various difficulties and obstacles hamper Tom’s border crossing and thereby raise the degree of the eventfulness. These obstacles consist, on the one hand, in the numerous intrigues by antagonists (above all by Blifil, but also by his tutors Thwackum and Square) and, on the other hand, in Tom’s impulsiveness, naivity and lack of experience (he is “nobody’s enemy but his own” 6 ) as well as in the comedy-like entanglements, misunderstandings and coincidences 7 . Typically, Tom commits an indiscretion, which is then discovered and the discovery results in his immediate or eventual embarrassment, often brought about and exploited by one of his adversaries. 8 In the following, I will first discuss the initial phase of the plot, which presents Tom’s precarious position in the second – aristocratic – sub-field after his early, premature crossing of the boundary and then analyse in more detail the crucial second phase of the plot. 1.1 The First Plot-Phase: Tom’s Precarious Position in the Second Semantic Sub-field As mentioned above, the novel sets in with the event, at its very beginning, of the protagonist’s rise into the upper class in spite of his alleged socially and morally dubious descent. Although Tom is supposed to be the illegitimate child of the schoolmaster Partridge and his maidservant Jenny Jones, Squire Allworthy adopts him, gives him his own Christian name and the surname of the presumed mother and brings him up together with Blifil, the son of his widowed sister Bridget, who lives with him in Paradise Hall. During this first phase, Tom’s personality is characterised by two traits primarily: on the one hand, he possesses a benevolent, goodnatured and compassionate disposition and, on the other hand, he is inclined to act impulsively and imprudently; besides, his is a passionate nature and he is careless in questions of sexual morality. Although, since their early youth, there has been a mutual attraction between him and Sophia, 9 the daughter of Squire Western, Allworthy’s neighbour, Tom indulges in a sexual affair with the seductive and devious Molly Seagram – for a while it even looks as if he were the father of her child. Because of his ambivalent and immature behaviour Tom violates the expectations and moral standards of his environment, so that he is vulnerable to attacks and his position in the second field becomes increasingly insecure. _____________ 6 7 8 9

Fielding (1985: 130 / IV, 5). For a description of the role of “Fortune” in producing the difficulties Tom has to face, see Crane (1995: 686ff.). For a structural analysis of these episodes, see Crane (1995: 696). The final mutual recognition of their love is narrated in Fielding (1985: 187ff. / V, 6).

Henry Fielding: Tom Jones


Tom’s direct adversary is Allworthy’s hypocritical, mendacious and avaricious nephew Blifil, who sees Tom as a rival for Allworthy’s inheritance and envies him his close relationship with Sophia, the heir of the neighbouring estate, which he desires for himself. Blifil makes repeated attempts – by means of slander, lies and manipulations – to disrupt Tom’s good relationship with Allworthy and thus weaken his position within the family, attempts which range from the exaggerated accusation against Black George for poaching on Squire Western’s estate 10 and the incident concerning Sophia’s bird 11 , to the final intrigue after Allworthy’s recovery from his illness 12 . These intrigues are increasingly effective on account of Allworthy’s one character flaw, his credulity and over-confidence in his ability to judge other people. During this first phase several other characters, besides Blifil, oppose Tom, above all the two tutors, the parson Thwackum and the philosopher Square, who in satirical-grotesque exaggeration represent the bigoted pious religion and the no less hypocritical deistic philosophy, respectively. Their hostility towards Tom, like that of Blifil, results from their envy of his prospects for Allworthy’s inheritance. Eventually, even Squire Western becomes Tom’s adversary. Although initially a close friend because of their common passion for hunting, at the end of the first part, his acquisitive greed for Allworthy’s estate induces him to attempt to force Sophia into a marriage with the future heir Blifil against her inclination and as a result to break with Tom completely, whom he sees as Blifil’s rival. But despite all these adversaries it is ultimately Tom himself, his immaturity and inability to act prudently, who causes his expulsion from Paradise Hall, i.e. his relapse into the first semantic sub-field. This fall stands in paradoxical contrast to the general development of the first phase, which shows a gradual improvement of Tom’s reputation with other characters, i.e. a strengthening of his place in the second semantic sub-field. However, with a striking faux pas he undoes this positive development in the end. This is the episode of Allworthy’s unexpectated recovery from illness, which fills Tom with so much joy that he indulges in excessive drinking, during which he allows himself to get involved with Molly Seagram again and, in addition, is provoked into a fight with Blifil and Thwackum. These acts of indiscretion inadvertently offer Blifil a welcome opportunity to denigrate Tom’s character in the eyes of Squire Allworthy, who believes the slander and, as a consequence, banishes and disowns him at last. It is significant that immediately before this incident, _____________ 10 11 12

Fielding (1985: 116ff. / III, 10). Fielding (1985: 124ff. / IV, 3). Fielding (1985: 249ff. / VI, 10 & 11).


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Allworthy had addressed Tom explicitly about his central weakness of character, namely his imprudence, impulsiveness and rashness, admonishing him to overcome these: ‘I am convinced, my child, that you have much goodness, generosity and honour in your temper; if you will add prudence and religion to these, you must be happy: for the three former qualities, I admit, make you worthy of happiness, but they are the latter only which will put you in possession of it.’13

1.2 The Second Plot-Phase: Tom’s Moral Development His banishment from Paradise Hall initiates the second phase of Tom’s development, which comprises only a few days. On the road, in country inns and in the metropolis, he is involved in numerous adventures and entanglements, which cannot be reconstructed here in detail. In the manner of comedy plots Tom’s path repeatedly crosses Sophia’s, who – accompanied by her maid – flees to a relative in London, her cousin Lady Bellaston, to escape the forced marriage with Blifil, whom she loathes, pursued by her father. In the course of this flight Tom saves a traveling lady from being raped and then gets involved with her himself. 14 When Sophia learns about his infidelity, she is disappointed and turns away from him. 15 The final phase is set in London, where Tom has followed Sophia and where both are exposed to further seductions and intrigues, particularly by the ageing Lady Bellaston and her libertine friend Lord Fellamar. While Squire Western saves Sophia from being raped by Lord Fellamar, 16 Tom is arrested for duelling 17 and sentenced to death on the basis of evidence manipulated by Blifil. He is saved at the last minute by Allworthy, who at long last has seen through Blifil’s machinations. 18 He disowns him and remorsefully receives Tom back into the family. 19 At the same time Tom’s identity and descent are clarified:20 He turns out to be the illegitimate son of Allworthy’s sister Bridget (before her marriage to Captain Blifil and the birth of her legitimate son) and is therefore Blifil’s halfbrother. Sophia and Tom are reconciled and marry. _____________ 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Fielding (1985: 195; V, 7). Fielding (1985: 400ff. / IX, 2 ff.). Fielding (1985: 439ff. / X, 5). Fielding (1985: 657ff. / XV, 5). Fielding (1985: 725ff. / XVI, 10). Fielding (1985: 781ff. / XVIII, 6f.). Fielding (1985: 795ff. /XVIII, 9f.). Fielding (1985: 788ff. / XVIII, 8).

Henry Fielding: Tom Jones


The second part of the plot shows Tom’s successful development of a mature personality, the refining and consolidation of his innate benevolence through the acquisition of insight into human nature and knowledge of the world in a society largely dominated by egoism, play-acting, immorality and disorder. Tom goes through a process of socialization and individuation in the course of which he gathers experiences in all relevant social spheres: in the country, on the road and in the city. Through his experiences and adventures, which finally lead him to the brink of total failure, he ultimately acquires the “prudence” which Allworthy had demanded of him at the end of the first part, i.e. he learns to understand himself and discipline his “animal spirits”, his passionate sensuality. He describes this eventful transformation to Allworthy in the following words: ‘Alas, sir, I have not been punished more than I have deserved; and it shall be the whole business of my future life to deserve that happiness you now bestow on me; for believe me, my dear uncle, my punishment hath not been thrown away upon me: though I have been a great, I am not a hardened sinner; I thank Heaven I have had time to reflect on my past life, where, though I cannot charge myself with any gross villainy, yet I can discern follies and vices too sufficient to repent and to be ashamed of; follies which have been attended with dreadful consequences to myself, and have brought me to the brink of destruction.’21

In his answer Allworthy stresses again the importance of “prudence” 22 : ‘I am rejoiced, my dear child, […] to hear you talk thus sensibly; for as I am convinced hypocrisy […] was never among your faults, so I can readily believe all you say. You now see, Tom, to what dangers imprudence alone may subject virtue (for virtue, I am convinced, you love in a great degree). Prudence is indeed the duty which we owe to ourselves; and if we will be so much our own enemies as to neglect it, we are not to wonder if the world is deficient in discharging their duty to us; for when a man lays the foundation of his own ruin, others will, I am afraid, be too apt to build upon it.’ 23

2. Form, Significance and Context of the Event The concept underlying the event in Fielding’s Tom Jones and its context can best be assessed in contrast to another 18th-century novel, Richardson’s Pamela of 1740. 24 In Tom Jones, Fielding endorses a moral code _____________ 21 22 23 24

Fielding (1985: 802 / XVIII, 10). Gooding (2001: 31–35) questions the positive quality of “prudence”, pointing to its negative representation in Blifil and the Man of the Hill. But even though prudence can be perverted, in Tom’s case it appears as a valuable and necessary corrective. Fielding (1985: 802f. / XVIII, 10). See the analysis of Pamela in the present volume (63î73).


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which is based on reason and the principles of enlightenment and which, contrary to Richardson, allows for a sympathetic attitude towards sexuality and does not react to human weaknesses with severity and condemnation but mockingly, humourously and leniently. And in clear contrast to Pamela, Fielding’s novel presents the religiously, specifically puritanically defined concept of morality in the unambiguously negative shape of the bigoted hypocrite Blifil. With equally unambiguous clarity the opposite extreme is rejected, ruthless, aristocratic immorality, as practised by Lady Bellaston and Lord Fellamar. The difference between the concepts of eventfulness in Tom Jones and Pamela appears to be closely linked to the different social backgrounds of the authors. 25 Fielding comes from an aristocratic family (on his father’s side, his mother’s family was middle class), whereas Richardson is of socially low origins (his father was a craftsman). In the beginning, it is true, the protagonists in both novels seem comparable in their low social status: Pamela is a servant girl, Tom is alleged to be the son of a maidservant. But while Pamela rises into the aristocracy only at the end of a long sequence of tests, as it were, through the eventful marriage with Mr. B., Tom is adopted into Allworthy’s aristocratic family already at the beginning of his life. And it is only at the end that the disclosure of his true parentage finally transforms him in reality into what so far he had only seemed to be on account of the generous reception by Allworthy: a gentleman. In the final analysis, Fielding still adheres to the traditional hierarchical principle of birth as the basis of identity, demanding, however, that this position be justified by learning and practising an enlightened reasonable moral standard of behaviour. That is to say, Tom’s aristocratic descent alone is no longer sufficient justification for his privileged social position and the happy fulfilment of his love; both have to be merited by the adoption of a specific mental and moral attitude. The protagonist’s eventfully enlightened transformation thus couples the aristocratic concept of identity (based on descent) with middle-class principles of morality, rejecting, however, their puritanical version, as is apparent in the tolerant attitude towards sexuality. Tom’s adversary Blifil, though of socially equal status, fails doubly in moral terms and is, therefore, expelled at the end of the novel: he adopts the wrong (puritanical) attitude and besides he practises this attitude merely as hypocritical play-acting for selfish purposes. As indicated above, the aim of a cognitive-moral refinement is linked to the pursuit of the love fulfilment in the marriage with a socially appropriate partner. With regard to Tom and Sophia’s love, which is constantly _____________ 25

See Watt (1963: 281f.).

Henry Fielding: Tom Jones


obstructed by a hostile environment and continuously has to prove itself in its stability and strength against seductions and attacks, the novel is related to the structure of the romance (and the ancient Greek novel).26 On the whole, the plot-development in Tom Jones follows a circular course. 27 Tom has to lose a good position to gain a better one. He must leave the unearned security of the existence of a gentleman, expose himself to the dangers of the road, the dissipations of the city and risk complete failure in order to be able to take his inherited position by right, that is to say, on account of his cognitive and moral maturity. Thus acquiring knowledge of the world and of human nature as well as a standard of behaviour firmly guided by reason is the precondition for a return to the point of departure on a higher level. The structure of this development resembles that of the “happy fall” (felix culpa), as a kind of abstract script, which occurs also in other 18thcentury novels such as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders 28 . Tom’s expulsion and the ensuing entanglements turn out to be the precondition for the uncovering of his identity. The name of Allworthy’s country seat (“Paradise Hall”) as well as an occasional comparison of Tom with Adam 29 allude to the Christian history of salvation, the expulsion from paradise and the eventual return. 30 The fact that life moves towards the disclosure of a pre-existing but long hidden state represents a secularised form of divine Providence, the notion that God benevolently directs man’s existence with his invisible hand. 31 In this respect Fielding’s novel is informed by the optimistic concept of the superpersonally sanctioned coherence and positive eventfulness of individual lives. In spite of the aristocratic orientation of the character constellation, Fielding presents this eventful development as a generally valid model. This claim of general validity is indicated not only by the common name of Tom Jones but also by the emphasis on the natural and typically human _____________ 26 27 28 29 30 31

Cf. Grimm (2005: 31ff.). See also Black (2008), who locates Tom Jones as a love story within the generic tradition of the romance, between (mythic) epic and (realistic) novel, but combining features of both. Cf., e.g., Boheemen (1997: 47). See the analysis in the present volume (49î62). Fielding (1985: 267 / VII, 2). Cf. Boheemen’s (1997: 52ff.) discussion of the intertextual reference to the Genesis. The term “Providence” occurs frequently in the novel. Interestingly, it is not used, however, by the narrator himself in his own voice, but only in the utterances of one or the other of the characters (Partridge, Tom, the Man of the Hill: 358 and 362 / VIII, 10; 387 / VIII, 14; 535 / XII, 8; once even Blifil: 731 / XVII, 2) or in a quotation (264 / VII, 1; also 769 / XVIII, 3). Although the narrator thus does not explicitly endorse the trust in the divine direction of affairs, the characters do – and rightly so, as it turns out. – Cf. also Damrosch (1987), who describes the difference between the plot-development in Tom Jones and the puritanically inspired providential fiction of, e.g., Richardson and Defoe.


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in Tom’s acts and attitudes. Tom does not possess an exceptional personality nor a distinct individuality; and – unlike Pamela – the interior, psychological dimension of his character is largely left aside. 32 The concept of life and eventfulness in Tom Jones is largely defined by the neo-classical, enlightened notions of a stable public (and hierarchical) order of society, the universality of human nature and the rationality of moral norms. 33 The advocacy of a renewed, enlightened stability has to be seen against the background of “an atmosphere where social and moral demarcations were subtle and uncertain in ways that reflect the amorphous state of [Fielding’s] changing world” 34 . These contextual references to an enlightened, rational, publically oriented concept of human behaviour also determine the narrative mediation of the plot. Fielding does not offer a subjective self-presentation of a life either in retrospect (as, e.g., in Defoe’s first-person narratives) or in its actual ongoing performance (as, e.g., in Richardson’s epistolary novels): in both cases the protagonist-as-narrator tends to treat his own standpoint and standard of value as absolute. Instead, Fielding objectifies the narrative through the critical distance of an omniscient extradiegetic narrator. For every narrative about oneself is subjectively limited and unavoidably biased by one’s own standpoint, as is also stressed by the narrator: […] for let a man be never so honest, the account of his own conduct will, in spite of himself, be so very favourable, that his vices will come purified through his lips, and like foul liquors well strained, will leave all their foulness behind. For tho’ the facts themselves may appear, yet so different will be the motives, circumstances, and consequences, when a man tells his own story, and when his enemy tells it, that we scarce can recognize the facts to be one and the same. 35 .

Through this distanced perspective the behaviour of the protagonist and the other characters is permanently judged and exposed in their limitation and blindness towards oneself and others from a superordinate reasonable point of view, but less by means of explicit criticism than indirectly through irony. This narrative technique obliges the reader constantly to examine whether the actions and moral attitudes of the hero and the other characters are in accordance with the general values and norms. This asserted objectivity of reasonable judgement is another contextual reference _____________ 32

33 34 35

This view, which is a consensus of Fielding critics, is rejected by Chibka (2008). It is true, as Chibka demonstrates, that the reader is often informed about the mental activities of the characters, their knowledge, thoughts and emotions, but these are typically only stated and summarised rather than shown. Cf. Watt (1963: 282ff.). In the last analysis, these concepts are endorsed by the novel despite the pervasive irony – pointed out e.g. by Hudson (2007) – which seems to question all fixed values and norms. Hudson (2007: 90f.). Fielding (1985: 340f. / VIII, 5).

Henry Fielding: Tom Jones


of Fielding’s novel, the adherence to the classicist concept of development and eventfulness. Edited and translated by Peter Hühn

References Fielding, Henry (1985). The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling (London: Penguin Classics). ———— Black, Scott (2008). “The Adventures of Love in Tom Jones”, in Henry Fielding In Our Time: Papers Presented at the Tercentenary Conference, ed. J. A. Downie (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), 27–50. Boheemen, Christine van (1987). The Novel as Family Romance: Language, Gender, and Authority from Fielding to Joyce (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP). Brown, Homer Obed (1997). Institutions of the English Novel: From Defoe to Scott (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Pr.). Chibka, Robert L. (2008). “Henry Fielding, Mentalist: Ins and Outs of Narration in Tom Jones”, in Henry Fielding In Our Time: Papers Presented at the Tercentenary Conference, ed. J. A. Downie (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing), 81–112. Crane, R. S. (1995 [1950]). “The Plot of Tom Jones”, reprinted in Henry Fielding, Tom Jones: The Authorative Text, Contemporary Reactions, Criticism, ed. S. Baker (New York & London: Norton), 677–99. Damrosch, Leopold, Jr. (1987 [1985]). “Tom Jones and the Farewell to Providential Fiction”, reprinted in Henry Fielding’s “Tom Jones”, ed. H. Bloom (New York: Chelsea), 104–23. Gooding, Richard (2001). “Romance, History, and the Ideology of Form in Tom Jones”, in The CEA Critic, 63: 3: 23– 38. Grimm, Reinhold (2005). Fielding’s “Tom Jones” and the European Novel since Antiquity (Frankfurt/Main etc.: Peter Lang). Hudson, Nicholas (2007). “Tom Jones”, in The Cambridge Companion to Henry Fielding, ed. C. Rawson (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 80–93. Stevenson, John Allen (2005). The Real History of Tom Jones (New York & Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan). Wang, Jennie (1997). Novelistic Love in the Platonic Tradition: Fielding, Faulkner and the Postmodernists (London etc.: Rowman & Littlefield). Watt, Ian (1963 [1957]). The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson, and Fielding (Harmondsworth: Penguin).


7 Charles Dickens: Great Expectations (1861) Peter Hühn Charles Dickens’s novel Great Expectations 1 is made up of several storylines (or plotlines) and events linked to different characters and concatenated in a complex arrangement. 2 The complexity of this concatenation is caused by two circumstances: on the one hand, by the number of characters with storylines of their own (primarily Pip, Miss Havisham and Magwitch, but also Estella, Herbert and Compeyson) and, on the other, by their specific mode of mediation, i.e. Pip’s subjective and subjectively limited perspective, as part of his autodiegetic life story, which conditions the degree of the presence or visibility of the individual stories. While the progress of Pip’s own life is told by Pip himself and can thus be directly watched and followed by the reader, the stories of the other characters, in particular Compeyson, Magwitch and Miss Havisham, are in large part hidden from Pip (and the reader), since they happened in the past and in remote locations and manifest themselves to Pip only in their consequences and in the reactions of others. It is only at the end that they become fully visible. The arrangement of the individual stories is further complicated by the fact that they are organized in a chronological and causal hierarchy, as it were. The oldest stories are those of Magwitch and Miss Havisham, both of which are interrupted by Compeyson’s activities and both of which, in turn, influence the lives of Pip and Estella. The reader’s perspective is determined by the autodiegetic presentation of Pip’s story. That his life is influenced or even directed by the other stories, i.e. from the outside, remains obscure for a long time and can only be understood at the end of the novel. For this analysis, it seems best to follow the hierarchical order of the stories, that is, to start with Pip’s life story and then proceed with a reconstruction of the stories which influence it.

_____________ 1 2

Page references, to Dickens (1985), are cited in the text. For a reconstruction of the arrangement of storylines on a psychoanalytical basis, cf. Brooks (1984). For an overview of the life stories and their historical setting, cf. Paroissien (2000).


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1. The Story of Pip’s Ascent: Initial Situation and Expectations Pip’s story is presented directly: he himself tells his life story chronologically and retrospectively. But this presentation is explicitly structured with respect to its eventful turns by an editor, as is apparent in the subdivision of the 59 chapters into three phases of almost equal length (19 or 20 chapters each) and especially in the sentences concluding the first two phases, in which Pip the narrator is referred to in the third person: “This is the end of the first [second, resp.] stage of Pip’s expectations.” 3 These conclusions to each phase constitute significant, eventful turning-points in Pip’s development. The first phase, i.e. chapters 1 to 19, is marked, as already indicated in the title, by the anticipation of a social elevation from the lower classes to the status of gentleman. This is to be seen within the context of traditional British class society, with the still strict separation between the lower, working population (the labourers, craftsmen, servants and employees) on the one hand and the affluent and therefore leisured upper class of the aristocracy on the other. 4 This division of society, with a boundary between the two sections, also functions as the semantic field underlying the happenings in the first part of the novel. What had changed since the previous century 5 was a greater “permeability” of the boundary and increased social mobility for individuals, a sign of the evolving modernization of society. 6 Belonging to the upper class, though still highly restrictive, was no longer based exclusively on birth, on being descended from an aristocratic family, but could also be achieved by the acquisition of wealth and the purchase of land (by “self-made men”), as exemplified by the rise of successful entrepreneurs and businessmen since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (famous examples are Peel, Disraeli, and Gladstone). It is through reference to the hierarchical stratification of society as the relevant context that the schemata of Pip’s life story can be determined. Social status, i.e. belonging to a particular social class as a central point of reference for one’s identity, provides the frame for the plot, while _____________ 3 4

5 6

At the end of ch. 19 (188) and 39 (342), resp. According to Cannadine (2000: ch.s 2 and 3), the 18th and 19th centuries were generally characterized by a pervasive, acute awareness of the rigid stratification of the British society. Furthermore, see Gilmour (1981) for an account of the general social situation (115) as well as for a description of the conditions in Great Expectations (10546). Herbst (1990: 119f.) uses the reference to the socio-historical context for a primarily moralistic interpretation. Cf. the analyses, in the present volume, of Defoe’s Moll Flanders (49–62) and Richardson’s Pamela (63î73). Cf. Checkland (1964: 281324, esp. 289ff.), also Gilmour (1981). For a general account of the process of modernization, see Luhmann (1993).

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moving upwards in society, especially into the class of the wealthy, who on account of their wealth are entitled and able to lead a life of leisure and pleasure, i.e. the position of a gentleman, serves as the script. The script thus consists in a programme for crossing the social boundary in the semantic field. Since this crossing is expected here, the degree of eventfulness is not very high, in any case considerably lower than in Richardson’s Pamela, where such a script did not yet exist. The wording of the title suggests a further specification of the script: what is envisaged is not elevation through personal effort and active achievement, but the passive acceptance of such privileges; for example, by inheritance or adoption. The pattern inherent in this script is thus ultimately still aristocratic, the expectation of an inheritance due from one’s parents or family. To pinpoint the internal contradiction underlying this script: to be able to orient oneself on this script presupposes the growing modern mobility in society, while its content is still pre-modern and traditional, i.e. the reference to social status (the status of gentleman) as granted and not earned. In addition, a gender-specific male aspect distinguishes Pip from Pamela: social elevation is not effected by marriage into an aristocratic family. Pip’s life story begins with the description of his family background, social status and living conditions, together with the emergence of his “expectations”, i.e. of the script of social ascent as the guideline for his life. His initial situation, on the one hand, places Pip clearly inside the first semantic sub-field, the lower-class working population: he is an orphan growing up in a small-town environment and in the poor household of his brother-in-law, the good-natured and warm-hearted, but uneducated, blacksmith Joe Gargery, and his wife, Pip’s care-worn and heartless sister, practically playing the role of an evil stepmother. On the other hand, his position is relatively unstable and unfixed, which shows the potential for positive or negative development. Owing to the death of his parents (the novel starts with a scene in the graveyard where Pip the child is trying to decipher the inscriptions on their tombstones), Pip lacks a firm family basis for social integration: his brother-in-law and sister provide only a weak substitute, the former on account of his childlike (albeit goodnatured) disposition, the latter because of her attitude of brusque rejection, which gives him the feeling of not being welcome and being “naterally wicious” (i.e. “naturally vicious”, 57, see also 46, 54). Psychologically, his position is further undermined by the need to conceal his enforced support of the fugitive convict Magwitch (whom he encounters, tellingly, in the same initial scene in which he verifies the death of his parents). These circumstances induce in Pip a separate interiority and a mental distance to his environment, which is ambivalent in that it can lead either to criminal behaviour or to intellectual independence (cf. 38ff., 54f., 74).


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These various factors contribute to Pip’s potential mobility in the first sub-field. 7 The instability and potential mobility of Pip’s position is further increased, when – negotiated by Joe’s uncle Pumblechook, but ultimately due to coincidence – he is employed by Miss Havisham as a playmate for Estella. Firstly, this employment strengthens Pip’s inclination towards secretiveness and thus towards mental isolation from his environment, in that he refrains from imparting his experience of this new, higher world to his relatives (95ff., 124). Secondly, Estella’s cold social arrogance and her open contempt make him painfully aware of his own inferiority in position, behaviour and dress, i.e. of his lower-class status: “he is a common labouring-boy” (89) and “what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots” (90) – a humiliation which is deeply painful (“I was so humiliated, hurt, spurned, offended, angry, sorry”, 92) but which he accepts as justified (94, 99), thereby increasing the distance to his relatives and also to Joe (101). And thirdly, Estella’s disdain awakens in him an intense desire to rise socially: “I admire her dreadfully, and I want to be a gentleman on her account” (156; generally 154ff.). Moreover, induced by certain remarks of his relatives (82, 98, 124f.), Pip begins to attribute to Miss Havisham concrete plans for his social advancement (“the architect of my fortunes”, 125) – erroneously, as it turns out. 8 At this point, the script on which Pip bases his future development in life takes concrete shape with respect to the crossing of the boundary into the second sub-field: elevation to the position of a wealthy, well-dressed and well-educated gentleman, without the need to work and provided with a socially appropriate wife. However, winning the spouse would not be the cause for the elevation (as with Pamela) but its consequence, reward and confirmation. Estella functions as Pip’s essential point of reference for his desired identity as a gentleman within the second sub-field (257).9 There is another – conventional – script that serves as a realistic alternative to this desired and expected entry into the superior second subfield: the continued existence in, and ultimate integration into, the first sub-field on the basis of working to earn one’s living. This script is not merely mentioned but is already put into practice: Pip trains as a blacksmith, in accordance with the custom of taking over the calling of his substitute-father Joe, and is connected with a woman appropriate to this _____________ 7 8 9

Cf. Herbst (1990: 125ff.), who describes Pip’s “estrangement”, “alienation”, and “psychic split” during his childhood, interpreting these as the motivating forces for his desire to rise in society. Barfoot (1976) analyzes the way in which the novel employs images of seeing to convey Pip’s habits of perception and projection when picturing his propitious expectations. Cf. Herbst (1990: 129).

Charles Dickens: Great Expectations


social class, Biddy. Pip is officially apprenticed to Joe, with Miss Havisham providing the requisite apprenticeship premium (126, 127ff., 132f.); and Biddy appears to be a socially as well as psychologically suitable spouse for Pip: as an orphan, she is in a similar situation (74), she is obviously in love with him – as he might be with her, were it not for his overriding fixation on social advancement (154 ff., cf. also 186). In a long conversation with Biddy (154–160), Pip explicitly lays out the opposition and rivalry between the two scripts, the integration into the first sub-field as an alternative to crossing over to the second, with respect to position and choice of spouse, but also his determination to opt for the second script. As indicated in this passage, the two alternative scripts and aims do not appear neutrally side by side, but are contradictorily judged by protagonist and implied author. While Pip decidedly opts for advancement and change, rejecting integration into the first sub-field as humiliating, this option is criticized indirectly by the implied author through the clearly negative characterization of Estella’s coldly arrogant behaviour (as representative of the second sub-field) as well as more or less directly through the emotionally and morally unambiguously positive, warm-hearted rolemodels Joe and Biddy (as significant representatives of the first subfield): 10 Joe advocates “common” moral rectitude and openness as opposed to ambitious striving for higher (“oncommon”) education (100f); Biddy is quite outspoken in advising Pip against aspiring to the status of a gentleman: “Oh, I wouldn’t, if I was you! […] I don’t think it would answer” (154) and “don’t you think you are happier as you are?” (155). The second sub-field, as imagined by him, is, moreover, discredited by the attitude of condescension and haughtiness which Pip, anticipating his future gentleman-status, adopts towards Joe’s simplicity, of which he is ashamed (101, 134 ff.), as well as towards Biddy, when he tells her that he regrets not being able to fall in love with her instead of Estella (158f.). Yet, in spite of opting for social advancement, Pip does not find it easy to solve the conflict between the two scripts, as indicated by intermittent doubts and insights: […] having states and seasons when I was clear that Biddy was immeasurably better than Estella, and that the plain honest working life to which I was born, had nothing in it to be ashamed of, but offered me sufficient means of self-respect and happiness. (159, cf. also 157)

This clear expression emphasizes the positive alternative (favoured by the implied author) to the scenario of advancement once again, immediately before the “great expectations” are actually fulfilled. This ambivalent _____________ 10

Cf. Landau (2005), who – on the basis of a Marxian approach – analyses the novel’s implicit critique of the gentleman-status as an existence exempt from the need to work.


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evaluation of the alternative script does not raise the expected event in its degree of eventfulness, but renders its status problematic. This phase of Pip’s life story is finally closed by the actual announcement of the event, when Jaggers, a lawyer from London, informs Pip that an unnamed benefactor has bequeathed him a fortune and will have him educated as a gentleman: it is the desire of the present possessor of that property, that [Pip] be immediately removed from his present sphere of life and from this place, and be brought up as a gentleman – in a word, as a young fellow of great expectations. (165)

In this formulation, the eventfulness of the movement into the second sub-field is described with unusual clarity as a radical social as well as spatial boundary crossing, which is here announced and prepared for in practical terms. Before that crossing is put into practice, however, within the last two chapters (chapters 18 and 19) of this first phase of Pip’s story, the implicitly negative qualifications (by the implied author) of the imminent eventful change become more pronounced, especially in Pip’s behaviour towards Joe and Biddy. That Pip attributes enviousness of his good fortune to Biddy (170) and feels ashamed of Joe’s lack of education and good manners (175ff., 185) betrays his new snobbishness, his sense of being superior to his plain lower-class relatives and acquaintances. A more subtle critique of this crossing is implied when it is characterized as a dream come true (165) and associated with a fairy tale (184f.), since this implicitly undermines his sudden stroke of luck as illusory. That Pip secretly (and erroneously) ascribes his good fortune to Miss Havisham (165, 184f.) contributes to the sense of wishful thinking in connection with this imminent change in his life, since he interprets this as the confirmation and continuation of the great plans which he had ascribed to her from the very beginning (82, 98, 124f.) – in blatant contradiction to her real intentions as had been indicated earlier (89, 123) and will become plain later. 2. The Story of Pip’s Ascent: Life in the Second Sub-Field The second of the three parts of Great Expectations (chapters 20 to 39) advances Pip’s life story to two diametrically opposed events in direct succession, a positive and a negative one – first, the actual realization of the social ascent, as longed for during the first part and finally announced in the form of a gift by an unnamed benefactor, and, second, the disclosure of this benefactor’s identity, which, in retrospect, makes the acceptance of the gift impossible for Pip. The later negative event is, paradoxically, both the consequence and the precondition of the positive event.

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The (first) positive event, the promotion to the position of a gentleman, is reduced in its degree as well as in its moral value in the course of the second part. After the money has been provided, Pip’s new position is put into practice by way of the (belated) socialization befitting his new rank and of the improvement of his practical living conditions: he moves into an apartment of his own in London, buys suitable clothes, is trained in the appropriate manners, employs a servant, joins a club, is exempted from work and vocational training, but also gets into the concomitant bad habits of running up debts and arrogantly looking down on people from the lower classes, especially on poor relatives. However, all these privileges are ultimately just preparations for the real event, namely assuming complete control over the disposal of his money, which he will be granted only on his 21th birthday. Until then, Jaggers and his secretary Wemmick supervise his development and the use of his money. Thus the crossing of the boundary appears as a long drawn-out process, with the final moment of its legal completion (304ff.) lacking the quality of a spectacular change. This is not only due to the fact that that moment is entirely foreseeable but also because Pip has, in practice, been living as a gentleman in this second sub-field all along, so that little changes at this particular point in time apart from the granting of full financial independence. But, in addition to being reduced in degree, the eventfulness of becoming a gentleman is also seriously affected in its substance by its insufficient implementation: Pip’s instructor Matthew Pocket is blatantly incompetent, as shown by the hopelessly chaotic condition of his own family, which he is unable to educate; the servant employed by Pip lacks a real function and tends to be overbearing (and is ironically called the “avenger”, 240f.); club-life is preposterous and absurd, dominated, moreover, by vulgar and brutal Drummle, who loves to humiliate Pip; in the final analysis, his way of life is aimless and wasteful. The eventfulness of Pip’s advancement is undermined further by his failure to win the passionately desired, socially suitable woman, Estella, whom he associates with high rank and wealth (256ff., 288ff.). This failure is exacerbated by two circumstances: Pip is given to understand that this frustration of his desire was planned by Miss Havisham (318ff.); and he has to witness how the hated Drummle appears as his rival for Estella’s favour and is, in fact, finally successful (326ff.). How far the present reality falls short of Pip’s expectations is glaringly and sarcastically highlighted when one compares his illusory daydreaming about his advancement, during a later visit to his home-town, with the actual circumstances: [Miss Havisham] had adopted Estella, she had as good as adopted me, and it could not fail to be her intention to bring us together. She reserved it for me to


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restore the desolate house […] in short, do all the shining deeds of the young Knight of romance, and marry the Princess. (253)

More serious, however, is the moral discredit that Pip’s behaviour brings upon his desire to rise in society, which continues and corroborates the critical implications from the end of the first part (see above). One important indicator of implied criticism is Pip’s condescension to both Joe and Biddy as well as his feeling ashamed of Joe’s low rank and lack of education (208f., 240f., 265, 267, 301ff.), an arrogant form of behaviour which even he himself is later critical of and feels guilty about. In addition, Pip accuses Biddy of envy and of lacking the proper gratitude for his continued contact with her and Joe despite his own social elevation (302, 304, cf. 176), an attitude, the open arrogance of which he is unwilling to acknowledge, even with hindsight as retrospective narrator. In another respect, his friend Herbert functions as a central instance and standard of criticism. By calling Pip “Handel”, in allusion to Händel’s song of the “harmonious blacksmith” (202), he subtly points out to him how inadequate his behaviour is for a gentleman. Herbert defines a gentleman on the basis of his inner moral qualities and not, as Pip does, in social and financial terms: “no man who was not a true gentleman at heart, ever was [...] a true gentleman in manner” (204). Furthermore, Herbert’s own behaviour represents a practical (and critical) counter-script to Pip’s exclusively external conception of social elevation: he is not ambitious for the sake of mere success and, though of aristocratic (if impoverished) origin, he marries a woman (Clara) not befitting his rank, because he loves her, in opposition to the class-conscious demands of his family (272f.). The critique of this script and the concomitant notion of eventfulness is thus consistently conveyed through various channels, mainly through the implied author’s evaluative perspective, which is implicit in plotdevelopment, characterization and character constellation, 11 but also through Herbert’s figural point of view, that is to say, predominantly from outside Pip the narrator’s consciousness and attitude. But a corresponding tendency also expressses itself, as mentioned above, in sporadic feelings of guilt and self-accusations on the part of Pip the adult. This critique finally culminates in his conscious, if partly suppressed, negative assessment of this script, when he admits to being unhappy and having chosen the wrong way of life: As I had become accustomed to my expectations, I had insensibly begun to notice their effect upon myself and those around me. Their influence on my own character, I disguised from my recognition as much as possible, but I knew very

_____________ 11

Cf. Landau (2005).

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well that it was not all good. I lived in a state of chronic uneasiness respecting my behaviour to Joe. My conscience was not by any means comfortable about Biddy. When I woke up in the night […] I used to think […] that I should have been happier and better, if I had never seen Miss Havisham’s face, and had risen to manhood content to be partners with Joe in the honest old forge. (291)

What is clearly revealed here, as well as in other passages, is Pip’s split attitude between the emotional attachment to the conventional script of his social origins and the ambitious fascination with the more highly valued, seductive advancement script. At this point, the social and historical context in which the desire for advancement and its critique are situated can be specified more clearly. This is the tension between, on the one hand, the traditional structures of society in which rank, calling and identity are determined by origin and family and, on the other, the possibility and, indeed, the necessity of mobility and activity for the individual, as increasingly brought about by the process of modernization, frequently motivated by the desire to improve one’s personal situation and social status. 12 The novel does not view these divergent tendencies neutrally, but implicitly critizes and devalues the desire for social advancement in moral terms (see above). This critique is corroborated by the following features of Pip’s development: his complete passivity in rising to gentleman status (he does not earn it through achievement or exemplary behaviour), his fixation on such mere externals of the elevated position as enjoyment of leisure and pleasure as well as prestige (he treats the lower ranks with arrogance and recognizes only claims and privileges but no duties or responsibilities), and finally the provenance of the property from a criminal, which signifies (at least in this case) that social advancement is contaminated by criminality (though Magwitch came by the money through honest work and legal inheritance). 3. The Unexpected Negative Event and the Re-Structuring of the Fields This practical erosion and moral discrediting of the first positive event during the second phase of Pip’s life story now provides the background against which the new, suddenly erupting and totally unexpected negative event acquires a high degree of eventfulness. In the presentation of the story, this event is specifically announced beforehand by the narrating self: “a great event in my life, the turning point of my life” (318), whereas for the experiencing self this turning point is totally unexpected. It is only in retrospect that the narrating self is able to understand its almost fatal inevitability and predetermination, as referred to by Pip immediately before _____________ 12

Cf. Gilmour (1981).


Peter Hühn

the beginning of the last chapter of this second part of the novel: “the event that had impended over me“ and “all the work […] that tended to that end, had been accomplished; and in an instant the blow was struck, and the roof of my stronghold dropped upon me” (330). This fatal inevitability is caused by the concatenation of various storylines (see below). Magwitch’s disclosure to Pip that he intends to make him into a gentleman in gratitude for his support during the escape from the convict ship completely destroys this gift and thereby Pip’s reliance on the advancement script. This is because the money, though earned through honest work, is sullied by association with a convict, aggravated by the fact that Magwitch’s presence in England is illegal, since he is serving a sentence of deportation, and would, if discovered, face the death penalty. This disclosure opens Pip’s eyes to his true situation and produces in him a new moral self-awareness, which has far-reaching consequences for the structure of the semantic field as a frame for behaviour, orientation and understanding. Pip can no longer follow his old aim of social advancement, for its link with a criminal has definitively undermined the value of his “expectations”. In other words, the disclosure of the real provenance of the money given to support his gentleman-status from a member of the lower classes (and a criminal at that) destroys the justification of these very class differences. 13 But Pip cannot return to the first sub-field and resume the alternative course in life (apprenticeship at Joe’s) at the point where he had abandoned it in favour of becoming a gentleman (341). That is to say, neither the quasi-modern advancement script (enabled by the increasing mobility resulting from the modernization of society, but still based on pre-modern hierarchical concepts of identity and evaluation) nor the traditional script (conservative orientation on family and class origins) are ultimately viable for Pip. His previous behaviour (especially towards Joe and Biddy) is irreversible. As a consequence, Pip is now forced to re-structure his system of values and his world-view. This re-orientation underlies the developments in the third part of the novel (chapters 40 to 49). What happens at the end of the second and in the course of the third part amounts to a re-definition of the former second as a new first subfield and the corresponding conceptualization of a new second sub-field. 14 In the new first (i.e. the former second) sub-field, Pip’s existence as a gentleman, as is particularly clear in retrospect, turned out to be unstable, unhappy and unfulfilled right from the very beginning. And the first, positive event is then ultimately annulled by the negative event of Magwitch’s _____________ 13 14

See Gilmour (1981: 141) and Landau (2005). Gold (1972: 243) describes the three phases of Pip’s development concisely but unspecifically with the religious terms “Birth”, “Fall” and “Redemption”, a sequence which he sees foreshadowed as early as the initial chapter.

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disclosure, which expels Pip from the second sub-field and initiates a development, towards a new second sub-field, the definition of which begins to emerge only slowly. In contrast to the first two events, both of which were given (by the same person, Magwitch) to a passive Pip without any effort on his part, he is now obliged to become active himself. The first step is the conscious renunciation of the great expectations, which Pip puts into practice without hesitation in financial terms: he refuses to accept any more money from Magwitch, and from Miss Havisham, for that matter (409, 421). He retains, however, his emotional attachment to Estella, a relic of his former wishful thinking about the second sub-field, which she symbolically embodied for him from the very beginning (257). Although he loses her to Drummle (another similarly discrediting representative of this old second field), he still defines his identity in an almost Petrarchist manner through his unhappy love for her (378). Pip’s eventful re-orientation manifests itself in two ways: he renounces his former attitudes in economic-vocational and in psychological-moral terms. 15 In other words, the frame for the meaning of the happenings, i.e. the relevance of the changes in Pip’s behaviour and the results of his actions, is re-defined – as a shift from passive membership of a (higher) class to active achievement and, in conjunction with that, from a classbound sense of personal superiority to an attitude of caring sympathy and moral responsibility for others. Instead of relying on gifts from others, Pip now begins to earn his living through work (albeit initially prompted from the outside, i.e. following Herbert’s advice), namely as, firstly, an employee in Herbert’s firm (459f.), then as his representative abroad and, finally, as his partner (488f., 492), which supplies him with a good income, though not with a fortune. Thus he replaces an aristocratic, leisure-based ideal with a markedly middle-class, achievement-oriented concept, which is also clearly distinct from the career as a craftsman (blacksmith) originally intended for him and does in fact constitute a moderate rise in society. The other aspect of Pip’s re-orientation concerns his attitude towards other people, which, since his elevation to the position of gentleman, had related almost exclusively to their social, class-specific status, not to them as persons and human beings in their own right. This shows particularly in his condescension to, and distancing of himself from, Biddy and Joe, and later also Magwitch, in whose case the low social rank is exacerbated by the stain of the condemned criminal (352ff.). Now Pip recognizes his moral responsibility for Magwitch (induced, again, by Herbert, 359), tries to _____________ 15

Newey (2004: 18589) describes this development in the sense of a “developmental novel”, as a process of moral maturing, gaining of insight and overcoming mistakes.


Peter Hühn

secure his rescue, accompanies him on his escape (428ff.) and finally feels deep sympathy and gratitude: my repugnance to him had all melted away, and in the hunted wounded shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously, towards me with great constancy […] I only saw in him a much better man than I had been to Joe. (456 f.)

At the very end, during the proceedings in court and Magwitch’s conviction, Pip openly attests his loyalty to him by holding his hand (466ff.), and he eases Magwitch’s death by revealing to him that his daughter Estella is alive (469ff.). An important stage in Pip’s development of sympathy and understanding for other people is his clandestine, generous financial support for Herbert, which has already begun during his aristocratic phase (314, 317f.) and continues in the third part (408f., 427f.). A comparable shift to humane moral maturity occurs in his relations with Miss Havisham – from sympathetic understanding to forgiveness for the suffering she has inflicted on him (408415). Pip’s behaviour towards Joe and Biddy is now marked by humility, feelings of guilt and an awareness of his own mistakes. In the end, he even wants to marry Biddy but is not angry that she prefers Joe, sincerely wishing them happiness (487ff.). The second subfield, which Pip enters by slow degrees after the de-stabilization of his position in the world of “great expectations”, is defined by emotional sympathy, human solidarity and social equality as well as the determination to earn his livelihood by work and personal achievement – a decidedly middle-class and non-aristocratic concept. It is only with respect to Estella that Pip clings to his original great expectations. But she, too, has been humanized through suffering (“I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape”, 493), and in the end Pip even envisages their ultimate coming together in the future: “I saw no shadow of another parting from here” (ibid.). Entering the adult middle-class existence secured by work and regulated by interpersonal norms of solidarity and sympathy 16 , as such, did not possess a high degree of eventfulness in the 19th century. But here the degree is considerably – and deliberately – heightened by the fact that this development presents itself as a deviation from the (failed and morally discredited) aristocratic way of life. In the novel, the pattern of a middle_____________ 16

Using a psycho-analytical approach, Brooks (1984) interprets this last phase of Pip’s development as a liberation from plot, in the sense of a disillusionment. From the perspective of the present study, the analysis of plot-constructions on the basis of schema theory, Pip’s final development can plausibly be described as the realization of a specific (bourgeois) script.

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class life story as a model (and as a script for living) is represented primarily by Herbert and Clara (e.g. 389, 459f., 489), but also – later – by Joe and Biddy (though on a socially lower level). Both life-stories serve as a foil or contrast to Pip’s precarious, problematic development: Herbert (together with Clara) functions as an ideal and a model, all the more so when one considers that he follows the bourgeois script despite possessing aristocratic status; and Joe and Biddy represent the lower-class alternative which had been offered to Pip but was rejected. Because Herbert’s difficulties are merely of a practical and psychological nature (he lacks seed capital and needs a little “push”), his life story appears less eventful than Pip’s, who has to overcome the strong internal resistance of ethical and ideological identity concepts (his pompous fixation on aristocratic values). However, Pip’s attainment of a mature, responsible, successful middle-class existence is a qualified one, both economically and morally. On the one hand, he is not granted the opportunity to realize this life in England and with a family of his own, but only abroad and as a bachelor (489) 17 – and he is unable to overcome his ideologically contaminated obsession with Estella. On the other hand, Pip’s moral reformation is not complete. Although he feels deep sympathy for Magwitch and recognizes his goodness, Pip retains relics of moral self-righteousness and presumptuousness towards him, as is betrayed in an allusion to the biblical parable of the pharisee and the publican (Luke 18: 1014), which he misquotes revealingly, when he says “O Lord, be merciful to him, a sinner!” (470) instead of “God be merciful to me a sinner” (emphasis added). 18 The end of the novel thus presents a qualified positive eventfulness. 4. Pip’s Event Story in Conjunction with other Storylines The course of Pip’s life, with all its eventful turns, is largely determined by two storylines, which start before his childhood and remain hidden in the background during the first phase of his development. 19 These are the life-stories of Miss Havisham and Abel Magwitch, both of which are seriously interrupted and ultimately destroyed by negative events, caused in both cases by the same person: Compeyson, an unscrupulous, brutal and cold-blooded criminal of aristocratic origin and education – yet another indication given by the implied author of how morally discredited the aristocratic rank is. Compeyson enters Miss Havisham’s life as her fiancé, _____________ 17 18 19

Cf. Herbst (1990: 137f.). See Newey (2004: 194f.). Cf. Brooks (1984), who reconstructs the configuration of the two open and the two repressed plots, analyzing the various processes of reading and decyphering.


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but then seizes hold of part of her fortune with the help of her corrupt (drunkard) brother, fails to appear at their wedding and disappears with the money – a seriously traumatic event for her, destroying her vitality and practically arresting her life and its development, which she expresses symbolically by wearing her wedding dress and preserving the room decoration of the wedding day. In Magwitch’s case, Compeyson acts as his instigator and partner in numerous joint criminal activities, frequently betraying and taking advantage of him. In the end, when they are arrested and taken to court, Compeyson manages to secure a mitigation of the penalty for himself and a heavier sentence for Magwitch (deportation for life) by shifting the blame – on account of his status as a gentleman – onto his socially inferior associate, Magwitch (361ff.). In addition, Compeyson also seems to be partly responsible for the breakup of Magwitch’s family and the loss of his beloved daughter (Estella), together with her mother (418f.). In both cases, the negative events cause the interruption and serious blockage of their lives’ development. In Miss Havisham’s case, the eventful transition to fulfilled adulthood as a woman is arrested: the nonoccurence of the (planned and expected) positive event constitutes a negative one of a high degree. In Magwitch’s case, a continued life in freedom in his native country and the emotional fulfilment of his roles as father and husband are withheld from him, which, because of his criminal past, may rank somewhat lower on the scale of (negative) eventfulness. Both Compeyson’s victims design compensatory plots to overcome the negative events and make up for their destructive effects, and both utilize a child for this, i.e. they project the blocked positive development onto a young substitute figure and this figure’s development, manipulating (“plotting”) it by means of money. 20 Miss Havisham uses Estella as an invulnerable, vengeful substitute for herself: she trains her to be an unfeeling, seductive lady, attracting men and making them unhappy. Magwitch uses Pip (in gratitude for the help with his escape) in two respects – as a child-substitute for his lost daughter and as a positive substitute figure for himself: he has Pip educated as a gentleman so that he will be spared his own negative experience on account of his low rank, and so that he may be able to lead a fulfilled life. 21 So the motives differ in moral terms. While Miss Havisham uses Estella merely as a means for translating hatred and revenge into action (against men), Magwitch’s motives of gratitude and (transposed) love refer to Pip as object. That is to say, Miss Havisham intends – by way of compensation for the negative event in her life caused _____________ 20 21

For an analysis of the destructive effects of “plotting” people’s lives, cf. Barfoot (1976), also Hara (1986). Cf. Gold’s (1972: 246f.) description of the mechanisms of compensation employed by Magwitch and Miss Havisham in contrast to the secret strategy of support for Herbert.

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by a man – to repeat the negative event by inflicting a similar, equally painful experience on other men. Magwitch, however, plans to compensate for his own negative event by enabling Pip to avoid it and experience a positive event. But for both children these manipulations prove destructive because they are “plotted” from the outside and prevent them from freely and independently directing the course of their own lives. Pip’s situation is further aggravated by the fact that he, of all people, becomes the victim of Miss Havisham’s revenge via Estella’s seduction, because this coincidence (together with his benefactor’s criminal past) then thwarts the positive event of the great expectations planned for him. Thus the various storylines – Pip’s on the one hand and Miss Havisham’s and Magwitch’s on the other – are centrally connected by means of their event structures, i.e. the prevention of events. Another element of their interconnection is the fact revealed only towards the end, that Estella is Magwitch’s lost daughter. Here, further aspects of the interrelation of stories come to light: in the final analysis, Compeyson – by way of Miss Havisham’s compensatory use of Estella – indirectly affects even Pip’s life. The protagonists of both these storylines make their exit at the end by dying, and the manipulated children, by now grown up, can slowly begin to free themselves from the effects of their manipulation. This applies to Estella to a lesser degree, as she continues to play the role she was trained for, but is humanized later on and may in the end be heading for a better future with Pip; this applies more particularly to Pip, who rigorously renounces the aristocratic ideal as well as rejects the money given him, and starts to lead an alternative middle-class life. Both, however, retain elements of their former aristocratic identity: in Estella’s case, her unemotional aloofness and her seductive appearance, in Pip’s, his inability to rid himself of his obsession with Estella. 5. The Context of the Events in Great Expectations The staggered events of Great Expectations and their reversals and shifts in the course of the plot-development are to be understood, as indicated above, in reference to the context of the British class hierarchy and its socio-historical changes from the 18th to the 19th century, which is generally relevant to large sections of English fiction at the time: that is, the traditionally strict separation between the lower and middle classes, defined by the need to work for a living, and a privileged upper class, entitled to a life of leisure, good living and self-cultivation. This hierarchy was subject to change in two respects. Socially, it became possible, to a certain extent, to cross the strict class boundaries (for wealthy middle-class entre-


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preneurs, for instance); and, ideologically, aristocratic privileges and forms of behaviour increasingly were exposed to moral criticism from the position (and the standards) of the expanding middle-classes. 22 Great Expectations represents a historically later phase than Defoe’s and Richardson’s novels 23 . In Moll Flanders and Pamela, the traditional class society and its internal divisions are still largely intact; the prestige and attraction of the aristocracy are as yet completely unchallenged. Crossing the boundary from beneath is the great exception and therefore highly eventful. Such an elevation in society is only justified and made possible by an exemplary moral and religious achievement on the part of the individual and when sanctioned by divine “Providence”: by puritanically motivated gainful employment (also with criminal methods of which she subsequently repents) in the case of Moll Flanders and by marriage as a result of exemplary (middle-class) morality and the perfect embodiment of aristocratic manners in the case of Pamela. Both cases can be understood as manifestations of divine grace. In Great Expectations, the reference to the social context is more complex than in those two novels. 24 At first, the aristocracy still seems to possess its traditionally high prestige, and being accepted into it would therefore count as an event – for Pip as well as (presumably) for the reader. But this superiority is variously eroded before and, especially, after the (apparent) crossing of the boundary, primarily for the reader at first; later – and hesitantly – also for Pip. The apparently positive event of the social advancement is then annulled by its complete deconstruction in consequence of Magwitch’s appearance, and the now destroyed semantic subfield then functions as the point of departure for the re-construction of this field and the re-constitution of eventfulness: moral reformation and humanization as well as the basing of existence on personal achievement, on work. In abstract terms, the aspiration to an aristocratic ideal is superseded by the middle-class concept of economic and moral achievement, the attainment of which gains a specifically heightened status against the foil of the failed aristocratic alternative. Thus, the novel can be seen to morally and ideologically 25 discredit the traditional class structure of society dominated by the aristocracy, and use this as background for the presentation of a new middle-class-based model of eventful development and achievement, which is particularly highlighted by comparison (with the successful ideal examples of Herbert/Clara and, to a certain extent, _____________ 22 23 24 25

Cf. e.g. Checkland (1964: 281324). See above pp. 45î58 and pp. 59î69. For a general description of this complexity, cf. Gilmour (1981: 10546). Cf. Landau (2005).

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Joe/Biddy) and contrast (with the failed examples of Miss Havisham and Magwitch).

References Dickens, Charles (1985). Great Expectations, ed. Angus Calder (Harmondsworth: Penguin). ———— Barfoot, C. C. (1976). „Great Expectations: The Perception of Fate“, in Dutch Quarterly Review of Anglo-American Letters, 6: 2î33. Brooks, Peter (1984). “Repetition, Repression, and Return: The Plotting of Great Expectations”, in Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP), 11342. Checkland, S. G. (1964). The Rise of Industrial Society in England 1815Ŧ1885 (London: Longman). Gilmour, Robin (1981). The Idea of the Gentleman in the Victorian Novel. (London: George Allen & Unwin). Gold, Joseph (1972). Charles Dickens: Radical Moralist (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Pr.). Hara, Eiichi (1986). “Stories Present and Absent in Great Expectations”, in English Literary History, 53: 593î614. Herbst, Beth F. (1990). The Dickens Hero: Self and Alienation in the Dickens World (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson). Landau, Aaron (2005). “Great Expectations, Romance, and Capital”, in Dickens Studies Annual, 35: 15777 Luhmann, Niklas (1993). “Individuum, Individualität, Individualismus”, Gesellschaftsstruktur und Semantik, vol. 3 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp), 149–258. Newey, Vincent (2004). The Scriptures of Charles Dickens: Novels of Ideology, Novels of Self (Aldershot: Ashgate). Paroissien, David (2000). “The Sequence of Events in Pip’s Narrative”, in The Companion to ‘Great Expectations’ (Mountfield: Helm Information), 42334.

8 Thomas Hardy: “On the Western Circuit” (1891) Markus Kempf Thomas Hardy’s short story “On the Western Circuit” 1 is set in the (fictive) idyllic provincial town of Melchester in south-west England, in a typical Victorian middle-class environment. The narrative traces the tragic development of the (erotic) relationship between one man and two women: the young London lawyer (barrister) Charles Bradford Raye, who practises in the south and south-west of England and regularly does his rounds of the courts “on the Western Circuit”, intelligent 30-year-old Mrs Edith Harnham, who is married to a rich wine-merchant, and the pretty but naïve country-girl Anna, whom Mrs Harnham has taken into her household to train as a servant. 1. The Combination of Two Scripts: Love Story and Tragedy Hardy’s short story interlaces two scripts in a particularly complex way. On an abstract level, the first sequence pattern consists of the conventional schema of the development of a love story between a young man from the city (Charles) and an inexperienced lower-class girl from the country (Anna). Depending on position and perspective, this overall schema takes two opposed specific forms: on the one hand, a noncommittal temporary summer affair 2 and, on the other, a serious romantic love-relationship eventually resulting in marriage. At first, Charles plans to follow the first schema, but, later on, certain circumstances change and lead him to invest deeper and more lasting feelings in the relationship and eventually even to marry Anna. The second schema is in Anna’s interest. At first, her expectations in this respect remain unexpressed, but in the course of time she seems to become aware of her desire. The overall love script is realised in three successive phases: In the first phase, Charles and Anna meet by chance and fall in love, in the sec_____________ 1 2

Edition used: Hardy (1977). This particular form can be described as a milder, romanticised variant of the traditional seduction script, the seduction of a lower-class girl by an aristocrat, as activated by Richardson in Pamela and, by the way, also used by Hardy in his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which appeared in the same year as “On the Western Circuit”.

Thomas Hardy: “On the Western Circuit”


ond, they get to know each other by exchanging letters and reveal their feelings for each other, and in the third, they overcome all doubts and agree to get married. This plot-development is characterised by a positive conventional event: the desire of the lovers is fulfilled by their union in marriage. This “positive” sequence pattern is interlaced with a second, “negative” schema, ancient tragedy. 3 This script radically and paradoxically alters the love story script; it transforms the positive development towards the desired union of a young couple into a catastrophic story of an undesired, “wrong” marriage  but only in the perception of the narrator/reader as well as Edith and, at the very end, Charles; not, however, in the perception of Anna. The coupling of the two schemata is hierarchical, inasmuch as Charles and Anna’s love story serves as concrete subject matter and medium for the tragedy script, which is located at a higher level of abstraction. On this superordinate level, the tragedy script prescribes the ultimate outcome of the plot  the protagonist’s failure  and, in addition, provides a number of additional genre-specific elements and features. These include the increased occurrence of coincidences, which propel the plot into unforeseen and adverse directions, as well as the presentation of blindness and misjudgement (hamartia). In the context of the present analysis of eventfulness, another feature specific to tragedies is of particular relevance: anagnorisis, the tragic hero’s sudden recognition of the true state of affairs  a feature that Hardy takes up in his tale as well. The fatal entanglement leading to the love story’s failure is effected by the character constellation that underlies the plot-development. In the manner of an experimental design, as it were, Anna’s position in the love constellation Anna / Charles is duplicated by the introduction of the figure of Edith, thereby successively transforming a two-person relationship (Charles, Anna) into a triangular relationship (Charles, Anna, Edith). Within this setup, Edith initially acts as a helpmate for Anna. Since Anna is illiterate, Edith  at her request and in her name  secretly writes her letters to Charles in order to facilitate and stabilize the love between them. Subsequently, however, it is precisely because of this well-meaning assistance that Edith increasingly becomes Anna’s rival and finally takes over her position altogether, without treacherously having intended this and without Charles or Anna being aware of it. On account of writing and reading these letters she inadvertently falls in love with Charles and he with her, unaware of the real identity of his correspondent. Only on the wedding day does Charles discover that he had corresponded with Edith all along and that she is really the one he loves. On the other side of the _____________ 3

For this script, cf. e.g. Frye (1957: 20623).


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relationship, Edith, too, realizes only on the wedding day what catastrophic consequences her interference in this relationship has had. Anna is the only character who does not understand the true situation – not even at the very end. For her, the wedding is the fulfilment of her greatest wish. The process that leads to this tragic result is triggered and propelled both by the individual psychological dispositions of the characters (which in turn are conditioned by the contemporary social context) and by a chain of coincidences. In the following, I will first analyse the causes of the love story’s tragic failure, and then discuss the technique of mediation and finally the problem of eventfulness. The degree and quality of eventfulness in this story are largely dependent on the position and perspective of the instances concerned and differ considerably. 4 2. The Tragic Failure of the Love Story: Causes and Development In order to understand the specific course of the story, it is necessary to analyse the dispositions and previous experiences of the protagonists. Most of these aspects are conveyed by the heterodiegetic narrator within the very first section of the tale by means of evaluative comments, explicit and implicit characterizations of the protagonists and external analepses. Charles, the young barrister from London, is a rather unconventional representative of his social class and profession, as the narrator points out (85). He apparently lacks such typically middle-class masculine dispositions such as ambition, materialism and rationality, but is characterized instead by a high degree of sensibility and sensuality as well as romantic ideals of love. He expresses a dislike for artificiality and unnaturalness with regard to women as well as his flat and therefore suffers under the alienating living conditions in London (88, 93). However, in this romanticidealistic attitude of his, Charles is ambivalent and self-contradictory. As revealed by his reactions to the letters of Edith/Anna, he sets great store by educated and cultured women, i.e. specific qualities which clearly conform to middle-class values and norms and therefore are anything but “natural” and “pristine”. _____________ 4

Hardy’s “On the Western Circuit” has received little critical attention. Ray (1997: esp. 20117) concentrates on the tale’s genesis and editorial history. This is also the main concern of Page (1974: 7584), who then briefly sketches the content. Only Plotz (1996) interprets the story in detail, primarily discussing the difference between illusion and reality as well as the incursion of modernity into rural England, a prominent theme in Hardy’s novels and short stories. Plotz sees both themes metonymically presented in the roundabout scene at the beginning of the tale. This passage shows, he argues, that Hardy considers modern technology the main cause for the indivdual’s loss of control and reality.

Thomas Hardy: “On the Western Circuit”


Anna, less complex than Charles, is of lower-class origin, uneducated and without any financial means, but distinguished by her youthfulness, beauty, spontaneity and naturalness. Through these features she provides an ideal projection screen for Charles’s illusory romantic ideals: he calls her “a fascinating child of nature” (93). In contrast to Anna, Edith, like Charles, possesses middle-class status; she is older and more experienced than Anna (and Charles, 91), not beautiful, but well-educated and of a subtle mind (89). One of her dominant traits is her unfulfilled longing for love. As the text indicates, this emotional lack is caused by certain social-cultural factors, namely contemporary middle-class marriage practices and the prevalent Victorian image of women. In the past, Edith had been influenced by the restrictive Victorian maxim according to which “a bad marriage with its aversions is better than free womanhood with its interests, dignity, and leisure” to such an extent that she had consented to marry a much older, unloved winemerchant “to find afterwards that she had made a mistake” (97). Edith is thus a perfect example of a Victorian woman trapped in a state of unfulfilled sensuality on account of social constrictions. It is obviously in compensation for this lack of love that Edith has invited Anna to live in her house in Melchester, takes care of her, trains her as a servant and generally feels responsible for her education. Under these differing conditions on the part of the three protagonists the plot develops a fatal dynamic of its own. As pointed out above, Charles and Anna’s love story can be subdivided into three phases: personal meetings, correspondence, marriage. Even during the first phase, a number of coincidences prevent the normal course of the love script and initiate a tragical entanglement. A crucial factor is an incident that occurs in the crowded scene on the fairground: Charles accidentally grabs Edith’s hand instead of Anna’s (90). This coincidence immediately awakens Edith’s longing, which from then on subliminally determines her behaviour. As a direct consequence of this incident, Edith is now incapable, contrary to her own principles, of forbidding Anna all further contact with Charles and thus terminating the affair at its very beginning (91), since this would mean that she could not see him anymore either. Because of this coincidence, she is drawn into a paradoxical double-bind situation: 5 On the one hand, her motherly sense of duty obliges her to assist Anna in her relations with Charles; on the other hand, a powerful sensual desire for Charles has now arisen in her, which she cannot admit neither to herself nor to Anna, since it has to be rejected as highly reprehensible on moral _____________ 5

For a description of the structure of double-bind situations, see Watzlawick, Beavin & Jackson (1967).


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grounds. Thus, from now on, all her actions with regard to Charles and Anna are ambiguous and doubly motivated: on the surface, by unselfish assistance to Anna; in reality, by selfish gratification of her own desires. This is Edith’s tragic conflict. During the second phase of the love story, the correspondence between the lovers, the paradoxical situation spins out of control more and more. On the female side of the correspondence, one can observe a growing shift from Anna (and her decreasing contributions) to Edith, whose unconscious longings and needs gain in intensity and momentum. In concrete terms, this process manifests itself in the fact that Edith writes the letters on her own more frequently, thereby increasingly taking over Anna’s position. This development is facilitated on the one hand by Anna’s blindness, naivity and passivity, on the other by the occurrence of coincidences. Another decisive factor is Edith’s inability to understand and control her own urges and to assess the consequences of her actions. This phase is further divided into two sub-phases by the disclosure of Anna’s pregnancy. During the first sub-phase, which lasts for several weeks (96), Edith and Anna read and write the letters together (although Anna’s contribution in formulating them is marginal). This established and mutually agreed-on procedure is then given a new direction by a coincidence. A new letter arrives from Charles, while Anna is absent. Encouraged by this opportunity and driven by her unfulfilled longing, Edith answers the letter “on her own responsibility” (97) for the first time. This new development is complicated by Anna’s return the next day and the disclosure of her pregnancy  a result of the rendezvous between Charles and Anna in the first phase of their love story: Charles threatens to break off their relationship. As this would be unacceptable both to pregnant Anna and to infatuated Edith, the latter devises a strategy “to keep the young man’s romantic interest in [Anna] alive” (98). For this purpose, she rejects Anna’s rash impulse to write him a reproachful letter and composes a cautious message instead, in which she expresses understanding for his distress and anxiety about the pregnancy (98). This mature and generous gesture so impresses Charles that he falls in love with Anna more deeply and resumes contact with her. It is highly ironic that Edith’s intervention makes it possible for the fatal course of the affair to continue beyond its impending premature termination only to lead to an even greater catastrophe in the end. During the following second sub-phase of this plot’s correspondence section, the displacement of Anna by Edith is facilitated even further, because Anna is compelled to leave Melchester for the time being and to go back to her family in the country when Mr Harnham learns about her pregnancy, and has to entirely entrust the continuation of the correspondence with

Thomas Hardy: “On the Western Circuit”


Charles to Edith. Because of this change of the situation  ironically enforced by her husband  Edith is enabled to indulge her secret longings in her letters to Charles without any inhibitions and for a very long time (four months, 100). This practically completes the process of dissociation, which had begun with Edith’s singular secret act immediately before the disclosure of the pregnancy. The effect of the new situation on Edith and the further consequences are summed up by the narrator in the following manner: Throughout this correspondence, carried on in the girl’s absence, the high-strung Edith Harnham lived in the ecstasy of fancy; the vicarious intimacy engendered such a flow of passionateness as was never exceeded. For conscience’ sake Edith at first sent on each of his letters to Anna, and even rough copies of her replies; but later on these so-called copies were much abridged, and many letters on both sides were not sent on at all. (100)

As for Charles, the correspondence brings about a change in the importance he attaches to his relationship with Anna. If initially he had considered this relationship merely an insignificant adventure (“a piece of romantic folly”, 102), he now contemplates marrying her. Ironically, this change of attitude is brought about by the regard he has for Anna’s high degree of education, which he infers from her good writing skills. This appreciation of education contradicts his notions of spontaneity and naturalness and, in the last analysis, reveals an adherence to a conventional middle-class system of values (cf. his critical self-assessment, at the end, as a “fastidious urban” person, 105). It is equally ironic in this context that Charles is unaware of how perfectly the illiterate country-girl Anna conforms to his original ideal of a “fascinating child of nature”. During the love story’s third phase – marriage  the happenings are heading for their tragic culmination. After having exchanged letters for several months, Edith eventually realizes that, through her paradoxical behaviour, she has aroused Charles emotionally and driven him to the verge of disaster. But by now it is too late for a return to the status quo ante. Edith’s attempt to persuade Anna to tell Charles, prior to their wedding, the truth about her illiteracy fails, because Edith for her part cannot confess to Anna the truth about her own love for Charles and the way she had continued the correspondence (101). Thus, the true state of affairs is revealed only after the wedding (103ff.). When, on the wedding day, Charles happens to notice that Anna is unable to write, he abruptly realizes that it was Edith with whom he had corresponded all along and that it is her he really loves. It is now too late, however, to establish an open relation between them and to change the situation. What is left to them is only a final kiss and the resigned acceptance of the disastrous results which the tragic entanglements have


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brought about (105): for Charles marriage with the “wrong” woman and for Edith the awareness of having wronged her foster child Anna and Charles as well as her husband. The consequences seem to be the most dire for Edith, considering that she is already “punished” by her unhappy marriage. The only character who fails to understand the situation even now is Anna. Ironically, she mistakes Charles’s composure at the end as an indication that he has accepted her inability to read and write. She remains completely ignorant of the love that had arisen between her maternal friend and her newly wedded husband. 3. Mediation Technique and Degrees of Eventfulness In addition to the reconstruction of the plot development, the technique of its mediation has to be analysed for a precise assessment of the short story’s eventfulness. The plot is presented by an (omniscient) heterodiegetic narrator, who structures the happenings by means of comments, summaries as well as proleptic and analeptic insertions. One particularly effective device is the shifting internal focalization: the narrator oscillates between the perspectives of the three characters. The narrator most frequently chooses Edith’s point of view, which is due to the fact that she has the deepest insight of all the characters. These alternating perspectives provide the reader with a broader overview of the motives, actions and reactions of the characters than they themselves possess and enable him/her to observe how the characters’ blindness is caused by the discrepancy between their ignorant actions and the fateful outcome. The reader’s superior knowledge is assured from the beginning when the narrator proleptically hints at the disastrous outcome in the very first sentence (85) and again shortly afterwards (88), thereby drawing the reader’s attention to the tragic course of the happenings. The discrepant awareness of the various narrative instances  narrator/reader, characters  also entails differences both in what is perceived as an event and in the degree of eventfulness. The result of the development is most dramatic for Charles, whose eventful transformation takes the form of an anagnorisis typical of the genre of tragedy, that is to say, it consists in the sudden recognition of previously hidden connections, in the abrupt painful realization of a “wrong” marriage and the negative social effects of an uneducated wife on his professional career. Since Charles does not actively cross a boundary to a new form of existence (in terms of Lotman’s sujet model), but passively undergoes an eventful transformation, the event has to be described as depending on a sudden shift of the boundary itself. At the end of the plot, the semantic fields are sud-

Thomas Hardy: “On the Western Circuit”


denly redefined and re-arranged  from the opposition of love longing vs. love fulfilment, discontentment vs. happiness to that of illusion vs. reality, and expectation vs. disappointment. The world is fundamentally changed for Charles, after he has seen through the true state of affairs. No such radical reversal occurs in Edith’s case: she now becomes fully aware what consequences her behaviour has had on the others, which makes her suffer severely. But in the last analysis this is only a minor change on an emotional level. She does not gain such a totally new insight into the whole situation as Charles does. From Anna’s perspective, the question of eventfulness appears in a totally different light. As can be gathered from her misreading of Charles’s reaction at the end, she assumes that the disclosure of her illiteracy has no negative consequences for their relationship. For her the marriage constitutes a genuinely positive event, the fulfilment of her love and, incidentally, her elevation to a higher social rank. This view is severely qualified, however, by the perspectives of the two other characters. The readers, finally, like Edith, will not be as surprised by the negative event as Charles, since they had been apprised of the coming catastrophe from the very beginning and because their superior point of view had allowed them to follow its development in detail. As a result, the degree of eventfulness is not very high from this perspective. 4. References to the Context and the Status of a Reception Event The plot and eventfulness of the short story refer to two contemporary contexts, a general and a concrete one. As for the general context, the presentation of the characters as blind, powerless and prone to illusion is a reflection of the widespread contemporary loss of belief in the subject’s autonomy as a consequence of the erosion of optimistic religious and philosophical concepts in the course of the process of modernization. The fictional world of Hardy’s story does not include a superior divine power (such as God’s Providence in 18th-century novels) 6 that directs the happenings towards a positive and happy conclusion in accordance with a benevolent plan of salvation; nor does it refer to the Enlightenment ideals of reason and rationality or the 19th-century trust in progress. On the contrary, all characters are shown to be driven by their unconscious urges and longings, and their interactions are governed by the modern and at the same time very archaic principle of chance and coincidence. Hardy’s pro_____________ 6

Cf. the analyses of Defoe’s, Richardson’s and Fielding’s novels in the present volume, pp. 49î62, 63î73 and 74î83, resp.


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tagonists are powerless and propelled like the people on the roundabout in the first scene of the story. As Hardy shows also in his novels (e.g. The Return of the Native, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure), these modern intrusions of contingency and destruction invade a traditonal rural idyll, convert it into an anti-idyll and make the reader painfully aware of the detrimental effects of social change. 7 Thematically this short story shows analogies to Hardy’s poem “The Convergence of the Twain” (1912), which describes the sinking of the Titanic  an emblem of the modern individual’s claim to absolute autonomy for itself on the basis of technological masterpieces  as the result of the fatal workings of a (secular) “Imminent Will”. By way of reference to a more concrete context, the story can moreover be viewed as a critique of the obsolete Victorian concepts of marriage and women; this, too, is a topic which Hardy repeatedly takes up in his work. 8 In the last analysis, the tragic entanglement of the story is largely due to Edith’s unfulfilled sensuality, which is conditioned by the unhappy marriage forced on her by traditional social expectations and norms. She wrongs both Charles and Anna by her behaviour only because she herself had first been a victim of the repressive Victorian middle-class feminity- and marriage-discourses. The fact that this is the ultimate cause of the disaster eludes the characters’ consciousness: up to the end, Charles is unaware that Edith is trapped in an unhappy relationship, and naïve Anna assumes that the Harnhams’ marriage is a happy one (102). Even Edith does not recognize the social causes of her own psychological problems. When, at the end, she sums up the tragic conflict with the following words: “‘I have ruined [Charles], because I would not deal treacherously towards [Anna]!’” (106), she misses the real  social  causes of the disaster. The narrator, too, is rather vague in this respect. At one point he does discuss the social background of Edith’s unfulfilled sensuality (97), but ultimately, he does not seem to consider this the main motivation behind the tragic development of the story. Thus it is then left to the readers to extract the implicit critique of the contemporary gender- and marriagediscourses and draw their conclusions for the interpretation of the plot. In this sense, it could be said that the text constitutes a reception event. Within the generic frame of the tragedy a potential change of the reader’s consciousness regarding the gender- and marriage-problem could then be called the catharsis triggered by the catastrophe. Translated by Peter Hühn _____________ 7 8

Cf. Plotz (1996: 370 ff.). For a brief reference to this context, see Page (1974: 82f.).

Thomas Hardy: “On the Western Circuit”


References Hardy, Thomas (1977). “On the Western Circuit”, in F. B. Pinion, ed. The New Wessex Edition of the Stories of Thomas Hardy. Vol. Two: Life’s Little Ironies and A Changed Man (London: Macmillan), 85106. ———— Frye, Northrop (1957). The Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton UP). Page, Norma (1974). “Hardy’s Short Sories: A Reconsideration”, in Studies in Short Fiction, 11: 75-84. Plotz, John (1996). “Motion in Slickness: Spectacle and Circulation in Thomas Hardy’s ‘On the Western Circuit’”, in Studies in Short Fiction, 33: 36986. Ray, Martin (1997). Thomas Hardy. A Textual Study of the Short Stories (Alderhot: Ashgate). Watzlawick, Paul, Janet H. Beavin & Don Jackson (1967). Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes

(New York: Norton).

9 Henry James: “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903) Jette K. Wulf “The Beast in the Jungle” 1 by Henry James tells the story of James Marcher, who is obsessed with the idea that a decisive event will occur at some point in the future and thereby determine the meaning of his life. The nature of this event is entirely unclear to him, yet he is spending his days in apprehension of it and leading a secluded life withdrawn from society. This obsession is described in the context of his relationship with May Bartram, his only friend and confidante, and it is only towards the end of the story that John Marcher realises – too late – how closely the meaning of his life and the friendship with May Bartram are actually connected. For only after her death does it dawn on him that precisely by spending his life waiting for the turning point, he has missed the opportunity of creating a meaningful, fulfilled existence. 1. The Beast and the Script for Marcher’s Life The story’s main script is connected to what is illustrated by the beast in the jungle – an image both mentioned throughout the text and, of course, referred to in the title. John Marcher uses the image of the beast to illustrate the feelings he has: It is his deep conviction that something extraordinary will happen to him at some point in his life. Even though he has no clear idea of the form or way in which this something will occur, his life is dictated by “the sense of being kept for something rare and strange” (309), the apprehension of the life-changing event that is waiting for him like a beast hidden in the jungle, watching him, ready for attack: “The definite point was the inevitable spring of the creature” (313). He is – at least initially – also convinced that he will recognise the beast once it charges, even though it might at that point be too late for him to prepare himself accordingly. The image of the beast instantly evokes a sense of apprehension; yet, interestingly, it is not so much the fear of the possible danger that he is worrying about (in spite of not knowing whether the consequences will be _____________ 1

Citations refer to the following edition: James (2003).

Henry James: “The Beast in the Jungle”


disastrous or harmless). Instead, the sense of foreboding is connected with his deep conviction that he is singled out, that it is this coming event which makes his life (and thus himself) special, “altering everything, striking at the root of all my world” (309). In other words, it is the coming event which will create coherence and give meaning to his life, and this constitutes the underlying frame. It is significant for “The Beast in the Jungle” that the meaning, the frame, of the event is explicitly being discussed inside the story by the characters. Thus, May early on suggests “love” as a possible frame, which Marcher, however, summarily – and tragically, as it turns out – rejects (309f.), for at this point (and for most of the story) his desire is characterized by the wish to be unique and different, in other words to separate himself from others, not to be closely connected to somebody else. 2 The script within this frame can be described, in abstract terms, as the need (and search) for coherence in one’s life 3 as well as the understanding of, or wish for, the uniqueness of one’s own self and identity. Even though the desire to be special and to lead a purposeful life are not necessarily restricted to a certain historical background, the script as it is developed in “The Beast in the Jungle” is influenced by the Puritan notion of (divine) Providence, albeit in a secularised form, as indicated by the frequent references to the “lap of the gods” (314, 317, 329) and “the secret of the gods” (323). It is crucial that Marcher’s behaviour is not dominated by the fear of what might happen. Marcher does not agonise over his fate (and the beast waiting for him) – “the beast to jump out” is simply “his inevitable topic” (317); he is merely vexed by the fact that he does not know what it will look like and that he cannot (or does not know how to) prepare himself for it. He is waiting for its appearance in the secular form of the divine election: a decisive turning point that will happen to him and change his consciousness, and all he can do is try to read the signs that are given. _____________ 2


Sedgwick (1994) suggests a different type of love frame – homosexuality, which, however, is based less on the text than on the writer’s biographical psychology. Even though many critics refer to Sedgwick’s analysis, it has also been criticized, e.g. by Novick (1999: 8), who argues that the “evident absence of heterosexual passion in the tale” does not necessarily point to “repressed homosexual impulses”, or Tambling (2000: 171), who admits that “Sedgwick’s reading has become largely hegemonic”, yet does “not see that she illuminates The Beast in the Jungle, except perversely, by writing another text which the critic wishes James had written”. This need for coherence is thematized at the very beginning of the story with terms such as “continuation” (304), “missing link” (305), “small possible germs […] to sprout after so many years” (306), “what she brought out […] supplied the link” (307). As Pippin (2000: 98, 100) points out, these continuities are already established in the first scene,. mostly by May. In Tambling’s (2000: 170f.) opinion, Marcher’s incapability of establishing such a continuity (or even finding the beginning of their narrative) again characterizes him as a modern subject (see also below).


Jette K. Wulf

Despite these Puritan aspects, however, the script lacks all religious connotations – there are no references to the Christian God nor to any kind of reward or after-life. Ultimately, the script for his life is (unconsciously) chosen by Marcher himself 4 but he views it as something given and imposed by fate (“One’s in the hands of one’s law”, 317), and as a consequence, he rejects other scripts offered by and established in the society around him (such as marrying his companion). In his attempt to prepare for the arrival of the beast, he turns away from society and opts – so as not to miss the moment when it comes – for a secluded life characterised by inactivity and waiting. Therein lies the script he develops for himself in order to make the best possible use of the opportunity that his life presents for him. However, it is precisely because of its inherent inactivity and negativity that this script of waiting for the great event entails the risk of utter failure (“he had failed, with the last exactitude, of all he was to fail of”, 339) as this way of life effectively keeps him from seizing any opportunity at all and finding himself, instead, “gazing at [...] the sounded void of his life” (339). 5 Even if the script itself might not be bound to a certain historical context, the difficulties that are thematized in connection with it are decidedly modern (see below). Nevertheless, it is only at the very end of the story that Marcher begins to question his course of action (or rather inaction). For the most part, he does not show the slightest doubt regarding his perception of his life and his decisions. The failure that is, unbeknown to him, inherent in the script is therefore closely related to Marcher’s personality and his lack of insight, most of all regarding himself. The narrator of the story is heterodiegetic, and with the exception of a single paragraph (where May Bartram is focalized from within and it is for once not Marcher’s perception of her that is narrated) 6 , the text oscillates between focalizing Marcher from within and from without, 7 thereby bringing out the discrepancy between his self-perception and his personality as seen from the outside.8 _____________ 4 5 6 7 8

Cf. e.g. Pippin (2000: 94f.), who describes Marcher’s underlying disposition towards cultivating the personal myth of the beast as egotism, narcissism and fear of life. Smith (1994: 228f.) describes this paradox dynamic as a kind of “overdrive”: “the more we are excited by the promise of a grand design, the more likely we are to be panicked into missing the story altogether”. James (2003: 315). The act of narration is played down, yet it is thematised, even if the signs are scarce, as are explicit comments or judgements about the protagonists. For the problem of observation and perspective, see Segal (1969). The story comprises several observation constellations: May observes Marcher, Marcher observes May observing him, both are aware of how they are observed by society, and the reader, finally, observes the whole setup. Heyns (1997: 114î19) argues that May Bartram’s ability to step back and observe others (including the knowledge she thereby gains and the judgment she can make) put her into a more powerful position than most critics give her credit for.

Henry James: “The Beast in the Jungle”


This discrepancy and the contradictions involved become apparent in his rapport with society. By dedicating his life to waiting for the beast and by not sharing this secret with other people (for fear of rejection, of being misunderstood or even ridiculed), he also rejects other scripts that are established in this society. This rejection goes along with his idea of himself as being different and special, an idea which greatly appeals to him. 9 Yet as he yearns to be special, he turns out to be not as independent of society in general and its opinion of him as he claims to be, a fact which is proven by the numerous references to Marcher’s condescending attitude towards society (“the stupid world”, 315; “society was, luckily, unintelligent”, 316). The split between his public persona and his inner self thus is not achieved as easily as he would have liked: “a long act of dissimulation [...] he wore a mask painted with social simper” (315), but it is ultimately successful, as May tells him: “Our habit saves you […] because it makes you, after all, for the vulgar, indistinguishable from other men” (316). He does not merely want to be special, he also wants to be regarded as special; and with this need, he does of course rely on the very society he wishes to separate himself from as if he did not need it. Marcher evades this conflict by using his script as an excuse: he is entirely convinced that – if it were not for the beast which forced him to lead the life he does – he would be perfectly capable of leading a life that would be successful by society’s standards. In order to keep up the justification for his identity and the existence he has chosen, Marcher finds another relationship more important than that to society: the friendship with May Bartram.

2. Marcher’s Relationship with May Bartram May Bartram is Marcher’s only companion with whom he shares his secret as well as his life in waiting, and she is the only one who knows what he considers his true self and his abilities: he knew each of the things of importance he was insidiously kept from doing, but she could add up the amount they made, understand how much, with a lighter weight on his spirit, he might have done, and thereby establish how, clever as he was, he fell short. (315)

“The Beast in the Jungle” also tells the story of their relationship, as it begins with their (re)acquaintance and ends after her death. 10 While May _____________ 9 10

See e.g.: “the sense of being kept for something rare and strange”, “a larger conception of singularity for him”, James (2003: 309, 314 resp.). Heyns (1997) argues that “The Beast in the Jungle” includes two narratives, the (primary) story of Marcher’s egotism and May’s secondary plot of female desire. Her secondary plot


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Bartram and the friendship with her seem at first rather insignificant to Marcher, they turn out to be crucial both for him and for the reader’s understanding of him, for the event of the story and for illustrating his personality and self-centredness. For the most part, he regards himself and his project not only as the centre of his own existence but of hers as well. It is stressed again and again that he does not want to allow himself to indulge in selfishness, that he is careful to keep a balance between himself and May Bartram, yet his behaviour demonstrates quite the opposite. His view of the relationship with May Bartram is above all characterized as useful and profitable to him (a fact he himself realises towards the end of the story). The reader learns surprisingly little about her life apart from the fact that she is waiting with Marcher (and one is led to believe that there actually might not be much more than that), yet this is mainly due to the fact that Marcher himself (as the main object of focalization) reduces his perception of her to those aspects related to him, a definite sign of his self-centredness. Even when he learns of her fatal illness and begins to realize her imminent death, his major concern is the fear that she might not live to learn the nature of the event that will occur to him. This asymmetrical constellation changes only during their final conversations, as he realizes that she knows more, and one might argue that at the very end he begins to respect her attitude towards life (posthumously) instead of seeing nothing but the service she has rendered him. 11 At the beginning of the story, John Marcher and May Bartram meet on an afternoon in October at Weatherend, a country house in England. He is among the visitors, while she is obviously related to the owners and – as she is financially less well off – allowed to stay with them. It turns out that they actually met before – a fact that he does not remember right away, unlike her who has a perfect recollection of the origins of their acquaintance. They first met in Naples ten years before (she – a young woman at the age of twenty – travelling with her mother and her brother, he with common friends) and visited Pompeii together. His initial fears that there might have been some sort of romantic feelings between them are soon dispersed. 12 However, it turns out that their meeting was of much greater significance, since – as he learns to his utmost surprise – he had shared his greatest secret with her by telling her about the beast. (Since she is the only other person in the world who knows about this, it _____________ 11 12

is, of course, closely related to the secondary frame (love) for the meaning and relevance of the “beast”. Even then, however, he is still more concerned with what he himself had missed than with what it must have meant to her. This is a first indication of the problem of defining the frame of the story and the significance of the event (see above).

Henry James: “The Beast in the Jungle”


is somewhat strange that he does not recall telling her, but this might be explained as yet another sign of his self-centredness.) The fact that he confided in her – and that she is very sensitive in her inquiry about it – immediately (re)establishes a connecting sense of familiarity between them, a “missing link” (305), which is sealed by her quick decision to wait with him. The second and third parts of the story summarise the process of their waiting together – she has inherited some money from her aunt, and even though she is still far from rich, it allows her to set up a small house in London. Their ensuing lives are characterized by a quiet and uneventful stability. Even though the reason for their waiting is raised in their conversation, the topic has lost some of its urgent threat making way for a sense of acceptance. There are only two signs that this is about to change: firstly, Marcher gets the impression that May Bartram knows more about the nature of the beast than he does (“it had come up to him then that she ‘knew’ something”, 320); and secondly, there is the first reference to her declining health and her fatal illness, “a deep disorder in the blood” (321). The implication of both facts alarms him (“he felt somehow the shadow of a change and the chill of a shock”, 321), yet at this point this does not penetrate the core of his identity: he still clings to “the consciousness in him that there was nothing she could ‘know’, after all, better than he did. She had no source of knowledge that he hadn’t equally”, and he dreads “losing her by some catastrophe – some catastrophe that yet wouldn’t at all be the catastrophe” (321). His understanding both of his life’s script and of their relationship – including the subordinate position he ascribes to her – is still intact. This changes, however, with their two final conversations (parts IV and V), in which May Bartram confesses that she does indeed know more, yet (initially) refuses to share any details of her knowledge with him and insists that it is better for him to be spared this insight. She only admits that the beast has already come, that what he has been waiting for has already happened – “the door’s open” (328) and “You’ve nothing to wait for more. It has come” (330). He thus concludes that his fate lies in the fact that nothing is going to happen in his life, a fact he seemingly learns to accept. Following her death, he is hurt by society’s non-acknowledgement of their relationship and the status it had for both of them – having refused to form any kind of relationship socially accepted or established, he has also lost any chance of being perceived as someone bereaved of a loved one (“his lack [...] of producible claim. [...] in the view of society, he had not been markedly bereaved”, 333). Leaving London for travelling in Asia, he learns to cherish the past they shared and to derive joy from his memories. However,


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only after he has returned home (and more precisely to her grave) does he realize that he has never actually known any passion or deep feelings in his life (“No passion had ever touched him”, 338), and the realization of the opportunities he has missed – above all that his friend did actually love him and that with her he might have shared passion and feelings (“she was what he had missed”, 339) – causes him to break down. The opening scene, the meeting at Weatherend, already mirrors the constellation of the relationship between Marcher and Bartram as it is developed throughout the following parts. It is she who perfectly recalls every detail of their first encounter (and has been thinking about it since), whereas he – even as the memories are coming back to him – mixes them all up (which does not keep him from regarding himself as superior to her). In this scene, his behaviour is described as “in his haste to make everything right he had got most things rather wrong” (305) – a statement which may serve as a brilliant meta-comment on his story as a whole. Initially, he considers her inferior and of little importance to him (“He was satisfied [...] that this young lady might roughly have ranked in the house as a poor relation; satisfied also that she was [...] a part of the establishment – almost a working, a remunerated part”, 304); but, almost imperceptibly, their positions are changing, and it turns out that she is in fact superior to him in what might be referred to as ‘knowledge’ or ‘insight’ (even though the extent to which he sees through his initial misconception is open to discussion). This point leads to the question of the semantic fields which are established in the story. They can be described in two respects, which are closely linked with each other: on the one hand, as ‘ignorance’ vs. ‘knowledge’/‘insight’, on the other, as ‘lack’ vs. ‘fulfilment’ and ‘aloofness’ vs. ‘commitment’. At the beginning, both Marcher and Bartram are in the first sub-field: they share the conviction that the beast will come and agree to spend their lives waiting to learn about its nature, i.e. to cross the border. During the following years, particularly as she falls ill, the conviction grows in him that she has gained a knowledge which she keeps secret from him: “I’m only afraid of ignorance now – I’m not afraid of knowledge” (326). Even when she admits that this is the case – that what they have been waiting for has indeed happened – she refuses to tell him more about it and insists that he keep himself from wanting to know. In other words, she has already transgressed the border into the other sub-field of knowledge (i.e., about the nature of the beast), whereas he – aware that she has entered the new sub-field – is forced to stay behind. He then leaves her with the understanding that his fate – the decisive event in his life – may lie exactly in the fact that nothing will ever happen:

Henry James: “The Beast in the Jungle”


The change from his old sense to his new was absolute and final: what was to happen had absolutely and finally happened that he was as little able to know a fear for his future as to know a hope; so absent in short was any question of anything still to come. (334)

This insight, however, is not sufficient – at this point, it does not evoke any emotions but a stale disappointment (at the fact that, after all, he might not be as special as he believed himself to be); it does not (yet) cause him painful regret or sorrow to realise how much he has missed out on (not so much because the opportunity did not present itself as precisely because he did not act). Only later does he recognise “something he had utterly, insanely missed [...] He had seen outside of his life, not learned it within” (338). This semantic dimension of ignorance vs. knowledge of what is important in life is closely linked to the practice of living itself, the semantic sub-fields of aloofness and lack vs. (emotional) commitment and fulfilment. One can assume that May Bartram gains her knowledge as her life comes to a close without fulfilment; and it is this position, too, that allows her to evaluate her life (as well as that of Marcher) and draw a conclusion. The tragedy that constitutes the event thus lies in the full awareness that one has wasted one’s own life – at a point where it is already impossible to change that, because for Marcher, the chance is lost forever with May Bartram’s death. 3. Events and Eventfulness “The Beast in the Jungle” presents two events for the protagonist, one after the other, in accordance with the two dimensions of the semantic field outlined above. 13 With respect to the opposition ignorance vs. knowledge Marcher undergoes an eventful (cognitive) change immediately after May Bartram’s death (towards the end of part V), when he recognises that the long-awaited event may have consisted in the fact that nothing has happened and nothing will happen, in the absence of an eventful transformation (as quoted above). But this is not the last stage in Marcher’s development. So far, the focus has mainly been on the act of recognition and not so much on the relevance and meaning of what is recognised. This finally happens more than a year after May Bartram’s death, after Marcher’s return from a long journey, when he observes a fellow-mourner in the graveyard. He suddenly understands that he has irrevocably wasted his life by leading a withdrawn existence and avoiding _____________ 13

Cf. Heyns (1997: 119f.), who – somewhat similarly – distinguishes two “leaps” of the beast – Marcher’s unawareness of what has happened (nothing) during his penultimate visit to May and the dramatic recognition on May’s grave.


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all kinds of emotional involvement. By waiting for the unfolding of his self-created script, he has negated all other scripts which might have been realised, 14 especially establishing an intimate, unselfish love relationship with another human being as the basis and content of a meaningful existence. 15 Where should this event be ranked on the scale of eventfulness? How surprising is it for the reader? And how does this event relate to those of other stories by Henry James? For Marcher, the event consists in a sudden and shattering revelation: in a rather melodramatic climax, he sees “the Jungle of his life and [...] the lurking Beast” (340) and collapses on May Bartram’s tomb. For the reader, however, the insight is less surprising and therefore less eventful. Particularly the way in which Marcher is presented to the reader – self-centred and even conceited to such an exaggerated extent that the tone of the narration verges on irony – shows that there is a huge discrepancy between his self-image and his actual self as it is perceived by others, especially May, and this again prepares the reader for the fact that Marcher misses a decisive point. A number of images are alluded to again and again as the narrative proceeds. The repetitions add to the sense of foreboding, apprehension and suspense, yet they are interspersed with hints at what Marcher does not see. For instance, May Bartram already raises the question of love and passion during their first conversation (309f.); the suspicion that he misses something is mentioned in the third part: “it was failure not to be anything” (323) and immediately before her death: “It seemed to him he should be most lost if his history should prove all a platitude” (327). This again creates the impression that Marcher’s life fails not so much because his answer is so difficult to find, but because he is too blind to see it – which adds to the tragedy of the event as a whole. Even though the presentation of Marcher’s blindness and final recognition may seem exaggerated, the underlying theme is not ridiculed. Ultimately, Marcher’s apprehension of the beast, i.e. the problems of leading a fulfilled and meaningful life as well as, on a higher level, of narrating an eventful life story point to personal experience under the conditions of _____________ 14 15

Bell (1991) argues that a story with a negative result, lacking an event, is also a story: “The story disproves the idea that negativity can be maintained. It suggests that there is always a story, that in not writing one one writes another” (272). In terms of this final event, Marcher does not follow May Bartram, as the semantic subfields connected with this ultimate realisation can be described less in terms of ‘ignorance’ vs. ‘knowledge’, but of ‘aloofness’ vs. ‘emotional involvement’, and one might argue that, unlike Marcher, May Bartram has never been aloof – otherwise she would not have spent her life waiting with him as she did.

Henry James: “The Beast in the Jungle”


modernity. These modern aspects 16 include the threatening emptiness and meaninglessness of existence, the lack of reliable orientation because of the absence of an overarching meaning system (such as a religion) but also the self-intransparency, the self-delusion of the individual, the inability to understand one’s own drives and anxieties. “The Beast in the Jungle” and its overall structure – the definition of the semantic fields, the constellation of the character, their developments and transformations – show similarities with other stories by Henry James. The story’s focus lies on the protagonist’s obsession with getting to know a secret or solving some kind of mystery. Usually another character possesses the knowledge the protagonist is yearning for – yet refuses to share the insight or dies before being able (or willing) to do so, thus making the situation all the more vexing for the protagonist. In many cases of what Rimmon calls James’s “enigma narratives” (1977) the title of the story alludes to the mystery – either directly (as in “The Aspern Papers” or “The Lesson of the Master”) or to the image which represents it in the story (cf. “The Turn of the Screw”, “The Figure in the Carpet” or “The Beast in the Jungle”). All these stories revolve around the solution of the mystery (its revelation usually constitutes the event) and the endeavours of the protagonist to solve the mystery (usually with dramatic consequences) and recognise the event as an event, and they vary in the extent to which the reader is enabled to see more than the characters.

References James, Henry (2003). “The Beast in the Jungle”, in Tales of Henry James, ed. C. Wegelin & H. B. Wonham (New York: Norton), 303–40. ———— Bell, Millicent (1991). “The Inaccessible Future: ‘The Beast in the Jungle’”, in Meaning in Henry James (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 262–74. Heyns, Michiel W. (1997). “The double narrative of ‘The Beast in the Jungle’: ethical plot, ironic plot, and the play of power”, in Enacting History in Henry James: Narrative, Power, and Ethics, ed. Gert Buelens (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 109–25. Novick, Sheldon M. (1999). “Introduction”, in Henry James and Homo-Erotic Desire, ed. J. R. Bradley (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan), 1–23.

_____________ 16

See Pippin (2000). Bell (1991: 262) identifies the sterile, static condition of waiting as specifically modern, as in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Tambling (2000: 170f.) also describes the “fate of nothing happening” as “a modern condition” and refers to Marcher’s life as “the representative fate of ‘the man of his time’”.


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Pippin, Robert B. (2000). Henry James and Modern Moral Life (Cambridge: Cambridge UP). Rimmon, Shlomith (1977). The Concept of Ambiguity – the Example of James (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr.). Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky (1994 [1986]). “The Beast in the Closet”, in Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. R. B. Yeazell (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall), 154–70. Segal, Ora (1969). The Lucid Reflector: The Observer in Henry James’ Fiction (New Haven etc.: Yale UP). Smith, Virginia Llewelyn (1994). Henry James and the Real Thing (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan). Tambling, Jeremy (2000). “The Haunted Man: The Beast in the Jungle”, in Henry James (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan), 163–78.

10 James Joyce: “Grace” (1914) Peter Hühn 1. The Plot and its Normative Context: the Dominant Script The plot of James Joyce’s “Grace” 1 , from his collection of short stories Dubliners, concerns the spiritual, moral and social rehabilitation (through the benevolent intervention of his friends) of Tom Kernan, a middle-class businessman fallen into disrepute as a result of keeping bad company and drinking excessively. Although the semantic field in “Grace” is ultimately based on social norms, its division into sub-fields is constructed not so much as a clear hierarchy of two social classes (as is, e.g., the hierarchy of the middle and the upper class in Richardson’s Pamela), but rather as the opposition of exclusion and inclusion with respect to one class alone, the middle class, i.e. between being “outside” (in the sense of “beneath”) and “inside” the middle class. The boundary between these sub-fields is defined primarily by social and economic criteria such as financial solidity (lacking vs. possessing a reliable income as a businessman or a senior civil servant), reputation (disreputableness vs. respectableness) and integration (being isolated and rejected vs. being accepted and supported by friends). In addition, the boundary is symptomatically determined according to moral and religious categories in the form of undisciplined behaviour vs. moral integrity, dissolution vs. righteousness, reli-gious indifference vs. devout Catholicism. With respect to Kernan’s changing state, this opposition is illustrated in spatial terms as the contrast between lavatory and pub on the one hand and bedroom (in a bourgeois home) (144ff.) and church (157ff.) on the other. All in all, Kernan travels a double trajectory with two events, of sorts: first, a sequence of degeneration, set mainly before the beginning of the text, which ends in the negative event of an ultimate decline; secondly, a sequence of restoration î narrated in the course of “Grace” î with the implication of the equivalent positive event, the cancellation of the previous fall. The text opens with the final stage of the first sequence, the completion of Kernan’s prior downward movement from the higher to the lower sub-field, his fall from the status of middle-class respectability, _____________ 1

Joyce (1977: 13859); page references cited hereafter in the text.


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literally a drunken fall down the stairs of a pub into the lavatory and onto the filthy lavatory floor in a state of unconsciousness, which even arouses the suspicion of the police (13839). What the short story then goes on to narrate in detail is the process of Kernan’s return to a state of “grace”, his new rise and re-entry into respectable middle-class society – an upward movement deliberately engineered by his friends as Kernan’s conspicuous crossing back over a boundary and his public re-admittance into the community of respectable businessmen and devout Catholics, in the form of a religious retreat organised by the Jesuits. Thus the general frame of the story can be identified as social, the social status of the protagonist as well as all other figures and the social significance of the happenings. The specific movement, however, conforms to a religious script, the schema of penitence and redemption, “making him turn over a new leaf”, “making a new man of him” (143), and generally giving him a fresh start after his drunken fall. The title “Grace” is to be read as an allusion to this script – the hope for God finally granting redemption to the penitent sinner. In practical terms, Kernan’s friends base his planned process of (social) rehabilitation on the ritual (religious) script of the “retreat”, which devout Catholics should regularly take part in for spiritual re-adjustment and the cleansing of their sins and which involves, as they colloquially put it, “owning up” and “washing the pot” (cf. 149–50). Though Kernan’s transformation does not involve deviating from this positive script but conforming to it, this conformity nevertheless does qualify as eventful within the implied social and religious context (Catholic Ireland) because of its adherence to central (Christian) schemata of self-improvement and renewal against the powerful threat of the negative script of sinful decline and degeneration. One can ascribe a relatively high degree of eventfulness to this change because of the spiritual significance attached to the return of a repenting sinner to the fold. 2 The specific context within which this transformation through repentance figures as eventful is clearly referred to in the verbal utterances of Kernan’s friends when they talk about confessing their sins (“owning up”, 149–50), making Kernan “a good holy pious and God-fearing Roman Catholic”, and renouncing “the devil […], not forgetting his works and pomps” (156). The purported transformation is underscored in particular by the priest, Father Purdon, at the conclusion of the church “retreat”, in his sermon on the parable of the unjust steward, 3 which he ends by voicing the repentant sinner’s trust in God’s for_____________ 2


Cf. the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15: 11–32. This story of the son who, after squandering his inheritance abroad, returns home repentant and is joyfully welcomed by his father, is meant to illustrate God’s grace and loving forgiveness and always functions as a powerful script for Christians. Luke 16: 1–13.

James Joyce: “Grace”


giveness: “[… ] I have looked into my accounts. I find this wrong and this wrong. But, with God’s grace, I will rectify this and this. I will set right my accounts” (159). The text of this parable and Father Purdon’s interpretive rendering of it in his sermon represent a variation and corroboration of the script of repentance and redemption, which the friends have deliberately functionalised as their strategy for restoring Kernan. Thus, for Tom Kernan and his friends as well as, by implication, the community as a whole, the story ends with the public and therefore socially valid act of Kernan re-crossing the boundary into the second subfield of Dublin’s respectable middle-class society – a completed positive event clearly understood as a reversal of the negative fall at the beginning. 2. Subversions of Eventfulness Throughout this development, however, the text offers a number of cues to the reader that are apt to undermine the eventfulness – behind the characters’ backs, as it were. Firstly, the moral and social superiority of the second sub-field as represented by Tom Kernan’s eminent friends is invalidated by the fact that they all are revealed to be troubled by disreputable circumstances and financial problems which they are unwilling or unable to alter and which they try to conceal: Mr Power’s “inexplicable debts” (142), Mr Cunningham’s “unpresentable” wife, who is an “incurable drunkard” (145), Mr M’Coy’s clumsy habit of trying to remedy his precarious financial situation by borrowing and pawning (147). Mr Fogarty had “failed in business in a licenced house in the city” and now runs a small shop (152). Furthermore, the congregation during the retreat is shown to include Kernan’s disreputable and disloyal drinking companion, the shady moneylender Harford (158). 4 Secondly, the solemn claim of spiritual and moral transformation is subverted by the pervasive evidence of the friends’ and Kernan’s and also the priest’s fundamental worldliness and lack of genuine religious attitudes. For Mrs Kernan, for instance, a belief in the banshee and in the Holy Ghost are equivalent (145); the friends’ discussion about the history of the church, the popes and papal infallibility is shallow, boastful and full of ridiculous distortions (150ff.). 5 Kernan’s facetious wording of his rejection of a religious ritual betrays the superficiality of his participation in the retreat (“No, damn it all, […] I’ll do the job right enough. I’ll do the retreat business and confession, and […] all that business. But […] no can_____________ 4 5

See Norris (2003: 203f.). Cf., e.g., Kain (1969: 145f.) and Zwierlein (2003: 87f.).


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dles! No, damn it all, I bar the candles!”, 157). His use of words like “job” and “business” for the religious activities anticipates the commercial tenor of Father Purdon’s sermon. The priest is praised for his worldly attitude (“He’s a man of the world like ourselves”, 151), and his sermon does, in fact, endorse predominantly and exclusively secular values, something which is revealed by the choice of the parable of the unjust steward as his reference text, with its employment of money, commercial success and even fraud as metaphors of redemption (158–59). 6 The extent to which the isolation of certain of this notoriously difficult passage’s commercial images from their broader context leads to a serious falsification of the general drift of the parable shows in the fact that Christ’s concluding, unambiguous sentence is omitted: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” 7

Moreover, this association or even equation of spiritual and commercial values both in the priest’s sermon and in the businessmen’s attitude implies Calvinist rather than Catholic tendencies 8 and thus, ironically, further undermines the validity of the supposed religious transformation. 9 Thirdly, the entirely superficial quality of Kernan’s change is underlined by the pointedly non-religious, colloquial use of the word “grace” throughout the story. 10 Instead of expressing his desire for God’s loving forgiveness and his own spiritual salvation, this term primarily refers to his newly cleaned hat. In accordance with Kernan’s maxim from his former state of respectability before his fall (“By the grace of these two articles of clothing [i.e. a silk hat and a pair of gaiters], he said, a man could always pass muster”, 142), his recovery is reductively reflected in the material transformation of his silk hat from its dirty and battered condition on the lavatory floor at the beginning (138–39) to its “rehabilitated” appearance at the end (158). When the priest finally mentions the term “grace” in his sermon (“with God’s grace, I will rectify this and this. I will set right my accounts”, 159), it is reduced almost to a colloquial expression, and be_____________ 6 7 8 9 10

Norris (2003: 204) points out that the parable “functions as both mirror and moral model for these men who survive commercial failure by shrewdly manipulating loans, debts, favors, bribes, and other exchange transactions”. Luke 16: 13. Cf. Schneider (1982: 54) and esp. Zwierlein (2003: 90). For a detailed discussion of the complex meaning of this parable, cf. Schneider (1997: 27179). This aspect of Protestantism seems to be more significant in this context than the tendencies of Protestant liberalism and gentlemanliness which Hodgkins (1995) detects in the story. Another technique of subverting the seriousness of Kernan’s conversion, as Zwierlein (2003: 8693) has argued, is the pervasive parody of the Jesuit spiritual exercises. Cf. Schneider (1982: 55).

James Joyce: “Grace”


sides, the phrase has been contaminated by its pervasive association with something so quotidian as elegant outward appearance and rings entirely hollow. The sarcastic implication of reductiveness also applies to the title of the short story and thus calls into question the eventful plotdevelopment as a whole. 11 And fourthly, the succession of the three spatial stations in Kernan’s reformation – from falling down in the pub lavatory via the recovery in his bedroom to the reception into the community of the retreat – can be read as an intertextual allusion to the script of Dante’s Divina Commedia: 12 the ascent from inferno via purgatorio to paradiso – a further ironical subversion of the seriousness of Kernan’s reform. 13 3. Context and Eventfulness When combined, these various signals suggest to the reader 14 that the superior values of the second sub-field (in opposition to the first), on which Kernan’s planned rehabilitation is meant to rely for its eventfulness – moral integrity, religious seriousness, social respectability, financial solidity – are no longer intact and do not really still exist among the community which he is about to re-enter. The friends’ dialogues in the course of their plot and the information about the characters provided by the narrator reveal these values to be generally eroded by commercialism, hypocrisy, corruption and superficiality. In reality, Kernan does not cross a boundary at all, but basically stays within the same sub-field in which he first appears as fallen, merely undergoing a change in degree and altering his outward appearance. The text of the short story invalidates the connection of the projected change to the context that makes it possible, a religiously serious, morally upright and economically sound middle-class society, activating instead a different kind of context: the petty-bourgeois, bigoted, self_____________ 11 12 13 14

This technique of surreptitiously undermining the serious meaning of the happenings through the ironic use of style and allusion or innuendo is pervasive in “Grace”, as Kain (1969) has shown in detail. This is from Stanislaus Joyce’s (1958: 225) interpretation of “Grace”, which has been accepted by numerous critics, e.g. Kain (1969: 146ff.). Although this intertextual allusion conforms to the same basic structure as the underlying penitence-and-redemption script, it gains a decidedly ridiculous effect by coupling Dante’s grand cosmological design with the trivial and sordid places of contemporary city life. Cf. Schneider (1997: 268), who stresses the cognitive discrepancy between characters and reader as a pervasive technique of Dubliners: “Joyce uses the satirical strategy of letting the characters expose themselves, and challenges the reader to form his or her own judgment”. See also Leonard (2006: 97f.). Norris (2003: 207ff.) attributes complicity with “worldliness and bourgeois snobbery” to narrator and text, thus missing Joyce’s indirect, ironic technique of criticism.


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conceited urban society of Dublin at the turn of the century, as Joyce sees it. 15 The short story builds up the expectation and notion of a decisive event only to unmask it as superficial and hollow: in this kind of society, no eventful change is possible. 16 “Grace” thus refers to two contexts, i.e. concepts of the contemporary social order, and accordingly features eventfulness at two levels: on the one hand, the diegetic level of the characters and their consciousness, with their reliance on the notion of a consolidated, vital middle-class community and its moral as well as financial integrity and, on the other, the extradiegetic level of the narrator together with, by implication, the reader, for whom the middle class in Dublin is characterised by stagnation, paralysis and corruption, by the hollowness of its morality and religion. That Kernan’s eventful change is “plotted” by the friends within the story (“[Kernan] was quite unconscious that he was the victim of a plot”, 144, cf. 145) essentially undermines its relevance. Kernan remains completely passive (“a victim”), even facetiously rejecting part of the role prepared for him (“barring the candles”). The detailed narration of the friends’ plotting allows the reader to see through Kernan’s intended change and recognise it as manipulation, which qualifies it as superficial and relative. To the characters – both Kernan and his friends – the event seems valid; for the narrator and the reader, however, nothing really takes place. 4. The Problem of Eventfulness Eventfulness must be conceived of not as an absolute, but as a relative quality – relative not only to the context(s), but also to the central point of reference within the narrative set-up, whether this point of reference is ascribed to character, narrator, author or reader. While Richardson’s Pamela, for instance, possesses a homogeneous structure, since its eventfulness is endorsed by the novel as a whole and on all of its various narrative levels, “Grace” turns out to be heterogeneous: the status of the event established on one level is surreptitiously subverted on others, which may be taken as a sign of the short story’s modernity and its place in modernist _____________ 15


Cf. Schneider (1982: 25ff.) and Leonard (2006: 92ff.) for a general reference to Joyce’s severely critical assessment of the paralysing situation in Ireland, which underlies the whole of Dubliners. Prominent sources for this reconstruction are, e.g., Joyce’s letters in connection with the publication of Dubliners (see below) and his essay “Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages” of 1907: see Mason & Ellmann (1959: 15394, esp. 172ff.). This kind of stagnation is generally characteristic of Dublin and Ireland in the entire collection of Dubliners, symbolically foreshadowed by the word “paralysis” on the opening page of the first short story, “The Sisters” (1977: 7).

James Joyce: “Grace”


literature. Just as eventfulness is not a textual property but depends on appropriate contextual correlations, so the non-occurrence of an event in “Grace” has to be interpreted with reference to the relevant context (the stagnant state of middle-class society and the stifling role of Catholicism in contemporary Ireland, in Joyce’s critical assessment). Clues in the text, as pointed out above, help to direct the reader’s attention. Whereas, in the prototypical example of Richardson’s novel, the event is located primarily on the level of the happenings, as an event in the happenings, in Joyce’s short story, it has to be ascribed to the level of the implied authorial meaning and is, consequently, on the level of reception – a reception event. The reader is meant to recognise the failure of the event to actually occur with respect to the protagonist of the story and to perform it vicariously in his or her own mind, as it were, i.e. to mentally overcome the paralysing stagnation in the social situation depicted and acknowledge the need for a fundamental change, for an eventful transformation. 17 Incidentally, Joyce stated this aim explicitly in the letters to his publisher, Grant Richards, when defending the exact wording of his stories (which he calls “my chapter of the moral history of my country”) against moral censorship: “I fight to retain them [the exact words of the original composition] because I believe that in composing my chapter of moral history in exactly the way I have composed it I have taken the first step towards the spiritual liberation of my country.” 18 And: “I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilisation in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished lookingglass.” 19 Thus, “Grace” ultimately does, in fact, refer to an event, although the eventful transformation remains a virtual one as far as the narrative world of the text is concerned. 20

_____________ 17 18 19 20

Leonard (2006: 97f.) gives a general description of the severe cognitive limitations of the protagonists in Dubliners, which the reader is meant to overcome in his or her mind. Gilbert (1957: 62f.): letter dated 20 May 1906. Gilbert (1957: 64): letter dated 23 June 1906. The other possible events in this kind of stagnant society seem to be total collapse (as in the short story “Eveline”) or total rejection through emigration and exile (as envisaged in Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man).


Peter Hühn

References Joyce, James (1977 [1914]) “Grace”, in Dubliners, ed. with notes by Robert Scholes (Frogmore & St. Albans: Triad / Panther), 138–59. ———— Gilbert, Stuart, ed. (1957). Letters of James Joyce (London: Faber & Faber). Hodgkins, Hope Howell (1995). “‘Just a little … spiritual matter’: Joyce’s ‘Grace’ and the Modern Protestant Gentleman”, in Studies in Short Fiction, 32: 42334. Joyce, Stanislaus (1958). My Brother’s Keeper, ed. Richard Ellmann (London: Faber & Faber). Kain, Richard M. (1969). “Grace”, in Clive Hart, ed. James Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’: Critical Essays (London: Faber & Faber), 13452. Leonard, Garry (2006 [1990]). “Dubliners”, in The Cambridge Companion to James Joyce, ed. D. Attridge (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 87102. Mason, Ellsworth & Richard Ellmann, eds. (1959). The Critical Writings of James Joyce (London: Faber & Faber). Norris, Margot (2003). “Setting Critical Accounts Aright in ‘Grace’”, in Suspicious Readings of Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’ (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Pr.), 197215. Schneider, Ulrich (1982). James Joyce “Dubliners” (München: Fink / UTB). – (1997). “Cruxes and Grace Notes: A Hermeneutic Approach to ‘Grace’”, in New Perspectives on ‘Dubliners’, ed. Mary Power & Ulrich Schneider (Amsterdam & Atlanta: Rodopi), 26793. Zwierlein, Anne-Julia (2003). “‘Chuck Loyola’: James Joyces Exorzismus der Ejercicios Espirituales in ‘Grace’, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man und Ulysses”, in Arcadia, 38: 7798.

11 Joseph Conrad: The Shadow-Line: A Confession (1917) Peter Hühn 1. The Structure and Segmentation of the Story The unnamed protagonist of Joseph Conrad’s tale The Shadow-Line 1 narrates the decisive event of his life – taking over his first command as a captain of a sailing ship – focusing exclusively on the development and ultimate completion of this event, omitting all that went before and came after. The tale presents this eventful change – both literally and metaphorically – as a boundary crossing, as indicated by the title and again at the beginning of the text (3). Crossing this boundary is achieved in the end, but only after extreme difficulties and long delays have been overcome. The happenings are mediated by the protagonist himself, in the first person, in the form of an autodiegetic retrospective narrative, as a “confession” (as the subtitle suggests). This focus is significant because the event is conditioned specifically by the protagonist’s shifting cognitive and active attitude to the situation and the changes to it, i.e. by his understanding of what is happening and his active or passive involvement in it, which is conveyed by the doubled temporal perspective in the process of narration. The retrospectivity of the autodiegetic narrative position consistently contrasts the limited view of the youthful, experiencing self with the later comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the older, narrating self. This double perspective highlights the fact that although the protagonist, even in the course of living through the happenings, was generally aware of the meaning of the changes, it is only with the (psychological and temporal) distance of retrospection that he is fully able to recognise their eventful relevance. The concrete happenings can be reconstructed as follows. In a sudden life crisis, overcome with deep feelings of “boredom”, “weariness” and “dissatisfaction” (4), the youthful narrator abruptly, and without clear reasons, resigns as chief mate of a steamship in Singapore. While waiting at the Officers’ Home for an opportunity to return to England, he happens to learn – in a roundabout way and particularly through the mediation of _____________ 1

Page references, to Conrad (1950), are cited in the text.


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Captain Giles (a retired, knowledgeable sailor) – of the vacant command of a sailing ship, whose previous captain had died and which is to be taken back to England from Bangkok. The narrator signs the contract for the command and travels to Bangkok. The ensuing passage of the sailing ship, under his command as captain, from Bangkok southwards through the Gulf of Thailand is severely hindered by a persistent calm and by the illness of the crew. Through his own ceaseless personal efforts, assisted by the willing but extremely weakened crew, and at long last driven by a breeze that sets in after seventeen days at sea, the narrator ultimately succeeds in getting the ship to Bangkok, where he obtains medical care for his men, before he can set off for England with a fresh crew. 2. The Difficulty of Crossing the Boundary In his narration, the narrator explicitly structures and semanticises these happenings as eventful by means of the concepts of the boundary and boundary crossing, i.e. as a decisive change for him, as the result of overcoming strong opposition. On the level of navigation, the boundary is described in spatial terms, figuratively with the word “shadow-line” (title, 3, 37) and geographically – according to the superstitious opinion of the first mate Burns – with the exact calculation of the position of the previous captain’s sea grave at “latitude 8°20Ȩ North” (82, 86, 118). And indeed, the course of the happenings does finally and definitively turn around at this location, something marked by Burns’s provocative laugh, the relighting of the binnacle lamp and the awakening of a breeze (119ff.): “The barrier of awful stillness which had encompassed us for so many days as though we had been accursed was broken” (121). This is merely an external indication: the crossing of the boundary does not occur at one isolated point in time but is stretched out as an eventful process across the entire text 2 ; temporally, from the moment of leaving the steamer in Singapore to the final arrival of the sailing ship at this very place, and spatially in sailing through the Gulf of Thailand from Bangkok to Singapore 3 . This extreme extension of the act of boundary crossing is caused by the accumulation of practical difficulties in the course of the happenings. The story consists of a series of obstacles and the successive efforts on the part of the protagonist to overcome them. Even before the challenge of _____________ 2 3

Cf. Watt’s (2000: 156ff.) comments on the expression “shadow-line”. The harbour, which is not named, where the narrator resigns at the beginning of the narrative, is identical with Singapore, the staging post for the sailing ship on her way to England. This is made clear by the reference to Captain Ellis and Captain Giles after the arrival in this harbour at the end (130ff.).

Joseph Conrad: The Shadow-Line


taking the ship through the Gulf can be confronted, a first obstacle occurs in the form of an intrigue to prevent the narrator from taking command of the sailing ship in the first place (17ff.). The Chief Steward of the Harbour Office tries to conceal the offer of the command from the protagonist in favour of a rival, Hamilton. In spite of increasingly clear signals, the protagonist does not realize that this opportunity is available. It is only after Captain Giles has brought the offer and the intrigue to his attention that he finally understands (28, cf. 37f.) and becomes active, forcing the Chief Steward to give up the information, then contacting the Harbour Office and signing the contract. A further complex of difficulties arises when the narrator takes command on board the ship (52ff.): the initially hostile attitude of Burns (who himself had aspired to the captain’s position), the incompetence of the second mate and especially the malaria infection of the crew. This means that the captain is also forced to take on the tasks of the two mates and even, partly, of the crew, staying on deck practically all the time, until he is completely exhausted. The malaria epidemic turns out to be more serious still when the protagonist discovers after a few days that the old captain had secretly sold the entire stock of quinine, which makes the medical treatment of the men during the voyage impossible. The third form of resistance encountered by the protagonist is the prolonged calm (78ff.) that badly delays the progress of the ship. And, fourthly, the old captain presents another serious obstacle to the progress and the success of the voyage in addition to selling the stock of quinine: the curse on the ship and the magical blockage, as it were, of the passage across the latitude of his sea grave (86), asserted and conveyed by Burns’s superstitious fear and mad ramblings. In a more abstract and symbolic sense, the difficulty associated with the old captain consists in the unprofessional and partly even criminal behaviour of the protagonist’s immediate predecessor, which proves a severe burden on the successor in the performance of his duties as master of the ship. Overcoming these successive obstacles is made possible in practical terms by the protagonist’s seamanship, his leadership qualities, his personal commitment, his physical stamina and his persistence, in combination with the support by others (especially Captain Giles), the willingness of the crew, the loyalty of Ransome the cook and Burns’s laugh at the decisive moment, as well as by the traditional solidarity in emergency situations at sea, as experienced on arrival in Singapore. It is obviously essential for the success of their undertaking that individual competence and unreserved personal dedication are still reliant on the assistance of others, the community, as expressed in the epigraph: “worthy of my undying regard”, which refers to the willing cooperation of the crew in spite of their incapacity through illness.


Peter Hühn

3. Frames, Scripts and Semantic Fields The fact that the (intermediate) destination of the voyage – Singapore – is identical with the original point of departure emphasises the ultimately non-spatial quality of the decisive change and its relevance to the course of the protagonist’s life: he arrives at a point where he had been before, but changed, as another person. It is only from his position as a narrating self looking back at this past phase of his life that he is able to define and sum up the fundamental transformation in abstract terms. The narrator’s introductory remarks imply specific schemata for the meaning of the ensuing sequence of happenings, which stress from the very start that the tale is to be read not as a sea and adventure story but in a universalising or symbolic sense as a story of initiation, coming of age and proving oneself in the transition from youth to adulthood. 4 The frame (“the period of life”, 3) and the script (individual development from youthful dependence to adult independence) are named more or less explicitly at the beginning in the form of a travel metaphor: “One goes on [...] till one perceives ahead a shadow-line warning one that the region of early youth [...] must be left behind” (3). This process of growing up is presented as the individual manifestation of a universal human experience: “It is the charm of universal experience from which one expects an uncommon or personal sensation – a bit of one’s own” (3) and is thus valid for man in general (“all mankind had streamed that way”, 3). This process of maturing and initiation involves, as shown by the subsequent development, the casting off of naïve illusions and the gaining of experience in the real world, including its malice and wickedness, for instance in the Chief Steward’s intrigue and the old captain’s corruption, an educational process that Captain Giles thematises at the end (131f.).5 The special frame for the individual development is essentially defined in terms of a profession, that of the sailor. This frame is connected with the script of the professional career, the promotion from lower to higher positions. The protagonist gives up the subordinate post of a first officer on a steamship and takes over the position of a captain on a sailing ship, _____________ 4


For a detailed description of this aspect, cf. Hawthorn (1985: vii ff.), see also Goonetilleke (1990: 121), Watt (2000: 156, 163, 166). This generalising aspect is also expressed in Conrad’s dedication to his son: “To Borys and all others who like himself have crossed in early youth the shadow-line of their generation”. For a counter-position, see Guerard (1958: 29î33), who psychoanalytically interprets the happenings as a night-journey into the self. The few critics who discuss this tale at all describe the process of initiation, growing up and taking on the “first command” more or less sweepingly in general, sometimes symbolic, terms, e.g. Boyle (1965: 14353); Schwarz (1982: 823); Hampson (1996: 14142); Peters (2006: 10910). In his detailed analysis, Nüstedt (1998: 25873) draws a close analogy between the protagonist’s development and the structure of anthropological initiation rites.

Joseph Conrad: The Shadow-Line


thus rising to the highest stage of his professional career. This rank does not only require particular leadership qualities but also considerably raises the technical demands on his professional competence: sailing vessels are more difficult to navigate because of their greater dependence on external factors (weather, crew); in addition, they represent a very traditional, a more archaic and, as it were, purer type of the profession. The rise from a subordinate position to the leading role as prescribed by the career script occurs in two steps: first, formally taking on the position of a captain and, second, practically and actively proving one’s qualification for this task. While the protagonist owes the occupation of this post mainly to the efforts of others (esp. Captain Giles), performing the requisite duties constitutes an active achievement on his part. Professionally as well as personally, the actual phase of crossing the boundary consists – as it does very often in Conrad’s work – of a test as the central point of the script 6 . The narrator must prove both his nautical competence and his moral strength, i.e. his ability to direct the crew and the navigation of the ship as well as his physical and psychological stability, his moral integrity, his understanding and sense of responsibility for others, a challenge of which he is acutely aware: “the time was approaching for me to behold my command and to prove my worth in the ultimate test of my profession” (48, cf. 41). The narrator does pass this test in the end and the story accordingly presents a successful positive boundary crosssing in the form of personal and professional accomplishment. The achievement of professional self-confirmation is also to be seen in another, more specific frame of reference, that of personal identity 7 . The narrator defines himself essentially through his professional role and a strict code of professional ethics: I discovered how much of a seaman I was, in heart, in mind, and, as it were, physically – a man exclusively of sea and ships; the sea the only world that counted, and the ships the test of manliness, of temperament, of courage, and fidelity – and of love. (40)

The formation of his identity is accompanied by a high degree of selfawareness (55). When, in a conversation about the former captain, Burns mentions the profession they share, the narrator reflects: “He and I were sailors. That was a claim, for I had no other family” (70). As stressed in the quotation above, this is a markedly masculine concept of identity (“test of manliness”). The gender-specific dimension of his conception of identity is repeatedly thematised by the narrator; for example, when he describes his relation to his ship as that between lover and beloved: “I was _____________ 6 7

Cf. Watt (2000: 167) and Hawthorn (1985: xii). Cf. Hawthorn (1985: xii).


Peter Hühn

like a lover looking forward to a meeting” (46, cf. 49). Although this identity has to prove itself in the struggle against the non-human, mostly hostile environment of the sea, it is essentially constituted in the social dimension: meeting the expectations of others, not only as role-model and leader with regard to the community of the crew (see 52ff., 63f., 109), but also specifically as a link in the chain of former captains. The narrator consciously continues the chain of his predecessors (“a succession of men”, 52) and expressly sees himself as an heir of something like a dynasty, with the concomitant demands on his bearing: [...] myself [...] this latest representative of what for all intents and purposes was a dynasty; continuous not in blood, indeed, but in its experience, in its training, in its conception of duty, and in the blessed simplicity of its traditional point of view on life. (53)

On account of the explicit reference to tradition and the adherence to conventional values and standards, this is an emphatically pre-modern concept, which is underlined, moreover, by the political comparisons (with monarchy and aristocracy) in the description of the captain’s position: “In that community [i.e. the crew] I stood, like a king in his country, in a class all by myself. I mean an hereditary king, not a mere elected head of a state” (62). The narrator is in no doubt, however, that this privilege has to be earned by achievement and justified by competence. Lotman’s plot model and his concept of the semantic field provide a means of relating the eventfulness of these changes in the narrator’s professional career and his personal identity to the historical context, and of specifying their relevance in philosophical terms and in regard to the history of mentalities. The two phases of the progression in the narrator’s life, with respect both to his profession and to his identity, can be described as an opposition between two sub-fields in the following terms: youthful vs. adult, immature vs. mature (as to personal development and education: 3î5, 47), dependent vs. independent, not fully responsible vs. fully responsible (as to professional competence and position: 28, 33f., 40f., 44, 63f.), self-orientated vs. community-orientated (as to interpersonal relations and morality: 40, 63f.), unstable vs. stable (as to personality status: 109). These various juxtapositions represent binary pairs of values, norms and standards of behaviour that share the underlying common abstract opposition of imperfect vs. perfect or incomplete vs. complete. This opposition of semantic sub-fields manifests itself in the protagonist’s (changing) practical behaviour in relation to the norms of his environment. The development starts with his spontaneous dissociation (by resigning) from his previous connections (“I had never […] felt more detached from all earthly goings on”, 19) and his resultant mobility in the first sub-field, obviously out of youthful dissatisfaction and impulsiveness

Joseph Conrad: The Shadow-Line


(“the green sickness of late youth”, 5; “rebellious discontent”, 8), and it ends with the newly gained stability of his new professional role and his integration into the genealogy of his predecessors. The protagonist’s specific movement between the two sub-fields thus defined is embedded – on a higher, mental level – in a fundamental transformation of his worldview and his existence, from a severe life crisis to its ultimate resolution. The story starts off with his rash, rationally unmotivated act of leaving his ship in Singapore (4), a symptom of a severe dissatisfaction with his present situation and of an acute sense of universal futility and void: “everything was gone – glamour, flavour, interest, contentment – everything” (5), “[t]he past eighteen months […] appeared a dreary, prosaic waste of days. […] there was no truth to be got out of them” (7). His situation is marked by a pervasive sense of emptiness and absence: he lacks personal ties, aims, incentives; he is an outsider encountering nothing but criticism and incomprehension from others (6, 8, 14). And in the subsequent course of the happenings, especially during the passage through the Gulf on board his ship, the protagonist is confronted over and again with the experience of emptiness, nothingness, and chaos, with the impression of a meaningless, threatening, hostile world. He talks about “the enigmatic tranquillity of the immense forces of the world” (76), interprets “the stress of adversity” as “purposeful malevolence” (86f.) and perceives “an effect of inconceivable terror and of inexpressible mystery”, “that sense of finality” and “a foretaste of annihilation” (108) – experiences which, in an ironic reference to the biblical story of God’s creation of the world, he declares as typical of human existence in general: “the formidable Work of the Seven Days, into which mankind seems to have blundered unbidden” (97). This feeling of profound despair vis-à-vis the incomprehensibility and immovability of the world is alluded to in the epigraph, the closing lines from a sonnet by Charles Baudelaire: “D’autres fois, calme plat, grand miroir / De mon désespoir” (3) 8 . The protagonist’s sequence of actions, his transition into a second sub-field, consists in proving his mental ability to withstand this fundamental threat to, and questioning of, his personal existence, and to defend himself against it. Herein lies the philosophical dimension of the eventful change and definition of the sub-fields. In a crucial sense, professional self-confirmation and competence, i.e. the work ethic and the fulfilment of one’s duties, are set against the threatening void and chaos, against the _____________ 8

The quotation is from “La musique”, Les Fleurs du Mal, Spleen et Idéal LXIX. The poem describes the variable impressions when listening to music in the form of an extended seavoyage allegory, tracing especially the sudden change from smooth sailing propelled by wind to the despair at a calm, which the speaker experiences as a mirror of his own self, of his self-consciousness.


Peter Hühn

danger of despair. 9 When he first lays eyes on the ship, the narrator declares: “That feeling of life-emptiness which had made me so restless for the last few months lost its bitter plausibility, its evil influence, dissolved in a flow of joyous emotion” (49). During the desperate struggle against the adversities of the voyage, he realizes: “The seaman’s instinct alone survived whole in my moral dissolution” (109). And a helmsman’s unperturbed act of steering the ship is described as “a symbol of mankind's claim to the direction of its own fate” (76). Very significant in this respect is the formulation the narrator uses when he first perceives the chance of obtaining a command: “[…] as soon as I had convinced myself that this stale, unprofitable world of my discontent contained such a thing as a command to be seized, I recovered my powers of locomotion” (28). The allusion to Hamlet (I, 2: 133î37) in this phrase refers to profound nihilistic despair as a constitutive feature of the first sub-field, which the protagonist opposes by actively accepting the professional challenge, thereby establishing a second sub-field. 10 4. Contextual References and the Degree of Eventfulness The setting as such, i.e. sea and ship, implies a general contextual reference in that the navy, as well as the merchant navy, as in Conrad’s tale, possessed a consistently special significance for English national identity up to the beginning of the 20th century (and beyond) 11 , which enhances the quasi-symbolic relevance of the happenings and the eventfulness. In addition, the setting of a sailing ship surrounded by the sea intensifies the degree of eventful self-confirmation inasmuch as this situation is apt to increase the challenge to human faculties as well as the risk of failure with serious consequences for one’s existence. References to specific contexts of The Shadow-Line are to be seen, on the one hand, in the conception of the inherent meaninglessness of the world and, on the other, in the emphatic counter-position of professionalism, the work ethic and a strong sense of duty; more particularly, the British maritime code. 12 The sceptical view of a world without a meaningful order and without God, the pessimistic notion of the powerlessness of _____________ 9 10

11 12

Cf. Hawthorn (1985: xviii ff.). As Hawthorn (1985: xi) points out, the tale contains further allusions to Hamlet, which reflect the protagonist’s situation somewhat like an – intertextual – script: perception of malice in the world, the pressure of responsibility, stagnation and despair. In contrast to Hamlet, the story of Conrad’s protagonist has a positive ending. Cf. Goonetilekke (1990: 94f.). Cf. Schwarz (1982: 84ff.).

Joseph Conrad: The Shadow-Line


man’s will and rationality, which is generally typical of Conrad, can be linked to certain philosophical and ideological tendencies around the turn of the (19th) century, the early modernist period in literary history 13 (esp. Thomas Hardy and George Gissing). The high work ethic as a norm providing stability and identity draws on certain traditions in English Protestantism, which are clearly secularised in Conrad. Since the dynamic of the plot development results from the opposition between these two conflicting tendencies or forces (the individual vs. the environment), the eventfulness of this story can be determined with reference to these contexts in the history of mentalities. The sceptical, nihilistic world view counts as modern, likewise the counter-measure of defiantly stabilising the self, relying on professional competence and insisting on personal identity. 14 But the explicit definition of this identity on the basis of an integration into an older tradition and the orientation on an inherited code are premodern, which is corroborated here by the decision to opt for a sailing ship as opposed to steamships and the use of aristocratic terms for the description of the captain’s position, as well as by the belief in moral integrity and the possibility of eventful self-confirmation against the forces of chaos. 15 The degree of eventfulness of the progression from adolescence to adulthood is normally not very high, as it is expected and normal. In The Shadow-Line, however, this degree is considerably raised by the accumulation of difficulties. On the level of the plot, it is further increased by counter-plots that seek to prevent the protagonist from crossing the boundary. Apart from the Chief Steward, this goes particularly for the figure and the behaviour of the old captain, the protagonist’s predecessor, who functions, in several respects, as an obstacle to the crossing: practically, through the theft and sale of the quinine; symbolically and psychologically by implying the latent danger of failure and degeneration (cf. 107). He represents the protagonist’s threatening counter-image, which reveals the inherent corruptibility both of maritime professionalism and of moral integrity: constantly playing the violin and violating his duty, neglecting the care of his crew and endangering their lives with risky and destructive orders, selling the quinine, finally even cursing ship and crew. The other figures, too, highlight the structure of the action sequence by contrast or analogy. 16 Burns parallels the narrator’s development in his gradual physical and mental recovery. At the same time, he functions as a negative mirror-image for the protagonist, as a first mate in the protago_____________ 13 14 15 16

Cf. Watt (2000: 3ff.), Miller (1965: 27ff. and passim) and Miller (1963: 1î16). Graham (1996: 215ff.). Cf. Graham (1996: 204f.). Cf. Schwarz (1982: 90ff.).


Peter Hühn

nist’s former position and also as a (failed) rival for the captain’s post on account of his physical weakness, jealousy and irrationality. Ransome, too, mirrors the narrator’s course of action, positively in his admirable competence, conscientiousness and loyalty, negatively in his weakness (his heart condition): at the end he reprises the act of resignation with which the narrator’s further development had set in. But, in Ransome’s case, this departure is for good. Captain Giles is a helper and a mentor figure, both initiating the protagonist’s development and acting as a standard of judgement for its ultimate completion (131f.). For a further specification of the particular form of the boundary crossing in The Shadow-Line, it is finally necessary to point to the conspicuous mixture of active and passive aspects of the protagonist’s participation in these changes. On the one hand, this achievement is ultimately due to his competence, persistence, integrity and stamina, that is to say, to his intentional action. But on the other hand, the tale (i.e. the implied author) provides strong evidence of the limitation of the protagonist’s active control and the impact of non-rational and non-conscious forces and factors. He is only partly aware of the motives for his own behaviour; moreover, the impulses for his development frequently come from the outside, and in some instances, especially at the beginning, he proves unable to assess situations correctly or to recognise the opportunity for, or necessity of, action: he leaves his position as first officer impulsively, without explanation; he does not see through the Steward’s intrigue against him, so that Captain Giles has to draw his attention to both the offer of a command and to his aspirations (17ff.); he forces the information out of the Steward spontaneously and without a clear plan (25). He refers to notions of miracle and destiny in connection with obtaining his first command: “that day of miracles” (35), “the feeling of wonder î as if I had been specially destined for that ship I did not know, by some power higher than the prosaic agencies of the commercial world” (36). Furthermore, the magic blockage of the ship’s passage by the old captain, superstitiously conjured up by Burns, as well as its equally magic resolution through his provocative laugh are to be considered further examples of the superior power of circumstances and of the world overruling human will. Even though he rejects Burns’s superstitious beliefs as foolish and denies the existence of supernatural influences (86), the protagonist sees himself at the mercy of forces beyond his control in view of the inexplicable obstruction of the ship’s movement: “I felt on my face the breath of unknown powers that shape our destinies” (62). He uses such notions not only in a negative, but later also in a positive sense:

Joseph Conrad: The Shadow-Line


By the exercising virtue of Mr. Burns's awful laugh, the malicious spectre had been laid, the evil spell broken, the curse removed. We were now in the hands of a kind and energetic Providence. (125)

With the term “Providence”, the narrator draws on the traditional Calvinistic concept of God foreseeing and thus predetermining men’s lives, of men’s utter dependence on God’s grace. Man is not presented as master and director of his own destiny – he appears to react rather than act. Yet without his persistent and competent actions, the eventful crossing would not have been achieved. In the face of a world without meaning and order, reason proves to be an imperfect but nonetheless indispensible instrument for understanding and ordering one’s living circumstances as well as for recognising one’s own motives and directing one’s life. One example is the negligence in checking the medicine chest: the narrator could not see the necessity of a careful inspection, which he reproaches himself for later, though he is acquitted by Burns (95). The protagonist’s limited cognitive and practical power over his life is pervasively thematised in the text, as mentioned above, by the double perspective of the experiencing self (e.g. in the literal quotations from his diary) and the later narrating self. 17 It is only retrospectively that the protagonist is fully able to understand himself and constitute the coherence of his life. Herein can finally be seen the function of narration in The Shadow-Line: the (narrative) look back at a decisive phase of his life (“a confession”) serves the narrator as a definition of his identity. He narrates how he became the person he now is. He defines his individual identity on the basis of this eventful change.

References Conrad, Joseph (1950). The Shadow-Line: A Confession. Within the Tides (London: Dent). ———— Boyle, Ted E. (1965). Symbol and Meaning in the Fiction of Joseph Conrad (London etc.: Mouton). Goonetilleke, D. C. R. A. (1990). Joseph Conrad: Beyond Culture and Background (London: Macmillan). Graham, Kenneth (1996). “Conrad and Modernism”, in J. H. Stape, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 20322. Guerard, Albert J. (1958). Conrad the Novelist (Cambridge: Cambridge UP).

_____________ 17

Cf. Schwarz (1982: 89).


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Hampson, Robert (1996). “The late novels”, in J. H. Stape, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad (Cambridge: Cambridge UP), 140î59. Hawthorn, Jeremy (1985). “Introduction”, in Joseph Conrad. The Shadow-Line, ed. J. Hawthorn (Oxford: Oxford UP), viiîxxv. Knowles, Owen & Gene M. Moore (2000). Oxford Reader’s Companion to Conrad (Oxford: Oxford UP). Miller, J. Hillis (1963). The Disappearance of God; Five Nineteenth-Century Writers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP). – (1965). Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth-Century Writers (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP). Nüstedt, Holger (1998). Joseph Conrads Seegeschichten: Variationen des anthropologischen Initiationskonzepts (Frankfurt/Main etc.: Lang). Peters, John G. (2006). The Cambridge Introduction to Joseph Conrad (Cambridge: Cambridge UP). Schwarz, Daniel R. (1982). Conrad: The Later Phase (London: Macmillan). Watt, Ian (2000). Essays on Conrad (Cambridge: Cambridge UP).

12 Virginia Woolf: “An Unwritten Novel” (1921) Peter Hühn 1. The Arrangement of Stories In Virginia Woolf's short story, “An Unwritten Novel” 1 , the narrator 2 presents an account of a train journey in June 1919 3 , apparently from London through Surrey and Sussex to Eastbourne, in the course of which she becomes interested in and observes a fellow passenger in her compartment, an elderly woman, whom she arbitrarily names Minnie Marsh, imagining her life story and spinning out its details. 4 The text thus combines two stories situated on different levels: the narrator tells one (invented, fictitious) story about a real character (real in the story world) and at the same time, by doing so, performatively enacts another one – the ongoing act of narrating the invented story, an act which functions as a story in its own right, with the narrator herself as a protagonist. The arrangement of these stories – more precisely, the mediation of the story of narration – undergoes a significant change, however, in the course of the text. At the beginning, the act of narration is reported in the past tense, as a factual anecdotal experience the narrator had in the past. But, in the course of this presentation, the tense very soon slides from past to present, 5 so that, during the second (major) part of the text, the impression is _____________ 1 2




References are to the following edition: Woolf (1962). This story was first published in 1921. There is a somewhat hidden reference to the female sex of the narrator towards the very end of the text. After having helped the fellow passenger with her luggage onto the platform, the narrator is addressed as “ma’am” by her: “I’ll wait by my bag, ma’am, that’s safest. He said he’d meet me ... Oh, there he is! That’s my son.” (26). This date is indicated by the news items in the Times quoted by the narrator: “Peace between Germany and the Allied Powers was yesterday officially ushered in at Paris – Signor Nitti, the Italian Prime Minister [...]” (14). Since Nitti was the Italian Prime Minister from June 23, 1919 to May 21, 1920, this item can only refer to the signing of the peace treaty on June 26 1919 and not to the opening of the peace talks on January 18, 1919. It goes without saying that this is a clear case of unreliability on the part of the narrator. See, e.g. Fox (1973: 76). This fact as such is less relevant, however, than the motivation, structure and presentation of unreliable narration within the narrative setup of the short story. The shift occurs at the bottom of p. 16.


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created that the telling of the story is simultaneous not only with the reported happenings but also with reporting the act of telling. In the first part of the short story one can distinguish three narrative levels. The extradiegetic narrator recollects and narrates her train-journey, during which she herself as a mental narrator (on the diegetic level) invented a story, which, as such, is situated on the hypodiegetic level. In the second – longer – part, these three levels are reduced to two. Seemingly without mediation, the narrator (extradiegetic level) enacts the creative invention of the story, which is then to be considered as the diegetic level. So, while it is clear that, throughout the text, the overall (extradiegetic) narrator is making up and telling her story (the “unwritten novel”) mentally, to herself alone, the mode of communicating this mental process changes. What begins as a conventional retrospective narrative turns into the imagination of an on-going mental process, thus foregrounding the process of narrative invention. This text is essentially modernist in that the operation as well as, by implication, the motivation of inventing and narrating a story are self-reflectively thematized (at the extradiegetic level); specifically, in respect of the tension and interaction between reality and fiction, between life and imagination. Both storylines, the life story ascribed to the fellow passenger and the process of narrative imagination during the train journey, feature eventful turns and rely on specific frames and scripts. 2. The Structure of the Invented Story The narrator’s account of the train journey (the extradiegetic story of narration) is focused entirely on making up a story about the fellow passenger in her compartment and ascribing it to her, 6 situated – as described above – first at the hypodiegetic, then at the diegetic level. The narrative process is triggered by the “expression of unhappiness” (14) on the face of the “poor woman”, something which immediately attracts the narrator’s attention, because she takes this expression to reveal a deep knowledge of the fundamental nature of “life”, apparently disappointment, sorrow and suffering, what she terms “human destiny”, a painful experience people have gained (“learnt”) in the course of their lives and which they usually try to conceal. This woman, however, or so the narrator imagines, refuses to conceal such knowledge, unreservedly communicating it to the narrator, who is able to understand because she shares the knowledge: “She seemed _____________ 6

This is an example of what Virginia Woolf has called “character-reading” in her essay “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”, which she considers central to novel writing. See Woolf (1950).

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to [...] say to me: ‘If only you knew!’. [...] ‘But I do know,’ I answered silently” (14). So the narrator senses a silent rapport, spontaneously established between herself and the fellow passenger, which even penetrates her attempts to protect herself against it behind the newspaper she is reading: “The Times was no protection against such sorrow as hers. [...] She pierced through my shield” (15). What the narrator refers to in this way forms the abstract structure of a general script, which, she assumes, underlies all life stories and which is defined by the event of a negative development, an experience of disappointment, disillusionment and failure, consisting of the basic transition from innocence to experience and resulting in unhappiness. The cognitive outcome of having undergone this experience is the appropriate knowledge about life’s bitter reality, a knowledge which, according to the narrator, all people share. On the basis of this abstract script, the narrator then proceeds to reconstruct the woman’s life story, using her desultory and inconclusive utterances about a brother and a sister-in-law in Eastbourne to extrapolate, in a highly speculative manner, a biographical tale with a catastrophe or failure as the central event, the evidence of which she deduces specifically from the characteristic twitch of the woman’s arm scratching a spot on her back: “Her twitch alone denied all hope, discounted all illusion” (15). To fill in the gaps and the circumstantial details of this story, the narrator furthermore relies on certain conventional frames and scripts taken from realist fiction. She first names the characters (Minnie Marsh, her brother John and sister-in-law Hilda, their children Bob and Barbara) and imagines the scene of Minnie’s arrival at her brother’s house and the uneasy atmosphere between her and Hilda, her withdrawal into the guest room to pray to God and, later, her walk along the beach. She then takes the woman’s gesture of rubbing a stain from the compartment window (“a stain of sin”, 18) as her cue to speculate on the kind of “crime” Minnie has committed (“I have my choice of crimes”, ibid.), rejecting the possibility of a “sex”-related deed (as out of character) and opting for making her responsible for a serious accident that happened to her baby brother twenty years ago (who was scalded because she came home late, having lingered over the display in a fashion shop), for which she tries to do penance by praying: “your crime was cheap, only the retribution solemn; for now the church door opens, the hard wooden pew receives her” (19). This tragic construction is only briefly disrupted by an incongruent, trivial, mundane remark on the part of the woman about the price of eggs (20), which temporarily induces the narrator to give up her event-based storyline (20). The tragic event-schema, however, is so powerful that the narrator quickly integrates the incongruent remark and initiates a new turn in the story by introducing commercial travellers in the household (“behind


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the ferns”, 21), specifically one James Moggridge, who “takes his meals with the Marshes” (22), something considered a necessity “if the story’s to go on gathering richness and rotundity, destiny and tragedy, as stories should” (21). No clear and consistent plot development emerges but some unhappy entanglements between Moggridge and Minnie (and possibly Hilda) are hinted at rather vaguely, as well as painful problems in the Moggridge household and Moggridge’s ultimate disappearance, which, again, are taken as evidence of “life’s fault”: “Life imposes her laws; life blocks the way; life’s behind the fern; life’s the tyrant” (22). The emphasis is then again on Minnie’s tragic situation, her humiliation by Hilda, her suffering and profound unhappiness (“It’s the spirit wailing its destiny”, 24), finally heading for another severe, crucial turn: “Here’s the crisis! Heaven be with you! Down she goes. Courage, courage! Face it, be it!” (25). In these variously renewed attempts at constructing a story and ascribing it to the woman passenger, the narrator obstinately clings to the basic script with its eventful tragic turn, fleshing it out with (situational) frames and scripts taken from recent realist fiction, 7 especially from domestic settings and family arrangements with internal tensions in conventional middle-class households. These socially specific schemata are indicated by the reference to ferns and aspidistras (21), the emblematic plants of (petty-) bourgeois houses, to the motif of aged spinster aunts, to suppressed tensions between family members, especially problems with dependent relatives, to commercial travellers as a typically middle-class vocation. The eventfulness of these tragic turns is of a low degree since the narrator considers such experience as universal, expecting to see evidence of it in every adult person and trying to find repeated instances of it in Minnie’s life. When, at the terminus in Eastbourne, the elderly woman is met by her son and they walk down the street side by side (“mysterious figures”, 26), the imposed narrative schema is radically disproved, a painful realization for the narrator: “I am confounded”, which she at first refuses to acknowledge (“Surely, Minnie, you know better! A strange young man … Stop!”, ibid.), because her world-view and her identity were apparently based on this schema: “my world is done for! [...] What do I know?” [...] Who am I? Life’s bare as bone” (ibid.). This sudden final disruption of the tragic turns in the invented story possesses a high degree of eventfulness for the narrator because of the radical deviation from her customary expectations. She may be given to fantasizing about the lives of other peo_____________ 7

Cf. Engler (1987: 400f., 404ff.); Lojo Rodríguez (2002: 75, 78).

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ple, but there is no indication that such a subversion of her fantasies is a repeated experience. 3. The Story of Telling the Invented Story The process of inventing and narrating this story about the woman passenger (a real person within the story world) constitutes – as mentioned above – another story (on the extradiegetic level). But this superordinate story is only partly narrated in the narrow sense, i.e. mediated by a narrator in the past tense; for the most part, it is performed directly through the utterances of the protagonist in the present tense. From the very beginning, the transition from narrative mediation to performative enactment is made almost imperceptible by the extensive use of quoted impressions, speculations and mental exclamations. 8 This story also features an eventful change, but one of a different kind and within a different frame. Whereas the invented story complies to the (pre-conceived) script of a universal pattern of life-experience as invariably resulting in disappointment or failure, thus ranking relatively low on the scale of eventfulness, the performed story becomes highly eventful through the sudden (unexpected) disruption of the life-story attributed to the woman in the compartment. The two stories differ first of all in their frames. While the invented story is thematically framed as dealing with the nature and experience of “life” (a term prominently introduced at the very beginning of the text 9 ), the theme of the superordinate story concerns the relation between (narrative) fiction and real life or, more generally, the aesthetic concept of fictional narration, in other words, the novel (as also indicated by the title “An Unwritten Novel”). Within this frame, the narrator changes her orientation in the course of her reflections and mental utterances, namely from a pre-conceived script, which is that of certain conventional types of realist fiction 10 , towards a focus on factual, ordinary life, as observed experientially. Thus, though this may seem a shift from an eventful type of narrative to an uneventful one in one respect, from a (conventionally) spectacular script with extraordinary happenings to ordinary, everyday life, that change of orientation, in itself, constitutes an event on a _____________ 8

The shift ultimately begins with “Hilda’s the sister-in-law [...]” (16), because from this paragraph onwards the present tense is used exclusively. 9 “Life’s what you see in people’s eyes; life’s what they learn, and, having learnt it, never [...] cease to be aware of – what? That life’s like that, it seems” (14). 10 See footnote 7.


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higher level, an eventful break with an inappropriate conventional notion of life, something which ranks high on the scale of eventfulness. This superordinate story of narration, both before and after the break, is given definite shape by two opposing and conflicting tendencies that highlight certain aspects of its creation, mediation and status. Firstly, it is made quite obvious from the start, and intermittently during the rest of the train journey, that the narrator-protagonist speculatively invents the story about her fellow passenger and freely ascribes it to her. 11 This projective quality of the story is underlined by a number of metafictional remarks she makes about its formation and progress, e.g. “But this we’ll skip” (17), “I have my choice of crimes” [i.e. for Minnie] (18) and “[...] if the story’s to go on gathering richness and rotundity [...]” (21). The arbitrary, inventive status is further stressed by a number of contradictions and grotesque, ironic or parodic features introduced into the narrative. One of these contradictions concerns the date of the train journey. Although the early quotation of a news item from the Times provides a very precise date, namely June 27, 1919, the day after the signing of the Versailles peace treaty with Germany (14) 12 , the narrator soon afterwards claims to have forgotten what time of year it was (“the time of year, which was, I forget now, early or late”, 15) only to mention the “winter’s landscape” (16) a little later. The comparison of God to the bearded South African President Kruger (of Transvaal) is grotesque and openly playful: More like President Kruger than Prince Albert – that’s the best I can do for him [Minnie’s God]; and I see him on a chair, in the black frock – coat […] I can manage a cloud or two for him to sit on […] (18).

When the woman peels an egg, the narrator describes the broken eggshell as “fragments of a map” and takes off on a wild flight of fantasy: I wish I could piece them together! If you only would sit still. She’s moved her knees – the map’s in bits again. Down the slopes of the Andes and white blocks of marble got bounding and hurtling, crushing to death a whole troop of Spanish muleteers, with their convoy – Drake’s booty, gold and silver. But to return – […] (21).

And the imaginative creation of the character Moggridge is highlighted by the drastically physical assemblage of the parts of his body: I come irresistibly to lodge myself somewhere on the firm flesh, in the robust spine, where I can penetrate or find foothold on the person, in the soul, of Moggridge the man. The enormous stability of the fabric; the spine tough as whalebone, straight as oaktree; the ribs radiating branches; the flesh taut tarpaulin; the

_____________ 11 For a description of various aspects of this tendency, cf. Engler (1987: 399ff., 406f.), also Dölle (1971: 61î68). 12 See footnote 3.

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red hollows; the suck and regurgitation of the heart; while from above meat falls in brown cubes and beer gushes to be churned to blood again – and so we reach the eyes. (22f.)

Secondly, in direct contrast to such indications of fictionality, there are pervasive suggestions of the independent reality of character and story, mainly in the form that the narrator does not know everything about the character but has to guess and ascertain, and that she is not wholly in control of the development, and that the course of the happenings assumes a reality and a dynamic of its own. 13 On several occasions, she peers at the woman she calls Minnie in order to find out (“read correctly”) facts about her life as if about an independent reality. So she says at the beginning: “I read her message, deciphered her secret, reading it beneath her gaze” (16); later, she tries to identify the kind of crime she committed (18) but then corrects herself, allegedly realizing that there was no crime (20). When Minnie’s life story seems to run on a particular track, a casual utterance of hers suddenly leads the development in a completely different direction: That’s what always happens! I was heading her over the waterfall, straight for madness, when like a flock of dream sheep, she turns t’other way and runs between my fingers. (20)

Later, the narrator seems forced to acknowledge the commercial travellers (“the figures behind the ferns”) as part of the story: “There I’ve hidden them all this time in the hope that somehow they’d disappear, or better still emerge, as indeed they must [...]”, 21). Towards the end of the train journey, the narrator sees the moment of crisis approaching, narrating Minnie’s imminent encounter with her hostile sister-in-law in urgent, serious tones: Here’s the crisis! Heaven be with you! Down she goes. Courage, courage! Face it, be it! For God’s sake don’t wait on the mat now! […] I’m on your side. Speak! Confront her, confound her soul! (25)

The resistance of the happenings to the narrator’s conscious attempts at controlling the story proves particularly strong at the end of the train journey, when the woman is met by her son and the narrator desperately, but unsuccessfully, tries to reject this turn of events. This resistance to control not only tends to background the extent of creative projectiveness and arbitrary speculation on the part of the narrator but also enhances the degree of eventfulness of the final debunking of the invented story. These two opposing tendencies serve to make the invented story ambivalent, endow it with emotional and existential urgency and, at the same time, expose its artificiality and constructedness. In addition, there is a _____________ 13 Cf. Engler (1987: 404f.); Bouton (2004: 177, 179).


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pervasive psychological force at work that strengthens the impression of seriousness and existential relevance partially inherent in the story: the personal motivation on the part of the narrator, 14 who obviously empathizes with the elderly woman or, rather, projects her own personality and disposition onto her, apparently a profound unhappiness as well as experience of disappointment and failure (presumably also in sexual terms), something she sweepingly subsumes into the term “life”.15 This is revealed from the very start, when she identifies the experience and attitude in the other passengers’ eyes as “life” (“Life’s what you see in people’s eyes”, 14), claiming a similar knowledge for herself (“‘But I do know,’ I answered silently”, 14). Later, she imitates a compulsive gesture of the woman, interpreting it as the attempt to remove a guilty stain: “she had communicated, shared her secret, passed her poison” and “I read her message, deciphered her secret, reading it beneath her gaze” (16). And in the end she sums up this affinity: “I’ve read you right – I’m with you now” (25). The pervasive communicative attitude of addressing the woman and ascribing all observations and speculations directly to her also seems indicative of the strong emotional affinity which she perceives with her. 16 These tendencies shape and modify the invented story up to its eventful collapse at the moment of arrival, when the waiting son radically disproves its suitability. This eventful turn suggests a hidden second meaning in the title: the novelistic invention of Minnie’s life story becomes “unwritten” in the course of the text. In the final analysis, the superordinate story shares one important feature with the invented story: the moment of disillusionment, thus bringing the two levels closer together and possibly undermining the newly found reality. Furthermore, the narrator knows as little about the woman as a mother and her son as she previously knew about her as a solitary passenger. Although she does not spin out another story (yet), her approach is emphatic and projective, too, when she calls them adorable and mysterious, seeing them as representative of their type (“mothers and sons”, 26, in the plural) and following a “ritual”, “the ancient antics” (26). In this way, the narrator draws on a traditional pattern _____________ 14 Cf. Engler (1987: 398f.). 15 Fox (1973) sees the indirect self-revelation of the narrator’s personality (the “hidden protagonist”) as the main point of the story, thereby missing, however, its subservient function for the complex narrative setup of “An Unwritten Novel”. 16 With Luhmann’s (1998: 4650) concept of observation, this focus on the narrator’s invented story can be described as second-order observation: the story becomes contingent and its structure, driving force, and meaning – including its eventfulness – can be traced back to personal dispositions and desires on the part of the narrator (rather than to the “factuality” of the story).

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for interpreting the figures and endowing them with meaning. A different meaning is now constructed and also projected onto the figures. 4. Levels and Forms of Eventfulness Virginia Woolf’s “An Unwritten Novel” features two different types and degrees of eventfulness and arranges them in a hierarchical relationship to one another. The lower (the hypodiegetic) level, that of the invented story or “unwritten novel” as spun out by the narrator, presents an event in the happenings, which is based on a specific script claimed to be universally valid for all life-experiences (“life”), with an inherent negative turn in the form of guilt or disappointment, disillusionment, failure and profound unhappiness. Since the event is supposed to occur necessarily in the course of people’s lives, it is expected and thus ranks relatively low on the scale of eventfulness. As the setting, the characters and the circumstances of this story suggest, the frame of this script and the context of this event is realistic or, perhaps more precisely, naturalistic fiction, 17 which, with a strong emphasis on surface realism and a preference for certain conventional tragic or comic plots, shows people to be determined by their social origins and outward living conditions, their psychological dispositions and narrow, bourgeois family relations. The aesthetic convention defining this context assumes that such a picture of life and living is representative of contemporary social reality. The title “An Unwritten Novel” refers to this novelistic pattern and it is shown to be so strong that it determines the narrator’s perception of even her everyday surroundings. The context of the eventfulness can thus be identified as the conventions of the novel after the turn of the century, as Virginia Woolf sees them, dominated by writers like Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells and John Galsworthy. 18 The invented story basically conforms to this convention, although certain parodic, contradictory or grotesque features, as pointed out above, foreground the story itself and produce a distancing, subtly disruptive effect. The same context functions as a background for the story of narration on the higher level and its eventfulness, but, this time, the development radically deviates from the script in rejecting it altogether. The devia_____________ 17 Cf. Engler (1987: 400, 403, 407ff.). 18 See Virginia Woolf’s essays “Modern Fiction” (1919), in Woolf (1950), and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” (1924), in Woolf (1993), where she argues for the centrality of character in the “modern” concept of the novel, focusing on experience, impressions, feelings, the spirit, which she declares closer to life and sees represented, for example, by James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence and E. M. Forster.


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tion is twofold: instead of the expected negative event, consisting of crisis and catastrophe, a situation apparently of happiness and fulfilment is now presented (not frustrated and humiliated spinsterhood and loneliness, but fulfilled and possibly happy motherhood); and, instead of eventful changes in a life’s development, ordinary, everyday life, devoid of eventful turns. This is a presentation event, with a relatively high degree of eventfulness. What the two storylines and events have in common is the general focus on life, the emphatic claim to be concerned with the fundamentals of living existence. At its core, the event in the story of narration consists in the total rejection of a literary conception of life in favour of the actuality of lived experience, which is concomitant with a shift from conventionally eventful change to the uneventful ordinariness of life. Accordingly, the short story ends with the wholehearted acceptance of what is presented as ordinary life. 19 But this is not the last word, the final position of the text. It is suggested by the wording and the emotional intensity (“adorable”, “it’s you I embrace”, 26) of the narrator’s description of the departing pair, mother and son, that – in spite of the fundamental difference from literary convention – there are also some important similarities. The utterances are, again, addressed to the protagonists; the narrator is as intensely emotionally attached to the characters as before; she knows as little about the woman as a mother as she did about her as a spinster. Now, however, she is aware of this lack of knowledge (“mysterious figures”, “unknown figures”, 26). And, importantly, the literary or aesthetic quality is, as it were, foregrounded, when she speaks of falling on her knees and refers to the “ritual, the ancient antics” she is going through (26): it is not just the neutral presentation of ordinary life but its emphatic, quasi-religious staging. Thus, it is ultimately made clear that this is not a case of literature (literary convention) being replaced with raw life as such, but one literary concept with another, 20 a traditional with a modern or modernist one. 21 Since the narrator does not seem to realize this, the reader’s insight into the basic continuity of literary features from one concept to the other one may be called a reception event. _____________ 19 Cf. Joubert (1999), who reads this short story as “the ordinary stuff of the modernist experimentation with metafictional iconicity” (149) and sees in the collapse of the invented story the “unwriting” of narrative knowledge, the “parody of craftsmanship” and the “irruption of the Real” (150f.), i.e. no more than the debunking of literary conventionality. 20 This point is indicated by Lojo Rodríguez (2002: 79). 21 “An Unwritten Novel” is usually seen in close association with the beginning of Virginia Woolf’s modernist phase of writing, starting with Jacob’s Room (1922). Cf. Engler (1987: 393f.).

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References Woolf, Virginia (1962 [1944]). “An Unwritten Novel”, in A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (London: Hogarth Press), 14-26. – (1950). “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”, in The Captain’s Death Bed and Other Essays (London: Hogarth Press), 90î111. – (1993). “Modern Fiction”, in The Crowded Dance of Modern Life: Selected Essays. Vol. II (London: Penguin), 5î12. ———— Bouton, Reine Dugas (2004). “Woolf and Welty, Readers and Writers, Writing and Unwriting”, in Literature and the Writer, ed. Michael J. Meyer (Amsterdam: Rodopi), 175î90. Dölle, Erika (1971). Experiment und Tradition in der Prosa Virginia Woolfs (München: Fink). Engler, Bernd (1987). “Virginia Woolfs ‘An Unwritten Novel’: Realistische Erzählkonventionen und innovative Ästhetik”, in Anglia, 105: 390î413. Fox, Stephen D. (1973). “‘An Unwritten Novel’ and a Hidden Protagonist”, in Virginia Woolf Quarterly, 1 (4): 69î77. Joubert, Claire (1999). “Literary Unknowing: Virginia Woolf’s Essays in Fiction”, in Theory and Literary Creation / Théorie et création littéraire, ed. by / texts présentés par Jean-Pierre Durix (Dijon: Éditions Universitaires), 145î59. Lojo Rodriguez, Laura Maria (2001). “Parody and metafiction: Virginia Woolf’s ‘An Unwritten Novel’”, in Links and Letters, 8: 71-81. Luhmann, Niklas (1998). Observations on Modernity, tr. W. Whobrey (Stanford: Stanford UP).

13 D. H. Lawrence: “Fanny and Annie” (1921) Markus Kempf D. H. Lawrence’s short story “Fanny and Annie” 1 narrates the return of the 30-year-old Fanny to the lower-class environment of her parents’ home after an absence of 12 years in order to marry her first love, the foundry worker Harry Goodall. The event structure of the story is constituted by the succession of the protagonist’s two life plans or scripts. In the course of her life, the protagonist’s attitude changes radically: from social and cultural aspirations to orientation focus on love and sexuality, which now provides the basis for her decision to marry Harry. In concrete terms: after the disappointment of her original aspirations regarding social advancement, Fanny is compelled to return to her geographical, social and personal roots, a necessity which runs counter to all her desires but which she finally comes to acknowledge as having been the right solution all along. Thus, the story presents first a failed, then a successful border crossing. The heterodiegetic narrator focuses predominantly on the process and the completion of the protagonist’s second, successful crossing of the social border, while her past history is only briefly summarized and her future life after the present decision entirely omitted. The event consists in Fanny’s change of attitude and her consent to a marriage with Harry, a decision taken spontaneously and impulsively against strong internal and external obstacles and not as the result of rational deliberations. This is an event in the happenings, i.e. the crucial change of state occurs on the diegetic level, first and foremost in the protagonist’s mind but with significant consequences for her outward social situation. 2 _____________ 1 2

Edition used: Lawrence (1972: 45872). There are only a few critical studies of this particular short story by Lawrence. The studies by Widmer (1962: 125 ff.) and Secor (1969: 395 ff.) are both rather short and only address some aspects of the story. While Widmer judges Fanny’s decision in favour of marrying Harry negatively in the sense of a fatalistic return to the social and moral ignorance of the working class (cf. 126), Secor interprets the specific style of the story as an implication of the exact opposite, namely not the acceptance of the personal fate but the emancipation from it.

D. H. Lawrence: “Fanny and Annie”


1. Fanny’s Change of Attitude: from Social Aspirations to the Orientation on Love and Sexuality Fanny’s original life plan can be reconstructed from her past history as summarized at the beginning of the narrative. The frame can be defined as an individual’s social position and identity within the class-system and the corresponding script as social advancement. Fanny bases her life plan on success and ascent, i.e. on social and cultural values and ideals; and she strives to escape from the frustrating narrow living conditions of the lower class and to lead a fulfilled and happier life. Inspired by the example of her successful and ambitious cousin Luther, with whom she had been in love as a young girl, she breaks out of her parents’ lower-class environment at the age of 18 to seek a fulfilling middle-class life in different surroundings. This biographical plan  if successfully put into practice  would be considered as highly eventful, since the class boundary between the lower and the middle classes was still largely impermeable at the beginning of the 20th century, especially for women, even though not to the same extent as in the 18th and 19th centuries. The degree of eventfulness is somewhat reduced, however, in as much as she attempts to reach this aim not through personal achievement, e.g. by having a professional career, but conventionally by means of a partnership (with Luther). As the narrator reports in an analepsis, Luther later left her and died. Relationships with other men from a similar social background did not succeed either and in terms of a career she was only able to reach the low position of a “lady’s maid” (459), so that her attempt at a new life in a middle-class environment ended in failure, that is to say, the boundary between the semantic fields of the lower and the middle class proved impossible for her to cross. In this situation, Fanny considers returning to her home town and marrying Harry as the only way to a secure existence. Initially, she finds this unacceptable for several reasons. On account of her long absence she now defines her identity on the basis of middle-class norms and values and accordingly feels out of place in her old environment: “she had become a stranger” (460). Further obstacles to a happy marriage are the social and cultural differences caused by their differing biographies. While Fanny sets great store by education, achievement and thrift, Harry lives for the moment, does not save any money and lacks ambition (cf. e.g. 462ff.); in contrast to her, he still speaks the regional and class-specific dialect (cf. 464f.); she dresses elegantly and is appreciative of good manners, comfort and beauty, whereas he appears common, inconsiderate and ungainly (cf. 462ff.).


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All in all, Fanny perceives her return and the prospect of marrying a worker as a failure of her original career plans, as a disillusioning relapse into the paralysing conditions of her past: What a come-down! What a come-down! She could not take it with her usual bright cheerfulness. She knew it all too well. It is easy to bear up against the unusual, but the deadly familiarity of an old stale past! (460).

Moreover, a cautionary example of such an option is introduced in the form of Fanny’s aunt Lizzie, who married a socially and intellectually inferior, violent man and therefore leads an unhappy life. Aunt Lizzie tells Fanny in no uncertain terms that she considers marrying Harry a gross error: “I don’t think he’s good enough for you” (461). Against this background, however, a contrary tendency is introduced that eventually results in the eventful ending: Fanny’s spontaneous and instinctive decision to marry Harry and, in conjunction with this, her reintegration into the family structure and social organization of the working class (cf. her concluding request to Harry’s mother to be accepted into her home). This contrary tendency rests on a re-definition of the relevant schemata, a new frame: focusing on the sensual dimension of human existence, especially sexuality and sexually fulfilled love; and relying on the corresponding script: the process of striving for the experience of sexual love and finding the appropriate lover. 3 The specific coupling of social and erotic schemata in Fanny’s chosen path represents the exact reversal of the script of Pamela’s career in Richardson’s novel: 4 While Pamela achieves her social rise from the lower class to the aristocracy by means of virtue and puritanical sexual abstinence, Fanny moves exactly in the opposite direction, returning to the lower class and entering a relationship which is essentially based on sexuality. Lawrence stresses both the structural analogy and the directional difference between these two female life stories by giving Fanny the same occupation as Pamela (“lady’s maid”, 459) as the point of departure for her development. As for Fanny’s change of attitude, the reader can follow the course of her growing awareness of erotic longings which culminates in the decision to give in to her powerful physical attraction to Harry and live in a sexually fulfilled marriage with him. 5 This decision is not the result of a rational deliberation process but a pre-rational instinctive change of her consciousness. This new frame of sensuality and sexuality replaces the _____________ 3 4 5

Cf. Secor (1969: 396f.). This intertextual reference was not necessarily deliberately intended by Lawrence. - Cf. the detailed analysis of Richardson’s Pamela on pp. 63î73 of the present volume. Cf. Widmer (1962: 125).

D. H. Lawrence: “Fanny and Annie”


previous frame of social status, which has governed Fanny’s past history; that is to say, she defines her identity increasingly through the reference to a new set of values: her focus shifts from success, social recognition and high status (“culture”) to sensuality, physicality and sexuality (“nature”). 6 As a consequence, the subdivision of the semantic field into “working class” vs. “middle class”, which had structured the plot so far, is now superseded by the new oppositions “sexually unfulfilled” vs. “sexually fulfilled”, “alienated” vs. “authentic”, “unhappy” vs. “happy”. After Fanny’s change of attitude, the working class, previously devalued as backward and paralysing, is now upgraded by its association with sensuality, physicality and vitality. At the beginning of the text the sexual frame is merely implied but then becomes increasingly more explicit: the story stages the liberation of Fanny’s sexuality from its latency. In the opening scene, Fanny’s arrival at the station, her hidden erotic longings are obliquely expressed in her description of Harry’s face with fire images, which carry archaic sexual connotations and present him almost as a mythic archetype of sexuality: “Flame-lurid his face”, “[h]is eternal face flame-lit now!” (458). These images are possibly also to be taken as an indication of the physicality, experientiality and vitality of the industrial working world (Harry works in a foundry). Another indication of the latent presence of the sexual dimension in the past is the fact that Fanny returns to her origins at all and contemplates marrying Harry. At first the story seems to suggest that Fanny’s escape from the working class has simply failed and no other solution is available. This does not explain, however, why she had stayed in contact with Harry all through the 12 years, apparently repeatedly encouraging his hope of an eventual relationship: “She was a lady’s maid, thirty years old, come back to marry her first-love, a foundry worker: after having kept him dangling, off and on, for a dozen years.” (459, emphasis added). Obviously the protagonist is attracted to Harry from a latent deep desire but cannot consciously admit this to herself. Subsequently, the motivation behind Fanny’s actions, her passion for Harry, becomes clearer: first in her description of his warm and likeable character (“But women always liked him. There was something of a mother’s lad about him – something warm and playful and really sensitive”, 462); then in her appreciation of his unselfishness, his charming ways, his sensibility as well as his habit of making women feel superior (cf. _____________ 6

For the general relevance of the difference between “nature” and “culture” in Lawrence’s work, see Burns (1980).


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462); and finally in her open admission that she cannot resist his sexual attractiveness: Because there was about him a physical attraction which she really hated, but which she could not escape from. He was the first man who had ever kissed her. And his kisses, even while she rebelled from them, had lived in her blood and sent roots down into her soul. After all this time she had to come back to them. And her soul groaned, for she felt dragged down, dragged down to earth, as a bird which some dog has got down in the dust. She knew her life would be unhappy. She knew that what she was doing was fatal. Yet it was her doom. She had to come back to him. (465f.) Ah, she despised him! But there he stood up in the choir gallery like Balaam’s ass in front of her, and she could not get beyond him. A certain winsomeness also about him. A certain physical winsomeness, and as if his flesh were new and lovely to touch. The thorn of desire rankled bitterly in her heart. (466)

At that time Fanny’s feelings for Harry are still ambivalent. On the one hand, his sexual attractiveness appears to her as a fate which will interfere with the free development of her personality and generally prove disastrous for her (see especially the dog/bird comparison). On the other, she allows for the possibility that she may be mistaken in her negative assessment. This is conveyed by the allusion to the biblical story of Balaam’s ass (Numbers 2224). In this story the prophet Balaam sets out  contrary to God’s express command  on a journey to preach against Israel and is thrice saved by his donkey, who sees more than he does (God’s angel blocking his way and threatening to kill him). Associating Harry with the animal implies Fanny’s belief that he will protect her against dangers she is unable to see and guide her in the right direction, even though she at first considers her response to his sensuality a mistake and despises him for his sensual nature. The protagonist’s change of attitude is advanced by two decisive incidents. The first incident occurs in the episode when Fanny listens to Harry singing in church (466f.). This passage highlights the aspects of emotionality, sensuality and the pre-rational that are crucial to Fanny’s development. Harry’s singing, because it is received directly through the senses, affects Fanny as an unfeigned and therefore more authentic form of communication which touches her profoundly: “it was effective and moving” (466). The text of the song Harry sings, a well-known harvest hymn, carries additional significance for Fanny’s development and her relation with Harry: Come, ye thankful people, come, Raise the song of harvest-home. All is safely gathered in Ere the winter storms begin. (465)

D. H. Lawrence: “Fanny and Annie”


With its metaphors of nature, fertility and sexuality the hymn also refers to the completion of partnership and love between Fanny and Harry. On the whole, Lawrence is extremely critical of puritanical Protestantism with its depreciation of sensuality and appreciation of achievement because of its detrimental effect on the posssibility of leading an erotically fulfilled authentic life. It is therefore highly ironic that Lawrence uses Christian holidays, songs and rituals here (the harvest festival) to convey his emphatically anti-puritanical conviction. Fanny’s change of attitude is completed only after the second incident, which occurs in front of the church when Harry is accused by Mrs Nixon of having made her daughter Annie pregnant. The central importance of Annie, who never actually appears in the story and features merely in the narratives of others, is stressed by the mention of her name in the title. The fact that their names are phonetically both similar and dissimilar mirrors the correspondence and difference in their situations. On the one hand, Annie presents a kind of model for Fanny since she openly and selfconfidently lives out her sexuality (see Harry’s remark on Annie’s various affairs and her retort). On the other, Annie is a rival for Harry’s favour and thus forces Fanny to come to a quick and definitive decision: despite the scandal in the church she accompanies Harry home out of “obstinacy” (470). Annie practically functions as a catalyst for Fanny’s development in that she has a strong impact on the pre-rational dimension of her personality without being affected herself. After a last rebellion (cf. 470) Fanny’s internal development is finally completed, when she addresses Mrs Goodall as “Mother” and thereby signals her willingness to marry Harry. The overall plot of “Fanny and Annie” possesses a circular structure: The story stages the “homecoming” of a protagonist that has gone astray to her original (instinctive-sexual) needs and to her first lover, who can fulfill these needs. 7 That this is the story of a woman’s return to her archaic-instinctive nature is indicated early on, when the narrator characterizes Fanny as “a passionate woman”, as “a woman to be afraid of. So proud, so inwardly violent! She came of a violent race” (460f.). In retrospect, such characterizations serve as early indications that Fanny had always had a disposition towards passion, emotion, and sexuality but had been blind to this, her true inward nature, because of her illusory orientation on the cultural ideal of social advancement, which through the name of its representative within the story, Luther, is clearly associated with _____________ 7

For the tradition, the function as well as the relevance of this kind of plot-structure to Romanticism and D. H. Lawrence, see Abrams (1973: 253î331).


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Protestantism. By her return, Fanny becomes the person she had been all along. The high value of naturalness, sexuality and fertility in “Fanny and Annie” is further underlined by Lawrence through the temporal setting of Fanny’s eventful border crossing, at the time of the harvest festival. 2. Formal Aspects and Context The perspectival techniques chosen for the mediation of Fanny’s development enable the reader to trace her mental processes but at times reduce their comprehensibility. The story is mediated by an impersonal heterodiegetic narrator, frequently (though not exclusively) through Fanny’s internal focalization. Towards the end the text shifts more and more from the mode of telling to that of showing, that is to say, from the direct representation of Fanny’s thoughts and perceptions to the scenic rendering of the conversations of the characters (at which Fanny is not always present). This has the effect that, for the most part, the reader can closely follow the protagonist’s cognitive-emotional development but is restricted to a merely external view at the end when it would be essential to understand the determining factors of her decision process. This technique ensures that the concluding event comes as a surprise, but at the same time it makes Fanny’s decision appear abrupt and (seemingly) unmotivated. This abruptness results from the fact that Fanny’s final decision is made spontaneously and on the basis of a “gut feeling”, not rationally after a long process of reflection and deliberation. In the end the protagonist acts and decides again in accordance with her emotions and instincts. She has regained her authenticity. The degree of eventfulness can be described as high, both from an internal and an external perspective. Within the text the obstacles to a crossing of the border are emphasised: Fanny’s initial middle-class aspirations, her aversion to Harry’s conventional proletarianism, her identification with central middle-class norms, aunt Lizzie’s cautionary example  all this precludes a decision in favour of marriage. From the external perspective the text has to be assigned a particularly high degree of eventfulness because it presents the sexual self-discovery of a woman (as is typical of Lawrence’s work), which radically runs counter to the puritanical sexual morals as well as, generally, the image of woman in early-20th-century British society. The discrepancy between Fanny’s personal norms and the external social norms (which, however, are thematised within the text) is brought out most clearly by the fact that she finally decides to marry Harry only when (and because) he is suspected of

D. H. Lawrence: “Fanny and Annie”


having made another woman pregnant. With her decision to return to the working class and her emphatically anti-puritanical attitude to sexuality Lawrence presents Fanny as the exact opposite of Richardson’s Pamela, whose social elevation to the aristocracy is coupled with an emphatic orientation on a puritanical sexual code. Generally speaking, the emphasis on sexuality, fertility and nature sharply contrasts with the growing impact of technology, science, commercialism and the accelerating process of modernization on the individual, developments which Lawrence was very critical of, because they were prone to destroy the vital basis of human life. In “Fanny and Annie” as in his other short stories, in his novels and poems, he counters these tendencies with fulfilled sensuality in a partnership, intensity of experience and vitalism. Translated by Peter Hühn

References Lawrence, D. H. (1972). The Complete Short Stories. Vol. II (London: Heinemann), 458–72. ———— Abrams, M. H. (1973). Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature (New York: Norton). Burns, Aidan (1980). Nature and Culture in D. H. Lawrence (Totowa, NJ etc: Barnes & Noble). Secor, Robert (1969). “Language and Movement in ‘Fanny and Annie’”, in Studies in Short Fiction, 6: 395400. Widmer, Kingsley (1962). The Art of Perversity: D. H. Lawrence’s Shorter Fiction (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Pr.).

14 Katherine Mansfield: “At the Bay” (1922) Peter Hühn 1. The Eventless Daily Life Structured by Rudimentary Frames and Scripts Katherine Mansfield’s short story “At the Bay” 1 presents a variety of happenings during one single summer day that take place among a number of holiday makers at a seaside resort (presumably in New Zealand, as indicated e.g. by plant names) from a shifting perspective. 2 The characters mainly consist of members of three families: Stanley and Linda Burnell with their children (Isabel, Kezia, Lottie), Linda’s sister Beryl and their mother Mrs Fairfield, Jonathan Trout married to another Fairfield daughter (with his children) 3 as well as Harry Kember and his wife. This text differs from all others in this volume in that it seems to lack the two fundamental features of any successful narrative with respect to sequentiality: coherence and eventfulness, for the individual incidents refer to a large number of characters and appear to be basically unconnected with each other as well as trivial and inconclusive in themselves and in their combination. In both respects “At the Bay” demonstrates characteristics of modernist tendencies, especially in the short story, 4 in particular the rejection of conventional fictional plots with their emphasis on outstanding or decisive events, as they were traditionally associated not only with novels but also – and specifically – with tales and novellas. 5 _____________ 1 2 3 4 5

The page numbers of the quotations refer to the following edition: Mansfield (1981: 20545). Cf. e.g. the brief interpretations of this story under the gender aspect and with respect to the life-death opposition, resp., in Fulbrook (1986: 10614) and Hankin (1983: 222î34). These families, especially the Burnells, figure also in other Mansfield stories, e.g. “Prelude” (1922) and “The Doll’s House” (1923). For modernist vs. conventional tendencies in the history of the short story in Britain, cf. specifically e.g. Bayley (1988: 182f.), Head (1992:109î38), Korte (2003: 103ff., 127ff.), Löffler & Späth (2005: 10ff.). Cf., e.g., Ganzmann (1985: 1ff., 252ff. and passim), van Gunsteren (1990: passim); Boddy (1988: 169); Beachcroft (1968: 177f.); Halter (1972: 56f.); Kaplan (1991: 1ff.), Mergenthal (2005: 190î206). This tendency is usually attributed to the influence of, or compared with a similar concept in, Chekhov.

Katherine Mansfield: “At the Bay”


A closer look, however, reveals that the categories of schema theory are applicable after all, albeit in a more formal or abstract manner. The overall (situational) frame is everyday life, specifically that of relatively well-to-do middle-class families under the special conditions of a summer vacation. This means that the routine necessities and strictures of work for the adults and of school for the children are temporarily suspended (with the exception of Stanley Burnell, who has to go to his office in the city) and that the activities of the day are on principle unrestrained by such rigorous restrictions and can be oriented (more or less freely) towards leisure, relaxation and pleasure. As it turns out, however, most of the characters experience the personal difficulties (with themselves or with others) which apparently preoccupy them also in their normal daily lives even under these less restrictive conditions. In other words, the seemingly transient or casual concrete incidents of this uneventfully normal day at the bay are – in addition to the overall schema of everyday life – framed thematically by the narrator or the characters themselves as being indicative of their psychological disposition and their pervasive, fundamental problems in life. None of the incidents recounted here are exceptional or amount to momentous changes and turns with significant consequences. Nevertheless, the temporal sequence of their occurrence and of the characters’ experiences is based on two types of rudimentary script, which are employed on the one hand by the narrator, who is relatively overt in mediating the happenings through external focalization, and on the other by some of the characters through internal focalization. First, on an obvious, concrete level, the happenings span one full day, from before sunrise until after sunset. Thus the incidents are arranged chronologically, i.e. they are specifically marked by the particular time of day at which they occur. In addition to its basic structure of chronology, this script is defined by a kind of cyclical movement (in the trajectory of the sun and, as a consequence, in the changing quality and intensity of light): rise and fall, increase and decrease, beginning and ending. Second, at a higher level of abstraction, the episodic experiences of the characters conform to, and are structured by, one of two related but at the same time opposed recurrent sequence patterns, which function as abstract scripts: either the transition from desire to frustration, from expectation to disappointment or the somewhat inverse transition from restriction to liberation. These patterns represent not so much pre-existing extratextual scripts, but intratextual schemata established within and by the story itself through their recurrence in the course of the happenings.


Peter Hühn

2. Charging the Everyday with Heightened Significance To structure the heterogeneous sequence of the happenings and heighten the significance of everyday and trivial incidents, the narrator on the one hand, and certain central characters on the other, implicitly charge these in different respects with additional levels of meaning by associating them with recurrent patterns of relevant change. In this manner a form of eventfulness, albeit on a lower, inconspicuous level, is constituted. In a general sense and more or less overtly the narrator thematizes the overall script of the progression of the day. This script not only serves to bring all incidents into a temporal order, but by employing specific metaphors and comparisons or imaginative associations for representing (narrating and describing) the progress of the day the narrator extends the significance of the concrete changes beyond their mere chronology. The effect is the implication of “deeper” human meanings ascribed to the purely natural, factual development, without, however, indicating any particular uniform significance (positive, negative or otherwise), thus primarily sensitizing the reader to additional semantic dimensions in the everyday experiences of the characters. This is achieved most clearly in the first section (205–207) through overt, externally focalized mediation, and less frequently so in later passages. Heavy semantic implications are inherent in metaphors like “smothered”, “had fallen”, “drenched” (205), “something immense came into view”, “the sun was rising” (206), “The sun beat down, beat down hot and fiery on the fine sand” (224), “the day had faded; the gorgeous sunset had blazed and died” (234), “those beams of light […] remind you that up there sits Jehovah, the jealous God, the Almighty, Whose eye is upon you, ever watchful, never weary. You remember that at His coming the whole earth will shake into one ruined graveyard […]” (238), “A cloud, small serene, floated across the moon. In that moment of darkness the sea sounded deep, troubled. Then the cloud sailed away, and the sound of the sea was a vague murmur, as though it waked out of a dark dream” (245). 6 Through these metaphorical overtones, the general drift of the sequence from the rise to the decline and fall of a glorious day is made semantically ambivalent by already associating the beginning with latent destruction. While this script is situated on the discourse level overtly projected by the extradiegetic narrator, who, at the same time, acts as the explicit mediator of the story, other scripts can be seen to structure the experiences of the characters during this day on the histoire level within the storyworld through internal focalization. This applies especially to the main _____________ 6 Emphases in these passages added.

Katherine Mansfield: “At the Bay”


adult characters Stanley, Jonathan, Linda and Beryl. Two such patterns can be distinguished, a negative and a positive one. The general negative pattern to which a number of episodic experiences conform is defined by the transition from expectation to disappointment, from contentment to disillusionment or by the thwarting of desire. This applies, first of all, to the two men, Stanley and Jonathan: Stanley’s ambition to be the first man to swim in the morning is defeated by Jonathan having come before him (“He’d ruined Stanley’s bathe”, 209); and, in turn, Jonathan’s careless, reckless enjoyment of swimming is ruined, too, by staying in too long (“he too felt his bathe was spoilt”, ibid.); subsequently, Stanley’s imperious demand for sympathy, recognition and service from Linda, his wife, and Beryl, his sister in law, is not met adequately in his opinion (210î13). During a later talk with Linda, Jonathan silently voices to himself his constant disappointment with himself and with life in general: “He was always full of new ideas, schemes, plans. But nothing came of it all” (237); he feels imprisoned because of his own doing (“I’m like an insect that’s flown into a room of its own accord”, 227); he attributes all this to an inherent constitutional weakness of his (“No stamina. No anchor. No guiding principle […]”, 238); and sees himself as too old to attempt any change (239). Equally serious and existential are the frustrating experiences in life for the two women. Linda feels disappointed in almost all respects and on a fundamental level: everything beautiful î like flowers î is “wasted”, “Life” sweeps her away (221), her love for Stanley is frustrated because he has changed so much (222), she “dread[s] having children” and does not love them (222î23), which she recognizes as “her real grudge against life” (222). The presentation of Beryl’s frustration is even more elaborate as well as extended. In her case, the desire is clearly characterized as erotic. Early on in the story, her longing for erotic fulfilment and for a lover is aroused by her acquaintance with the unconventional, “wicked”, lascivious Mrs Kember (217î20), who makes Beryl aware of her physical beauty (“what a little beauty you are”, “it’s a sin for you to wear clothes”, 219, 220) and tells her: “I believe in pretty girls having a good time”, “Enjoy yourself” (220). Late at night, Beryl’s desire is intensely aroused, presumably the after-effect of Mrs Kember’s insinuations during this conversation, and triggers the vivid wishful hallucination of an erotic scene with her imaginary lover (“Her arms were round his neck; he held her”, 241), which though she is aware of its imaginary status activates an acute, sharp longing in her: “She wants a lover” and a reckless intention to reach for fulfilment, encouraging herself: “Don’t be a prude, my dear. You enjoy yourself while you’re young” (242). But when the practical gratification of her desire is suddenly offered to her in the person of Mrs Kember’s husband,


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Harry Kember, who invites her for a walk clearly intending to seduce her, she is frightened and finally shies away in spite of herself (244î45). This abstract negative script of frustration and disappointment is contrasted in other passages by the positive recurrent sequence pattern of liberation, the transition from restriction or coercion to freedom. But this contrast occurs only in a few instances and even there, the sense of freedom does not last. The first instance comes after Stanley has left for work (210–13). Since he had bossed around, suppressed and criticised the women and children, his departure is experienced by them (and the servant girl Alice) with relief and as a general release and licence to enjoy themselves: “There was no man to disturb them; the whole perfect day was theirs” and “The little girls ran into the paddock like chickens let out of a coop” (213). But in all cases, the freedom is either not used and enjoyed or ultimately voluntarily given up. Linda makes no use of the glorious day whatsoever, doing “nothing” (220f.), reflecting on her wasted life, on Stanley’s change from the man she had originally seen in him, and on her “dread of having children” (222). Beryl spending the day with Mrs Kember on the beach is both aroused in her own dormant desire and repelled by that woman’s cold and lascivious attitude (“poisoned”), which she closely associates with that of her husband’s (217–20), an experience which is repeated and intensified at the very end. The children play at being animals thus freeing themselves from their normal regulated (human) existence within the family but this means constant suppression and reprimands for Lottie, who because of her age is not yet fully able to participate in the game. In the end, some children long to be taken back into the ordered protective familiy environment (“Why doesn’t somebody come and call us”, 235) and all are clearly aware of the dominating existence of their families, to which they are finally brought back (231–35). Although it is obvious that their freedom was only temporary and limited, they still did experience some liberation while their outing lasted. Such willing return to the familiar restrictions is even more pronounced in the case of Alice, the servant girl, who sets out full of joy for a free afternoon with Mrs Stubbs, the shop-keeper. When Mrs Stubbs praises her freedom after her husband’s death (“freedom’s best”, 231), Alice becomes conscious of her own ingrained dependence on restrictions: “Freedom! Alice gave a loud, silly little titter. She felt awkward. Her mind flew back to her own kitching [sic]. Ever so queer! She wanted to be back in it again” (231). Mrs Stubbs is the only person in the story who really experiences a sense of freedom, even though the liberation is something mainly remembered (if still acutely felt and enjoyed in the present) and here primarily serves to offset Alice’s inability to be free even temporarily.

Katherine Mansfield: “At the Bay”


So, the general drift of all changes ultimately turns out to be toward frustration, disappointment, disillusionment, stagnation and loss of vitality, no matter what script they first appear to be based on, negative or positive. This negative outcome is contrasted, emphasized and thus exacerbated by happening under the most beneficial conditions imaginable for happiness, joy and freedom î a metereologically perfect summer day during the vacation at the sea away from the strictures of work and everyday routines at home. 3. The Problem of Eventfulness Katherine Mansfield’s “At the Bay” as a whole can be seen as problematising – without outright rejecting î the notion of (literary) eventfulness specifically with respect to everyday life, i.e. not so much under the perspective of literariness as that of a “realistic” rendering of the experience of contemporary (as it were) “ordinary” people. The initial overall impression of the heterogeneity, triviality and inconclusiveness of the happenings in the story could be modified and partially corrected by the above close analysis of the sequential arrangement of incidents and their mediation. As has been shown the apparent incoherence is interspersed with parallel episodic structures and charged with human significance both by the narrator’s mediating technique and the characters’ concrete experiences. But the crucial question is whether these parallel changes can be said to reach the level of eventfulness. The story thus radicalizes the question as to what kinds or degrees of change qualify as eventful, and what exactly features of eventfulness are. On the one hand, nothing much actually happens in the course of the day: What is reported primarily concerns the habitual attitudes of the characters. These experiences are a re-entactment of reflections and emotions; they have been preoccupied frequently before, and they do not substantially and practically change their lives at these moments. In this respect, the changes are not momentous and therefore not eventful. No character crosses a boundary. On the other hand, the episodic experiences, especially Linda’s disappointment and disillusionment and Beryl’s frustration of her desire, are indicative of their existential conditions and problems, which are most acutely brought out under these special circumstances of the vacation. Although no changes occur, the characters’ problems are thematized and foregrounded for them; they presumably become more acutely aware of these, a fact that emphasizes their relevance. This implies a reduced degree of eventfulness – the symptomatic episodic experience indicating what problems they


Peter Hühn

face, in what way they are affected in their experiences by their living conditions. The context can be identified as the ordinary living circumstances of ordinary (relatively well-to-do) middle-class people at the beginning of the 20th century in a western society, which is regulated by strict sexual morality (see Beryl’s dilemma and Mrs Kember’s reputation), clear class divisions (see Alice’s position and Jonathan’s problems) and a general tendency of moral and social repression (apparent in Linda’s, Beryl’s and Jonathan’s frustrations), depriving people of the unhampered fulfilment of their needs and longings. This moral and social context leads to tensions for some of the characters, which shape their personal experiences under everyday conditions, albeit in the exceptional holiday situation of temporary exemption from work and everyday routine. The contrast between the adults and the children reveals that the repression is imposed on people through the process of socialization: children are less affected by it, but their behaviour already shows the beginnings of this tendency (see the treatment of Lottie and the overall awareness of adult control). The story thus demonstrates, in the form of an episodic narrative, how ordinary people under everyday circumstances do undergo eventful changes of sorts, which in their degree are geared to the ordinariness of consolidated middle-class society: this is the level at which events do occur in everyday life. Under holiday conditions, these events are further reduced in intensity in that the characters experience these changes in an episodic form (Beryl, Stanley, Jonathan) or as a growing awareness of a general existential situation (Linda). The fact that these changes are all negative in tendency (frustration, deprivation, disillusionment) seems to be indicative of the social living conditions in connection with personal dispositions. Among these instances of minor eventful change, Beryl is accorded a special status, both in the positioning within the sequence of the episodes in which she figures (see especially the emphatic placing of the final scene at the very end of the text) and in the special structuring of the happenings (the thematic progressive development in two phases, the meeting with Mrs Kember and later with Mr Kember). Whereas the characters in the other instances (Stanley, Jonathan, Linda) experience moments of disappointments or disillusionments mainly within their consciousness, Beryl is actually brought into the situation of a possible transgression of a boundary. This potential movement is foreshadowed by the morning meeting with Mrs Harry Kember on the beach and her arousal of Beryl’s latent and unrequited sensual desire in spite of Beryl’s superficially unpleasant reaction to her (“Beryl felt that she was being poisoned by this cold woman, but she longed to hear. But oh, how strange, how horrible!”, 220). A further indication of Beryl’s aroused sensual longing is that she –

Katherine Mansfield: “At the Bay”


wrongly, as it turns out î ascribes the intention of a coarse erotic adventure to Alice’s outing (“She supposed Alice had picked up some horrible common larrikin and they’d go off into the bush together”, 228). The night then heightens this desire into the solitary hallucination of a passionate embrace (241î243) and the longing cry: “Oh why doesn’t ‘he’ come soon?”, 243), when the sudden appearance of Harry Kember and his advances to her (invitation for a walk) do in fact offer her the possibility of fulfilment, albeit of a decidedly immoral kind (with a married man). Taking this opportunity and accepting this invitation would have counted as the transgression of a boundary. Because of the concomitant violation of the strict moral norms, this transgression would have constituted a relatively high degree of eventfulness in moral and social terms, albeit a negative one, whereas on the other hand the conventionality of the seduction plot (by a notorious womanizer, apparently) would have reduced its degree. Beryl’s final rejection of the opportunity, despite her ambivalence (“she longed to go!” vs. “now she was here she was terrified”, 244), functions as a failure to cross the boundary from the field of unrequited desire to its gratification. Morally (and rationally), this refusal to transgress has to be interpreted as the avoidance of a mistake, the obedience to the norms, the rejection of a change for the worse, the preservation of personal selfcontrol and therefore as fundamentally positive (in the eyes of the contemporary society). In other respects, however, namely in terms of plotting, development, experience, fulfilment and, ultimately, tellability the refusal (out of timidity, fear and a lack of energy) to transgress the boundary has to be seen in a negative light, as a corroboration of the stagnation and repression of vitality as features of society, a confirmation of its sensual and social restrictive character as experienced by the other characters as well, though not so emphatically. Thus the critique of conventional eventfulness as expressed by Mansfield’s “At the Bay” appears in two forms: as reduced and momentary changes (of a negative kind) and as the refusal to undergo more decisive changes (though of a distinctly negative kind). With this respect to stagnation, Mansfield’s story bears a clear relationship to Joyce’s “Grace”.


Peter Hühn

References Mansfield, Katherine (1981). The Collected Stories (London: Penguin), 205–45. ———— Bayley, John (1988). The Short Story: Henry James to Elizabeth Bowen (Brighton: Harvester). Beachcroft, T. O. (1968). The Modest Art: A Survey of the Short Story (London: Oxford UP). Boddy, Gillian (1988). Katherine Mansfield: The Woman and the Writer (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Australia). Fulbrook, Kate (1986). Katherine Mansfield (Bristol: Harvester). Ganzmann, Jochen (1985). Vorbereitung der Moderne: Aspekte erzählerischer Gestaltung in den Kurzgeschichten von James Joyce und Katherine Mansfield (Phil. Diss. Marburg). Halter, Peter (1972). Katherine Mansfield und die Kurzgeschichte: Zur Entwicklung und Struktur einer Erzählform (Bern: Francke). Hankin, C. A. (1983). Katherine Mansfield and Her Confessional Stories (London: Macmillan). Head, Dominic (1992). The Modernist Short Story: A Study in Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge UP). Korte, Barbara (2003). The Short Story in Britain: A Historical Sketch and Anthology (Tübingen/Basel: Francke). Löffler, Arno & Eberhard Späth, eds. (2005). Geschichte der englischen Kurzgeschichte (Tübingen/Basel: Francke). Kaplan, Sidney J. (1991). Katherine Mansfield and the Origin of Modernist Fiction (Ithaca: Cornell UP). Mergenthal, Silvia (2005). “Die Kurzgeschichten von Virginia Woolf und Katherine Mansfield”, in Arno Löffler & Eberhard Späth, eds. (2005). Geschichte der englischen Kurzgeschichte (Tübingen/Basel: Francke), 190î206. Späth, Eberhard (2005). “Der Beitrag der Gattungstheorie zur Geschichte der Kurzgeschichte”, in Arno Löffler & Eberhard Späth, eds. Geschichte der englischen Kurzgeschichte (Tübingen/Basel: Francke), 11î22. van Gunsteren, Julia (1990). Katherine Mansfield and Literary Impressionism (Amsterdam: Rodopi).


15 John Fowles: “The Enigma” (1974) Peter Hühn 1. The Basic Plotline: The Detective-Fiction Frame The basic plotline, or script, underlying the happenings in John Fowles’s “The Enigma” is that of mystery fiction, specifically of the detective story. 1 Typically, the fundamental structure inherent in a detective plot is made up of a sequence of the following elements: the occurrence of a crime, normally a murder, whose perpetrator (often together with his or her motives and the exact circumstances of the criminal act) remains hidden and mysterious for a long time, and, ultimately, the final clarification and solution of the mystery by a detective, either a member of the police force or a private investigator. The detective is the protagonist, who solves the mystery through his or her superior intellectual, rational capacity and intuition, thus crossing the border from the semantic field of ignorance to that of knowledge, which constitutes the central event of this genre. As a consequence, the solution of the criminal mystery converts mystery, disorder and threat into clarity, order and security. The mainly cognitive eventfulness of this genre is enhanced, on the part of the author, by intensifying (cognitive and/or physical) resistance to detection and choosing unlikely, unexpected figures as the criminal, thus making the crossing of the border more difficult. One specific (social and psychological) function of this generic plot-schema consists in containing and eliminating social and moral deviance, i.e. subjecting criminal forces in society to the superior power of the state’s security and justice system, thus reassuring readers anxious about threats to their existence. Detective or mystery fiction, as a more or less clearly defined genre, is based on this particular kind of eventfulness, and habitual readers demand the repeated reassuring experience of the eventful solution after a protracted phase of mystery and uncertainty. For this very reason, detective fiction has become a favoured target of postmodernist criticism and subversion, because the power of _____________ 1

This very obvious generic reference has been noted by all critics, e.g. McSweeney (1983), Broich (1990); Eriksson (1995), Martínez (1996), Schäfer (1998).


Peter Hühn

rationality to constrain divergence and create a stable order is no longer credible. 2 Fowles’s (long) short story openly begins as a mystery plot, which is clearly indicated by both the title “Enigma” and by the epigraph taken from Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching: “Who can become muddy and yet, settling, slowly become limpid?” (189) 3 . The plot immediately and explicitly opens with a mystery, stressing its extraordinariness: “When John Marcus Fielding disappeared, he […] contravened all social and statistical probability” (191). Two successive attempts are made to solve this mystery: the first mainly by Mrs Fielding together with the police (191î201), the second, when these efforts have failed to come up with any results, by one policeman alone, a Special Branch sergeant named Michael Jennings, who goes over the same ground again but also explores new avenues (201ff.). At the outset of his investigation, Jennings draws up a list of possible and less probable solutions (203î4), evidence of the methodical approach typically adopted. This is a heterogeneous list enumerating various potential happenings, mainly suicide, murder or disappearance along with various motives, especially for voluntary disappearance, such as illicit love, religious crisis, homosexuality, paranoia, a ghost from the past, dissatisfaction with his present life. For an extremely long time, Jennings is unable to find any solid new clues. What emerges from various interviews with employees, family members, colleagues, acquaintances and friends is that Fielding was a very ordinary man, in specifically social terms, embodying the norms and characteristics of the English upper class î “a model of his kind” (191), wealthy and quite successful in business as well as in politics (he is a lawyer, serves on the board of several companies, owns a country house and a farm, is a Conservative MP) with an ideally happy family life (a son, Peter, and two daughters). Jennings comes across only a few very vague suggestions of a possible dissatisfaction with the defining conventionality of Fielding’s life and work. The secretary mentions: “He did drive himself very hard” (206); a Labour MP feels that he was “just bored. With the whole bloody shoot. […] He just wanted out” (210). Then there is the odd fact that he entered the British Museum and left his briefcase there, never to retrieve it (198). But all this does not amount to anything substantial, so that î after the completion of interviews with all the people even remotely concerned or connected î the mystery of the “vanishing trick” (217) remains unresolved, i.e. the conventionally expected event has not occurred. Thus, up _____________ 2 3

Cf. Broich (1990: 187). See also Tani (1984). Page numbers refer to the following edition: Fowles (1975: 189–244).

John Fowles: “The Enigma”


to this point (221), the short story presents an eventless tale, leaving the readers’ expectations disappointingly unfulfilled. 2. Novelistic Plotting: The Literary Frame There is one last interviewee left, Peter’s girlfriend, Isobel Dodgson, who has just returned from a trip abroad. The interview with her (221î44) does not offer a solution within the detective schema either but, instead, tentatively and hypothetically establishes a new frame on a different level, thereby constituting a surprising, new kind of event. Multiple changes occur in connection with their meeting for the interview (221): Jennings falls in love with Isobel; their talk is informal and soon becomes more and more personal; they go for a walk and sit in a park etc. Above all, both are remarkably free from social conventions, are more alive than all the others (221). Isobel is a “literary” person, a graduate in English literature, a writer (working on a novel) and employed by a publisher. Together they try to reconstruct Fielding’s attitude or mood, coming to the conclusion that he felt somehow trapped, disillusioned with the extremely conventional kind of life he was leading, feeling a lack of other experiences and, in general, freedom (224, 230), a feeling Jennings himself shares (232). This conclusion is based on certain suggestive indications mentioned previously. Isobel, drawing on her own experiences of composing a novel, finally comes up with the suggestion that they might all be figures in a novel written by someone outside: “Nothing is real. All is fiction” (234), and: “Let’s pretend everything to do with the Fieldings, even you and me sitting here now, is in a novel. A detective story. Yes? Somewhere there’s someone writing us, all about us.” (234)

As a consequence, the generic plot-structure, which the short story so far has failed to conform to, is thematized: “A story has to have an ending. You can’t have a mystery without a solution. If you’re the writer you have to think of something.” (234)

This is a clearly metafictional remark, foregrounding the fictionality of the present story and laying bare the literary devices of the plot. 4 Here, this _____________ 4

That metafictional elements are pervasive in “The Enigma”, not only in this discussion of plot-structures but also, e.g., in the literary allusions to famous writers in the names of Fielding and Dodgson (i.e. Lewis Carroll), has been commented on by most critics, cf. Schäfer (1998: 187ff.), Martínez (1996: 132ff.). Broich (1990: 184ff.) interprets the metafictional elements as an indication of the postmodernist way of writing in this short story. In the present context, metafictionality, as such, is less relevant than its effect on the eventfulness of the short story.


Peter Hühn

metafictional reference has a specific function for the event-structure of the short story: the detective-fiction pattern is explicitly looked at from a different angle, on the basis of a different premise. If Fielding as well as Isobel and Jennings are figures in a (regular) detective story, his unexplained disappearance is not an enigma to be solved but, as such, may have to be understood as the solution, the very event itself. But the question is: in what sense? Led by Isobel’s expertise as a professional writer, they first discuss a possible practical explanation for Fielding’s disappearance, namely, that he indeed met Isobel in the British Museum and she agreed to hide him somewhere, only to dismiss this solution in the end as inappropriate in literary, i.e. generic terms (because it would be out of character and lack the required clues)5 and suggest a more fitting one. When Jennings asks, “So our writer would have to tear this ending up?”, Isobel replies, “If he’s got a better” (236) and proceeds to advance a more fitting version of the ending: [Isobel:] “Doesn’t that [forgetting to plant the conventionally required leads] suggest something about the central character? You know, in books, they do have a sort of life of their own. [...] His main character has walked out on him. So all he’s left with is the character’s determination to have it that way. High and dry. Without a decent ending.” The sergeant smiled down. “Except writers can write it any way they like.” “You mean detective stories have to end with everything explained? Part of the rules?” “The unreality.” “Then if our story disobeys the unreal literary rules, that might mean it’s actually truer to life?” She bit her lips again. “Leaving aside the fact that it has happened. So it must be true, anyway. […] So all our writer could really do is find a convincing reason why this main character had forced him to commit the terrible literary crime of not sticking to the rules?” (236f.)

This suggested solution is paradoxical: violating the conventional literary expectation of the eventful clarification of the mystery is, in turn, eventful insofar as the fictive and fictional character suddenly becomes a “real” person acting independently of the author’s will. He becomes real on account of the very fact of not succumbing to the author’s conventionally superior power of shaping and manipulating everything in his novel. 6 By his disappearance, Fielding has crossed the boundary between the semantic sub-fields of determination and dependence to freedom and independence. This would be a new event type, arguably a special case of a media_____________ 5 6

Besides, this solution would again have conformed to the detective conventions after all, as Martínez (1996: 135) remarks. He also becomes “immortal”: “The one thing people never forget is the unsolved. Nothing lasts like mystery” (234).

John Fowles: “The Enigma”


tion event, in the sense that a literary character refuses to be mediated in and through the text. More precisely, this type could be called a metaleptic event, according to Genette’s (1980) notion of metalepsis as a transgression of narrative levels (234î37). The character Fielding is said to be moving from the (textual) discourse-level to the (extratextual) story î or histoire î level, in this case into the “real” world outside the novel, a transgression presented as the decisive, albeit hypothetical, turning-point in the plot. This seems to be a more daring (and rarer) form of narrative transgression than the usual cases of “intrusion by the extradiegetic narrator into the diegetic universe […] or the inverse” (234f.). Narrative transgressions are always paradoxical. In this case, the paradoxical nature is highlighted by the fact that the metaleptic explanation is given by a fictional character and in a decidedly literary text. So literary means are employed to transcend the literary fictional world. 3. Social Determination: The Social Frame What seems to be lacking so far to make this solution entirely plausible (again paradoxically, within literary fiction) is a “convincing reason”, which Isobel then goes on to supply: “There was an author in his life. In a way. Not a man. A system, a view of things? Something that had written him. Had really made him just a character in a book.” (237)

The historical and social context, Fielding’s determination by his class, his ideology, his political, familial and personal situation, 7 as an equivalent to a writer’s power over his characters, is then sketched in a summary enumeration of the relevant aspects, from his perfect manners, morality and dress to the exemplary performance of his private and public roles. In this way, the literary frame is interpreted as a metaphor for a social frame, conveying the themes and concerns of social realism. 8 What this social context comprises in concrete terms has been spelled out from the very beginning of the short story, starting with the description of his social type: he was a man who, if there were an -arium of living human stereotypes, would have done very well as a model of his kind: the successful City man who is also a country land-owner and (in all but name) village squire. (191)

_____________ 7 8

Cf. Martínez (1996: 130ff.). Cf. Broich (1990: 186).


Peter Hühn

Thus, his self is very strictly defined with reference to political and classspecific norms: “Tories take success so seriously. They define it so exactly. So there is no escape. It has to be position. Status. Title. Money. And the outlets at the top are so restricted. You have to be prime minister. Or a great lawyer. A multi-millionaire. It’s that or failure.” (238)

But since he is not outstandingly successful in his various activities (he is not even very good in court), he feels doubly imprisoned, by the conventions and by his relatively mediocre position according to the conventional standards, a feeling which Isobel metaphorically reconstructs in literary, novelistic terms: “He feels more and more like this minor character in a book. Even his son despises him. So he’s a zombie. Just a high-class cog in a phony machine. From being very privileged and very successful he feels himself very absurd and very failed.” (239)

The solution to this predicament, Isobel suggests, would be “walking out”: “The one thing people never forget is the unsolved. Nothing lasts like a mystery. […] On condition that it stays that way. If he’s traced, found, then it all crumbles again. He is back in a story being written. A nervous breakdown. A nutcase. Whatever.” (239)

In practical terms, that would mean Fielding had killed himself in order to escape the stifling, suffocating restrictions of both the novel and society. Isobel then speculates about the actual method employed, suggesting that he drowned himself in the pond on his estate, which the family (or possibly the police) refuses to have dredged, the mystery thus indeed remaining unresolved. As a result, Fielding’s disappearance is defined as doubly eventful, within the literary, novelistic as well as within the social frame, transgressing into the field of social und existential freedom, constituting an event which ranks higher on the scale of eventfulness than if the mystery had been clarified in the style of detective fiction. The degree of eventfulness, it can be argued, is enhanced even further by its paradoxical nature: Fielding escapes from suffocating conditions to life and freedom by killing himself in the fictional world, through suicide (which works in literary, though not in practical terms). And Isobel plays the role of an Agatha Christie in devising this surprising non-solution solution (241), i.e. she successfully outwits the ingenuity of detective fiction with its own techniques. In addition, the eventfulness is protected and enhanced by the undecidedness and undecidability of the form his escape took. Fowles’s short story thus begins by denying the occurrence of a conventional event in the happenings only in order to offer a metaleptic type of event instead, in accordance with the double re-framing of the happen-

John Fowles: “The Enigma”


ings. By shifting the frame from the detective plot to that of literary and social conditioning, Fielding’s vanishing trick becomes an act of selfliberation and self-fulfilment in another world, which constitutes a radically new kind of event (with a paradoxical twist, however, inasmuch as he has to kill himself in the literary world to achieve this aim of a freer way of life). By framing the happenings as the literary plot of a novel (which indeed they are, the novel or, rather, short story “The Enigma” written by John Fowles), the vanishing trick can be understood as a metaleptic event transgressing narrative levels. Isobel and, to an even greater degree, Fielding (in Isobel’s speculative reconstruction) discover themselves as created figures in a fictional and social “text” and manage to liberate themselves, Isobel by self-consciously reflecting on this state of affairs and, moreover, by being comparatively alive and free from conventions in the first place; Fielding î more radically so î by escaping altogether, vanishing from the realm of fictionality into life outside fiction. He thus refuses to be mediated in a novel and determined by society any longer. Of course, this, too, is not only highly paradoxical but also very clever in that the writer (John Fowles) invents and writes this possibility as a new twist to the relation between fiction and reality and as a violation, and, at the same time, as a surprisingly unexpected fulfilment of the generic script of mystery fiction. In other words: he uses a postmodernist metafictional device to convey primarily social and psychological problems characteristic of the mode of realist fiction. 9 In this manner, the writer proves himself to be a very ingenious plotter of events î devising a metaleptic mediation event with a vengeance. 4. Transcending Determination through Love: The Erotic Frame However, the short story does not end at this point but closes with a further (and final) twist, establishing a new frame and adding another event. This shift to the erotic frame, the preparation of a love story, 10 had been implied from the first encounter between Jennings and Isobel (221ff.), though the initiative starts with him and his being attracted to her: “He fell for her at once” (221). It is equally important for this new development that he recognises in her an uncorrupted, authentic quality of being alive which sets her apart from all the others, who are subject to social _____________ 9 10

Cf. Broich (1990: 186). The shift to the love story is mentioned, e.g., by Martínez (1996: 130ff.) and Schäfer (1998: 187f.).


Peter Hühn

conventions, even if they actively rebel against these, like Peter Fielding. Jennings immediately notices this quality about her: “He had an immediate impression of someone alive, where everyone else had been dead, or playing dead; of someone who lived in the present, not the past […]” (222). The continuation of their relationship is then provoked by her when she – banteringly – asks him to help her with the police technicalities of a detective novel she is currently writing, for which she invites him to a meal, to be cooked by herself. What ultimately follows is the consummation of their love for each other, 11 the proper, predictable event within the newly established love-story frame, which, for this reason, does not rank very high on the scale of eventfulness. In this particular context, however, the eventful gratification of their mutual desire is meant to function as something else, too – as indicated in the slightly enigmatic closing paragraphs: […] he was not, by the time that first tomorrow had closed, the meal been eaten, the Sauvignan drunk, the kissing come, the barefooted cook finally and gently persuaded to stand and be deprived of a different but equally pleasing long dress (and proven, as suspected, quite defenceless underneath, though hardly an innocent victim in what followed), inclined to blame John Marcus Fielding for anything at all. The tender pragmatisms of flesh have poetries no enigma, human or divine, can diminish or demean – indeed, it can only cause them, and then walk out. (244)

What seems to be implied here is that intense love (“pragmatisms of flesh”) may be an alternative way out of social and also literary restrictions. This, too, is paradoxical, of course, as is already expressed by the postulated identification of pragmatism with poetry, i.e. of the concrete sensual (and sexual) experience and its literary, fictional rendering, which is said to be of no lesser or inferior efficacy (“no enigma […] can diminish or demean”) than the enigma chosen as a way out by Fielding. On the contrary, love (“flesh”) is said to constitute “them”, namely “the poetries”. That is to say that love imbues the literary renderings with physical intensity and as such provides a way out, imaginatively: “then walk out”, namely from the fictional and social confinement. Thus the event of final sexual consummation is not only considered the conventional generic completion of the love story but, by its very physical and pragmatic quality – through its powerful imaginative rendering (“poetries”) – it also functions as an intense experience effectively outside social and literary conventions. 12 This love scene appears, at first glance, to be a conventional _____________ 11 12

Schäfer (1998: 192) points out that the seduction is ironically rendered in the terms of detective fiction. Martínez (1996: 130) argues that Isobel î like women generally in Fowles î represents “warmth”, “reality”, “creativity”, “authenticity” and “freedom” as against social and literary

John Fowles: “The Enigma”


event in the happenings, with the figures of Jennings and Isobel as protagonists. Here, however, a specific interpretive twist is î or rather is meant to be î added, namely that the event transports them out of the fictional and socially normative world onto another plane, into another dimension, in its different setup also a metaleptic event of sorts. This claim, spelled out in the closing paragraph, is self-contradictory (and, possibly, not completely convincing). It shares with the preceding metaleptic event the (paradoxical) feature of literary devices attempting to transcend literature and its artificiality and reach towards lived human reality and experientiality. But it differs from Fielding’s supposed disappearance and absence through death by stressing the physicality, vitality and presence of the love experience, thereby enhancing the degree as well as the value of its eventfulness. Thus the short story rejects one (conventional) type of event and institutes, suddenly and unexpectedly, two alternative and contrasting metaleptic events – transcending the diegetic level towards the “reality” level of the histoire, the happenings in the “extra-literary” world, through the unresolved, mysterious vanishing trick, in literary terms, and through death or intense love-making in social terms. At this point, the historical and social dimension of the context can be grasped and its two main aspects defined. Firstly, the early seventies were the period of highly ideology-critical tendencies in certain intellectual sections of society in Britain (as in other European countries), which attacked the debilitating power of conventional bourgeois norms, i.e. the so-called establishment. This criticism is given symbolic and satirical expression in the implication that Fielding disappears into the British Museum as an obsolete social model, as it were. 13 Secondly, this was also the period of widespread dissatisfaction with realistic, mimetic narration and of a postmodernist fashion for playing with, and subverting, straightforward narration and narrative closure, the stability of social or artistic order, the superior power of reason and the belief in ultimate truth. 14


13 14

conventionality. Eriksson (1995: 164ff.) describes the constellation of detective fiction and love romance as the opposition of death and life, love signifying the celebration of life, fertility and growth. Schäfer (1998: 192) speaks about a reality beyond literary self– consciousness. Cf. Schäfer (1998: 187ff.). Martínez (1996: 137) mentions the “general decentering tendency of postmodernism”, which frees “both author and reader from the oppressive ties of a more unitary and totalizing tradition”. Cf. also Broich’s (1990: 185f.) description of the postmodernist features in this story.


Peter Hühn

References Fowles, John (1975). “The Enigma”, in The Ebony Tower (Progmore: Panther), 189– 244. ———— Broich, Ulrich (1990). “John Fowles, ‘The Enigma’ and the Contemporary British Short Story”, in Modes of Narrative: Approaches to American, Canadian and British Fiction Ŧ Presented to Helmut Bonheim, ed. R. Nischik & B. Korte (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann), 179î89. Eriksson, Bo H. T. (1995). The “Structuring Forces” of Detection: The Cases of C. P. Snow and John Fowles (Uppsala: Studia Anglistica Upsaliensis 93). Genette, Gérard (1980). Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, tr. J. E. Lewin (Ithaca: Cornell UP). McSweeney, Kerry (1983). Four Contemporary Novelists: Angus Wilson, Brian Moore, John Fowles, V. S. Naipaul (Kingston: McGill/Queen’s UP). Martínez, María Jesús (1996). “Astarte’s Game: Variations in John Fowles’s ‘The Enigma’”, in Twentieth Century Literature, 42: 124î44. Schäfer, Karl Kunibert (1998). “‘The Enigma’ – John Fowles’s Metafiction”, in D. Gohrbrandt & B. v. Lutz, eds. Seeing and Saying: Self–Referentiality in British and American Literature (Frankfurt/Main etc.: Peter Lang), 185–93. Tani, Stefano (1984). The Doomed Detective: The Contribution of the Detective Novel to Postmodern American and Italian Fiction (Carbondale/Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP).

16 Graham Swift: Last Orders (1996) Markus Kempf 1. Mediation Technique and Temporal Levels Graham Swift’s novel Last Orders 1 possesses a complex narrative structure on account of its specific technique of mediation. There is no extradiegetic narrator, who might evaluate and structure the happenings from a superior and retrospective point of view. Instead, the actions are mediated “dramatically” through the direct quotation of the seven characters’ individual recollections and the concatenation of these. The novel narrates the car journey, on Monday, 2 April 1990 (272), of four men from a pub in Bermondsey, London, to Margate, a seaside resort on the coast of Kent, as well as the simultaneous activities of a woman in London. The four men are the insurance clerk Ray “Lucky” Johnson, the undertaker Victor (Vic) Turner, the grocer Lenny Tate and the used-car dealer Vince Dodd (né Pritchett). Lenny, Vic and Ray are in their late sixties, Vince is 45. They embark on this journey in compliance with the final request of the family butcher Jack Dodds, the three older men’s friend and Vince’s adoptive father, to have his ashes scattered off the end of a pier in Margate. The deceased’s wife Amy does not accompany the men, because she visits her severely retarded 50-year-old daughter June in a care home in London, as is her custom every Monday and Thursday. The novel is subdivided into 75 chapters, presented from the perspectives of the various characters. 2 This specific mediation technique obliges the reader to be particularly active, not only in grasping the overall meaning of the novel but also, more basically, in reconstructing the chronological order and the interconnections within the happenings. As far as the general setup is concerned, two time and plot levels may be distinguished, _____________ 1 2

Edition used: Swift (1996). 58 chapters are headed by the names of the respective characters who “narrate” them: Ray is assigned 22 chapters, Vince 12, Lenny and Vic 8 each and Amy 6. Vince’s wife Mandy and the deceased Jack narrate one chapter each. The remaining 17 chapters bear the names of the places the four men pass on their journey (e.g. “Bermondsey”, “Gravesend”, “Rochester”, “Canterbury”, “Margate”). These “geographical” chapters are presented from Ray’s perspective, too, which makes him the dominating mediating instance of the novel with 39 chapters altogether.


Markus Kempf

which interact with each other. Firstly, there is the level of the present, the utterances performed chronologically and simultaneously, as it were, with the reading process, in the succession of the individual chapters in the book, describing the ongoing journey of the four men from London to Margate as well as Amy’s visit to her daughter and her subsequent bus ride home. These happenings are situated on the extradiegetic level, 3 which in this novel represents the first or basic narrative 4 . Secondly, the recollections of the various characters constitute the dimension of the past, on the diegetic level, in ever increasing detail as the novel progresses: the complex interrelations among the characters, their former experiences, friendships, affairs, quarrels etc. This diegetic level, which is organised anachronically by means of numerous external subjective analepses, stretches back to the time immediately before World War II. 5 2. The Scripts on the Extradiegetic and the Diegetic Levels The following analysis will concentrate on the storylines of Amy, Ray and Jack, since these are central to the event dimension of the novel. 6 The novel couples two schemata, an erotic and a moral frame and two concomitant scripts: on the one hand, the realistic, romance-like story of Amy and Ray’s love, which  after having been frustrated for decades  may now be fulfilled at long last; on the other, the sequence of personal guilt followed by atonement or redemption. Both schemata are closely linked with each other. The atonement script concerns the three protagonists, since they all have incurred guilt in various ways through their past actions: Amy and Ray have wronged Jack by their former love affair, Jack has wronged Amy by his rejection of their mentally retarded daughter June. The second sub-field in each case (fulfilment and atonement or redemption, resp.) is heightened in its positive value by the opposed theme of disease and death (Jack, June). It is a significant feature of the plot of Last Orders that the final union of the lovers does not actually occur, yet the text implies its possibility or _____________ 3

4 5 6

Strictly speaking, the extradiegetic level comprises only the characters’ attitudes and their changes as they express themselves directly in their utterances within the individual chapters. The ongoing journey as such is narrated and therefore situated on a diegetical level, though synchronised with the utterances. Genette (1980: 22831). For a general interpretation of the novel, see e.g. Cooper (2002), Weidle (2006) and Shaffer (2006: 195211). See e.g. Weidle (2006: 135).

Graham Swift: Last Orders


probability in the future. Instead of narrating the great event, the novel focuses on two preliminary events, changes of attitude in Amy and Ray. These two transformations take place in the course of the first narrative (i.e. on 2 April 1990) and represent the prerequisites for their future union. In Lotman’s terms the plot development can be described as follows. Inside the first superordinate sub-field (desire and guilt, resp.) the novel establishes two separate, subordinate individual semantic fields, one for Amy and one for Ray. Within these separate fields each of the two characters move across a personal boundary, which then enables them to cross jointly into the second superordinate sub-field (union and fulfilment, atonement). Amy’s and Ray’s personal changes are brought about by Jack’s funeral, which confronts both of them with death and mortality and forces them to re-consider their past experiences, attitudes and decisions and to re-interpret and revise them. Amy’s and Ray’s transformations occur simultaneously in London and Margate at the novel’s dramatic climax: immediately before the scattering of Jack’s ashes into the North Sea. 3. The Plot-Development of Last Orders The anachronic-elliptical mediation technique of Last Orders obliges the reader actively to assemble the protagonists’ story from the recollections of the various characters. In order to clarify the complex connections I shall first reconstruct the diegetic level, i.e. the chronological order and semantic coherence of Amy’s and Ray’s past lives up to the beginning of the first narrative, and then focus on the eventful performative developments which both undergo in their mental interaction with this very past on 2 April 1990, that is to say, their respective “stories of narration” on the extradiegetic level. Omitting their childhood and adolescence, the novel concentrates on three (more or less) isolated phases within the adulthood of the protagonists. 3.1. Plot-Phases on the Diegetic Level 3.1.1. Phase 1: The Early Married Lives of Amy and Ray The first phase concerns the beginning of the marriages of Amy and Ray as well as the circumstances under which Jack and Ray first meet. The genesis of Amy and Jack’s marriage is tragical and fatal. They meet accidentally while hop-picking on Wick’s Farm in Co. Kent in August 1938 (23438). Although Amy is not particularly attracted to Jack, she gives


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herself to him one day out of a youthful feeling of freedom and erotic desire (237). This caprice results in an unwanted pregnancy, which leads to marriage. Nine months later, in June 1939, June is born, who turns out to be severely mentally handicapped (42). One year later, Amy and Jack go on a belated honeymoon trip to Margate (252ff., 267). During their stay there, Jack’s refusal to accept June’s disability becomes apparent for the first time. Soon afterwards war is declared. On account of his domestic problems and in order to escape from his domineering father  who had forced him, against his wishes, to enter his butcher’s business  Jack volunteers and is posted to Africa (42). In 1944, while Jack is still in the army, Amy finds the orphaned baby Vince Pritchett after an air raid and adopts him (42). Her motive is to find a healthy “substitute child” (after June’s birth she cannot have any more children) to pacify Jack and save their marriage (240). Ray’s early life is described in less detail. He is the son of a scrap metal merchant and trains as an insurance clerk. He, too, joins the army and is posted to Africa, where he meets Jack, who, like him, comes from Bermondsey. During his service in Africa two important incidents happen: Ray saves Jack’s life and Jack shows him Amy’s photo, which impresses him deeply (89, 170, 172). After the war Ray marries Carol Dixon and has a daughter with her, Sue. As certain remarks by Ray indicate, his marriage  like Amy’s  is not founded on true love but comes about spontaneously out of a caprice (cf. 39). 3.1.2. Phase 2: Amy’s and Ray’s Affair in the Sixties The second phase starts years later in the mid-sixties and comprises various incidents and circumstances that lead to the love affair between Amy and Ray. Both their marriages, which from the outset had lacked firm foundations, now enter a state of severe crisis. For Ray, things change rapidly. First, his only daughter Sue informs him that she intends to emigrate with her boyfriend to his native Australia, marry him and build up a livelihood with him. Though at first sceptical about this plan, Ray finally gives his consent and even supplies her with the money for the journey (out of the winnings from a horse-racing bet). At the same time, possibly out of envy of her daughter’s new prospects in life, his wife Carol tells him that she is dissatisfied with their marriage. In order to avert the threatened separation Ray desperately tries to change his life: he gives up his passion for betting and buys a camper to offer Carol more entertainment through frequent short trips. But all to no avail. When her father dies, Carol leaves Ray and starts a new life with another man.

Graham Swift: Last Orders


In the meantime, Amy’s married situation has deteriorated, too. Her original plan to resolve the conflict with Jack about June by adopting Vince fails in every respect. This has to do with Jack’s constant quarrels with Vince about his future career. Like his father, who had forced Jack to enter the family business as a butcher (he himself had wanted to be a doctor), he now tries the same with Vince, initially with success: Vince starts training as a butcher. But after a while the adoptive son begins to resist. When, in addition, Lenny’s daughter Sally becomes pregnant by him, Vince flees and joins the army. With Vince’s compensatory function thus removed, Amy and Jack are again directly confronted with the smouldering family conflict about June, which now breaks out into the open. Jack’s rejection of his daughter is extreme. He tries to exclude her completely from his life. Although he tolerates Amy’s twice weekly visits of June in her nursing home, he never accompanies her. Instead of critically reflecting on his own attitude, he tries to convince Amy of the futility of her visits. Jack’s rejection of June increasingly alienates Amy, since his attitude compels her to choose between her roles of wife and mother, a dilemma she solves by opting for the latter, without, however, leaving Jack (174). In this situation Ray seizes his opportunity (170). When, in April 1966, Ray offers to drive Amy to June’s home in his new camper, she accepts. His considerate and gentle behaviour, also towards June, wins her over; an erotic affair develops, which Ray experiences as a new beginning of life: It was a bright breezy day in April. It was like this day, with Jack’s ashes. I felt, Life can change, it can, even when you think it can’t anymore. (174)

In retrospect, it is obvious that their love fulfilment is premature at that point in time and cannot constitute an irreversible event yet. On the one hand, Amy is still married to Jack and therefore both morally and practically restricted in her mobility. On the other, at this very moment Vince suddenly returns to London after a long absence, which heightens the risk of an exposure of their affair. The main reason, however, why the affair fails after a few weeks, is Amy’s excessive fixation on June. It is true that, because of Ray, she temporarily overcomes her one-sided self-definition as a mother, which is revealed by the fact that during the affair she neglects her visits of June. But in the end this self-concept prevails again: She said, ‘We ought to stop this, I ought to start seeing June again’, looking like a nun who’d done a bunk from convent. She said, ‘I can’t not see June’. (283)

As a consequence, both characters fall back into the first semantic field and become passive and “immobile” once more: Amy keeps visiting June and adjusts to her unsatisfactory family situation. Ray settles for a life as a bachelor and indulges his passion for betting. To a certain extent, his situation even deteriorates: he breaks off the contact with his daughter


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Sue. The stagnation and emptiness of his life is indirectly revealed by him on Vince’s 40th birthday, when he remarks to his friends that their local pub has never moved, although it is called “The Coach and Horses” (6). 3.2. The Plot-Development on the Extradiegetic Level: Amy and Ray’s Transformations It is only in the third phase, immediately before the beginning of the first narrative, that the situation starts to change. Jack reaches the end of his career and dreams of selling his butcher’s shop in order to buy a house in Margate. At the end of his life he wants to return to its beginning and attempt a new start with Amy in Margate. Although Jack does not admit it to himself, it is clear that this wish is unrealistic: on the one hand, Amy remains “fixated” on June and for that reason is not prepared to move away from London; on the other hand, the proceeds from selling the shop will not be enough to pay off the debts he has incurred because of years of bad business and a loan he had taken out. Jack’s unrealistic plans for the future are definitively shattered when he is diagnosed with stomach cancer. When it dawns on him that he has to die he becomes acutely aware of Amy’s extremely precarious financial situation on account of his debts (£20,000). To solve this problem before his death, he devises a very risky plan. He borrows £1,000 from Vince without giving any reason and asks Ray to place a bet for that money on an outsider at very long odds. Miraculously, Ray wins the bet and receives £33,000. As Jack dies before Ray can inform him about the winnings and Vince is ignorant of Jack’s plan, Ray is the only person who knows about the money. Ray does not tell Amy about the winnings nor about the problem of the debts, though he had spoken to her thrice between Jack’s death and the present journey to Margate. This is the point of departure for the basic narrative of Last Orders, on the extradiegetic level. Within the stories of narration of these two characters, the novel now performs their renewed border crossing from the first field of petrified self-concepts and ingrained patterns of behaviour to the second field of activity, vitality and change. Amy is the first to undergo a transformation. In the course of this day’s confrontation with the past she realises that she has become as petrified in her role as mother as Jack has in his vocational role as a butcher enforced on him by his father: This is where I belong, upstairs on this bus. […] I chose June not him. I watched him set solid into Jack Dodds the butcher, Jack Dodds, high-class butcher, have a bit of mince, missis, have a bit of chuck, because he couldn’t choose June too,

Graham Swift: Last Orders


couldn’t choose what was his, it was all he had to do, and I thought I’m the one who can still change. I did, once. But when he looked at me then, like he was looking at someone I wasn’t, I knew I was stuck in a mould of my own. (228f.)

A little later she radically breaks with her old life: What I’m trying to say is Goodbye June. Goodbye Jack. They seem like one and the same thing. We’ve got to make our own lives now without each other, we’ve got to go our different ways. I’ve got to think of my own future. It was something Ray said, about how much I was short. You remember Ray, Uncle Ray? He and I came to visit you once, that summer I missed those Thursdays. I’ve got to be my own woman now. But I couldn’t have just stopped coming without saying it to your face: Goodbye June. (278)

In parallel with Amy, Ray also undergoes a development on this journey, exemplified by his changing plans what to do with the betting winnings, which no one knows about. He oscillates between two alternatives: embezzle the money and spend it on himself alone in his old age or tell Amy about it and consider the money a symbol and the financial basis for a joint new start (Cf. 13, 128, 134, 200, 207, 251, 282ff). Initially, he inclines towards the first alternative, as is apparent from the lie he tells Vince at the war memorial that he does not know anything about the £1,000 (134f.). A little later he still intends to keep the money and finance a trip to his daughter in Australia (207). But when he reflects on his own past life and becomes aware of his enduring love for Amy, he realises the relevance of the money for the two of them, the opportunity it provides for a fulfilled joint future: Or maybe I should just give her the money, straight, clean. Here you are, Ame, it’s thirty thousand, it’s to see you right. Don’t thank me, thank Jack and a horse. Except then I can’t see how I couldn’t tell her. That it was sort of meant like a sign, like a permit, like a blessing on the two of us, to carry on where we left it off. (283)

At this time Ray is still afraid of telling Amy about his plans for her (for that reason, apparently, he completely conceals the existence of the money). So far, he has only had the negative experience of the failing affair with Amy in the sixties and does not know that she has dissociated herself both from Jack and June in the course of this day, the two main causes why the relationship had failed in the past. What he lacks is the courage to try his luck as light-heartedly as in the sixties, even at the risk of failure (cf. 282f.). But in the end he does find this courage, decides against lying and in favour of truthfulness and resolutely gives up his life as a bachelor, as is emphasised when he tells Vince the truth about the money and thus completes his personal transformation:


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I grab his [Vince’s] arm, pulling it, squeezing it, and as I draw up close to him I say, ‘I’ve got your thousand. I’ll give you back your thousand. I’ll explain.’ (290)

Although the text does not narrate the eventful ending of the love story, the external and moral preconditions are now clearly favourable for Amy and Ray’s union. 7 Both are no longer trapped in their marriages; both have overcome their greatest problems and dissociated themselves from their old lives. The £33,000 allow them to pay off the debts and finance their new beginning together. The winnings also function as a compensation for Ray’s burden of guilt that he had incurred as Jack’s friend through his affair with his wife. In addition, Ray inadvertently proves a “true father” to Vince, for, by returning the loan of the £1,000, he enables him to solve his present financial problems independently of his dubious business partner Hussein (165ff.), thus “saving” Vince for a third time 8 . And finally: When Ray, acting as Vince’s true father, “saves” him from an Arab of all people and thus symbolically repeats the saving of Jack during the war in North Africa, his new paternal position paradoxically represents a belated restitution of Jack’s failed fatherhood and thus of his entire existence. In this manner the new love relationship is morally sanctioned and Jack acquires the status, as it were, of a secular martyr and saviour: He dies for the “sinful love” of others, thereby redeeming them. 9 In retrospect, the reader recognises the peculiar teleological development of Amy and Ray’s love and perceives, moreover, that they together with Vince (and possibly with Sue, too) form the “true” family. Although the unification has not been performed yet, the ending makes everything coherent, legitimises the entire development and indicates the complete replacement of the old by the new, the false by the true, the hidden by the open and the bad by the good. This result has not been brought about by anyone deliberately, and the characters are predominantly unaware of its significance  it just happened. This development is the direct opposite of a tragic catastrophe  it is pure luck and perfect happiness.

_____________ 7 8 9

See Mecklenburg (2000: 174). The two earlier occasions were procuring money for Sally’s abortion and selling the scrap yard, thereby enabling Vince to set himself up as a car dealer, in fulfilment of his career aspiration. Thus Ray’s prayer at the end of the novel has been fulfilled: “[…] I hold up the jar, shaking it, like I should chuck it out to sea too, a message in a bottle, Jack Arthur Dodds, save our souls […].” (294).

Graham Swift: Last Orders


4. The Other Characters: Analogies with and Contrasts to Amy and Ray’s Transformations The relevance of Amy and Ray’s transformations is further underscored by their contrast to the other characters, who all remain static. 10 It is true that Jack plans a new beginning in Margate for his marriage but unlike Amy and Ray he is unable and unwilling to change himself as a prerequisite, especially concerning his attitude towards June and Vince, as well as with respect to his self-delusion about the “dream job” as a butcher. He has learnt nothing from his past and missed the chance to change in the sense of becoming his “true, authentic self”, which is highlighted by the fact that the only chapter headed with his name is narrated not by him, but by his father. His transformation takes place only after his death, as mentioned, in his change of status from a normal human being to a secular martyr. 11 Vince is constructed as the exact reverse of Jack. He repeats the latter’s life but without the negative consequences: He, too, makes a woman pregnant and then flees to the army but the child is aborted and he can return and start again from the beginning; he, too, is urged by his father to enter the butcher’s business but he resists and can pursue his preferred career. Accordingly, his problem is not self-renunciation because of uncritical compliance with others’ expectations but, on the contrary, his obsession with the ideal of complete independence and mobility. As an orphan and outsider he attempts to base his identity on absolute autonomy but is constantly being entangled in complicated and morally dubious stories (Sally and Kathy), from which he has to be saved by Ray, which  inadvertently  reveals the purely illusory quality of his self-concept. His wife Mandy’s attitude is similar. When she flees from her mother and her stepfather’s home at the age of 17, she seems vehemently to reject her family roots but in reality remains firmly bound to her past through her sentimental, idealising attachment to her father, who left them long ago. In their orientation towards the illusory and one-sided ideals of autonomy, mobility and the future Vince and Mandy represent the modern generation of sons and daughters within the novel. Lenny is primarily marked by his cognitive limitations. Although dissatisfied with his personal situation (unloved job, financial problems, his daughter’s failed marriage and prostitution), he is incapable of rationally _____________ 10 11

For a different assessment, see Mecklenburg (2000: 180). Cf. the brief, isolated reference by Wheeler (1999: 78) and Shaffer (2006: 204): “Jack’s death is figured in ultimately life-affirming terms”.


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conducting his life and improving his circumstances owing to his low intelligence and eruptive emotionality. Still seeing himself as the “dangerous boxer” Gunner Tate makes him a laughing stock. Within the circle of contrastive characters, June presents the most extreme example of stasis. Because of her mental disability she has no memory, so that she lacks the elementary human capacity of learning from her past and developing her personality  she permanently stays the same. But unlike the other characters she cannot be made responsible for this. Victor does not develop either. But in contrast to all other characters, he alone need not change. From the beginning he is depicted as a harmonious, balanced, dignified personality. In contrast to Jack, he enters his father’s business as an undertaker out of his free will and never regrets this decision. His marriage is based on love. He has a cordial relationship with his two sons  both will continue the family business. As he is permanently concerned with death, transitoriness and remembrance, he lives in total harmony with the world and with himself. In this respect he embodies the author’s ideal concept within the world of the text. His maxim “You shouldn’t judge” may be taken as an invitation to the reader to assess the characters’ unsolved problems within the context of the history of their lives, instead of judging them in the sense of moral condemnation. 12 Amy and Ray’s eventful transformation is not only foregrounded by the immobility of the other characters, but it is also prefigured and paralleled by the embedded stories of Carol (Ray’s wife) and Andy (Sue’s Australian boyfriend). Like the two protagonists, Carol begins a new life only after someone’s death (that of her father) and this beginning also concerns a new love relationship. In a different way Andy follows a similar schema: He, too, can begin his new life with Sue only after having come to terms with the English roots of his Australian family, that is to say, with his own past. Thus Last Orders presents two more events among the minor characters. 5. Intertextual and Historical Contexts and the Reception Event In addition to such intratextual relations, Amy and Ray’s developments are further structured and intensified in their general significance through intertextual references to several British and American texts. The novel alludes to these intertexts only implicitly by way of motifs, analogies in theme and setting or narrative technique. These references lie above or _____________ 12

Cf. Weidle (2006: 136).

Graham Swift: Last Orders


outside the consciousness of the characters, and it is the task of the reader to notice and interpret them. In contrast to openly postmodernist novels, which typically thematize intertextuality through their (extradiegetic) narrators in order to emphasise the fictionality and constructedness of characters, plot and setting and question conventional concepts of reality, Last Orders does not flaunt its pervasive intertextual allusions, the more so as an extradiegetic narrator is absent. For this reason, intertextuality does not serve here to undermine the reality effect of the happenings, i.e. the cognitive processes of the characters, but to charge them with additional allegorical-philosophical dimensions of meaning. A central intertext for Last Orders is William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying of 1930. The most obvious analogy between the two novels concerns the multi-perspectivism of their mediation technique. Like Last Orders, As I Lay Dying presents the happenings performatively through the interior monologues of the various characters, whose names head the respective chapters. 13 Of more semantic relevance, however, are the analogies (and differences) in regard to thematic aspects and to the plot. Faulkner’s novel narrates the journey of Anse Bundren with his sons Cash, Vardaman, Darl and Jewel, his daughter Dewey Dell as well as the dead body of his deceased wife Addie to Jefferson to bury her there among her “people” in compliance with her last wish. On this journey the family meets with numerous obstacles and difficulties, such as a floodswollen river they have to cross, a fire in the barn where they are put up, Cash’s serious injury and Darl’s mental derangement. After a strenuous nine days full of privations they reach Jefferson and bury Addie. Anse Bundren is portrayed as false, lazy, greedy and extremely egocentric. He claims to be unable to work for health reasons and has his children and Jewel (who is not his son) work their farm. He has no sense of responsibility and despises, deceives and exploits his family for his own selfish aims. He merely plays the role of the mourning widower who seeks to fulfil his wife’s last wish. His real purpose for the journey to Jefferson is to get a set of new teeth and remarry. Shortly after the funeral he appears well-groomed and accompanied by a woman whom he presents to his children with the sentence (which closes the book): “Meet Mrs Bundren”. The extensive analogies, combined with significant differences, between the two novels serve to highlight the specific eventful plot structure of Last Orders. The basic narrative in both cases concerns a quest-like pilgrimage to a burial site for the funeral of a dead person, but while _____________ 13

The similarities extend to such details as that both novels include a chapter that consists of only one sentence and another one that is spoken by a dead person.


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Faulkner stresses the ulterior motives of most participants, their mutual tensions and animosities and their separateness from each other, Swift describes the shared emotional attachment of the group members to the deceased and his relevance to their lives. And in contrast with Anse, who does not undergo any significant change (exemplifiying modernist scepticism of eventfulness), Swift emphasises the capacity of his protagonists for development and transformation. The confrontation with death induces Ray and Amy  unlike Anse  to reflect on their personal past, reconsider their habitual attitudes and re-orient themselves. The marriage motif that is explicitly and implicitly taken up at the end of both novels is of completely different significance. Since Anse has not changed and will not change in future, his new marriage is no more than a repetition of the bad old state of affairs. Swift, however, implicitly presents Amy and Ray’s possible marriage as a symbol of change, renewal and happiness. Two further important intertexts for Swift’s novel are Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (ca. 13901400) and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). The Canterbury Tales shares the motif of the journey or pilgrimage with Last Orders, also the temporal setting, April, and the destination (Canterbury Cathedral, which in Chaucer’s fragment is never reached, in Swift’s novel functions only as a “stopover”) as well as an inn or pub as a starting point (Chaucer’s “Tabard Inn”, Swift’s “Coach and Horses”). The significance of Eliot’s The Waste Land is threefold: a similar thematic focus on stagnation vs. change, love, meaning of life and remembrance; the shared motif of a failing new start in a love relationship; and the seaside town of Margate associated with this motif. Margate was Jack’s symbol for the renewal of his love relationship with Amy, which failed because of his unwillingness to change and his pre-mature death. The positive connotation of Margate is also the reason for his wish to be buried there. In its third section (“The Fire Sermon”), The Waste Land contains a passage promising the new beginning of a relationship associated with Margate: ‘My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart Under my feet. After the event He wept. He promised “a new start.” I made no comment. What should I resent?’ ‘On Margate Sands. I can connect Nothing with nothing. The broken fingernails of dirty hands.

Graham Swift: Last Orders


My people humble people who expect Nothing.’ (V. 296305) 14

These two intertexts have the function of confronting the philosophical concept of human life underlying Last Orders with two different (religious and secular, resp.) concepts from earlier periods, the late Middle Ages and Modernism, thereby further specifying the eventful plot-development in its significance. While Chaucer’s text places Last Orders against the horizon of a meaningful and divinely guaranteed universal order with a plan of salvation promising eternal bliss in heaven as a reward for a morally exemplary life on earth, 15 the allusion to The Waste Land associates Swift’s novel with the pessimistic modernist notion of a fragmented, chaotic world without Christian transcendence, without hope for salvation, transformation and fulfilment. As the overall plot of Last Orders shows, Swift combines both concepts. Thus, he takes the element of hope from Chaucer’s Christian world view, shifting it into the secular sphere in the sense of the general possibility of change and blissful happiness on earth and divesting it of all aspects of religious spirituality and sexual abstinence.16 From Eliot he takes up, on the one hand, the open ending and, on the other, the modern experience of contingency and immanence, without, however, going as far as depicting the world and human life as irredeemably fragmented and totally paralysed. The result is a differentiated and balanced picture of man’s existence. Life is neither guided by a divine instance nor is it controlled by man alone. Instead, man is continuously confronted with coincidences and calamities, which because of his cognitive limitation he is unable to foresee and avert. It is possibly due to this experience that he tends to cling to certain patterns of behaviour and decisions and reject change. On the other hand, he has the gift of memory and remembrance, which enables him, especially when confronted with his own mortality, to review and reinterpret his past and thereby change himself. Moreover, as Ray’s skilful operations in horse betting and (symbolically) in his profession as an insurance agent demonstrate, to a certain extent, man is able to plan and direct his earthly luck by means of rationality and intelligence.17 _____________ 14 15 16 17

Eliot (1973: 74). In this context it is insignificant that this traditional concept is already partly undermined by Chaucer. The purely secular quality of this hope is also stressed by the earthy working-class language and humour. “People think I’m Lucky Johnson and it’s all done by sixth sense, and sometimes it is, sometimes a flutter’s a flutter. But the reason why I’m quids-in, just about, with the nags, and Jack Dodds and Lenny Tate won’t ever be, is because everyone wants to believe in


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The coupling of these aspects results in a neo-humanistic concept, which defines human dignity on the basis of man’s conflict between his earthly imperfection and transitoriness on the one hand and his heroic, partly successful, partly failing, revolts against these, on the other, which is also implied by the epigraph from Sir Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial: “But man is a Noble Animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave” 18 [emphasis added]. In other words: The realisation of a fulfilled existence is a game of chance, but man can, and ought to, achieve this fulfilment through remembrance and action, as long as he lives and in spite of the risk of failure. The point in life is to make good use of all possible opportunities, as Jack’s father phrases it in terms of his trade: “Whole art of butchery’s in avoiding wastage” (285). Against the background of this philosophical dimension of meaning as established through Chaucer’s and Eliot’s intertexts, Ray, Victor and Jack can be said to acquire a quasi-allegorical status: Ray stands for the realistic hope of fulfilled happiness, Victor for the positive acceptance of death as an integral part of life, Jack for the perishable quality of the flesh. Swift’s specific mediation technique in Last Orders places the reader in a potentially superordinate position above every single character, who is unavoidably enclosed within his or her separate subjective consciousness. No one in the novel has such a comprehensive view of all the characters and their minds. From this position the reader has to reconstruct the complex individual plotlines and their meaning on the basis of the characters’ separate recollections and reflections, the anachronic-elliptical presentation of past and present incidents and the various intertextual allusions. As far as Amy and Ray’s plotline is concerned, it is only the reader who is aware of the decisive changes in both their attitudes which make their eventful union possible and probable in the future. Since the event does not actually occur in the course of the happenings and can as yet be anticipated only in the reader’s consciousness, the novel may be said to present a reception event. As to the historical context of plot and eventfulness, Last Orders is clearly set against the pervasive postmodernist tendencies of the final decades of the 20th century and the concomitant erosion of traditional certainties and stabilities, with special regard to principles of morality and _____________


hunch bets, and it may look like luck but it’s ninety-per-cent careful clerking, its ninety-percent doing your sums. I aint worked in that insurance office for nothing. People think it’s horses from heaven, answering your prayers, but it’s learning how to beat the bookie, and if you want to beat the book-keeper, keep a book” (231). Cf. also the chapter “Ray’s Rules” (202). The quotation also contains a critical remark on human pretensions in certain burial customs.

Graham Swift: Last Orders


concepts of reality. 19 In a moral respect, 20 the novel endorses a concept of behaviour which is based on responsibility, love and care for others, 21 rational self-determination and readiness to act in combination with the self-awareness of one’s needs and wishes as well as one’s limitations and mistakes. An important aspect is the problem of guilt and the necessity of atonement, to make up for the damage or suffering inflicted on other people, as centrally exemplified by Jack’s death, which  inadvertently, behind his back, as it were  enables Amy and Ray to live their love. Though ultimately derived from Christian principles, the morality endorsed by the plot is purely secular and humanistic. In a literary respect, the novel emphatically generates a reality effect 22 , the impression that one is directly witnessing people’s thoughts and actions in a socially and culturally specific, recognisable world (a middle- and lower-class milieu in London and South England). This effect is pervasively created by the setting, the vernacular used by the characters in their soliloquies, the impression of seemingly unmediated on-going processes in the minds of people, the absence of a visible narrator and mediator. The realistic representation of characters and setting as deliberately, artificially manipulated is played down. The numerous intertextual allusions are subliminal. They are not utilised, as is the case in overtly postmodernist novels, to foreground the literary nature of the text and distance the reader. However, even though the structure of the novel does not openly draw attention to the literary, manipulated, constructed quality of the story world, the knowledgeable reader may, of course, notice all the devices, which like the intertextuality are latently present, and accordingly read the novel (as in this analysis) as an artifice. Seen in this light, Last Orders may be classified as an example of what Linda Hutcheon (1980: 31ff., 71ff.) calls “covert narcissism”, i.e. implicit self-referentiality. Edited and translated by Peter Hühn

_____________ 19

20 21 22

The historical position of the novel is defined by several critics as a general tension between traditional and (post-)modern tendencies, such as the opposition between moralist attitudes and their metafictional erosion in Weidle (2006: 128, 138ff.), a paradoxical synthesis between unity and diversity in Hartung-Brückner (parts 1 and 3), a new humanism vs. postmodern carelessness and emotional atrophy in Widdowson (2001: 212, 218). Cf. Wheeler (1999: 65f.); Mecklenburg (2000: 115f., 174, 180f.). However, this ovrall positive impression is slightly undermined by the fact that Amy seems to be abandoning June, her disabled and totally helpless daughter. Cf. Barthes (1989).


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References Swift, Graham (1996). Last Orders (London: Picador). Eliot, T. S. (1973). Collected Poems 1909-1962 (London: Faber). ———— Barthes, Roland (1989). The Rustle of Language, tr. R. Howard (Berkeley: Univ. of California Pr.). Cooper, Pamela (2002). Graham Swift’s ‘Last Orders’: A Reader’s Guide (New York & London: Continuum). Genette, Gérard (1980 [1972]). Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, tr. J. E. Lewin (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP). Hartung-Brückner, Heike (n.d.). “History and ‘Englishness’ in Graham Swift’s Last Orders”, Pt. 1: The Question of Value: Paradoxes of History and Contemporaneity; Pt. 2: The Uses of History in Swift’s Works; Pt. 3: (Re)Constructions of History and (De)Constructions of “Englishness”. Postimperial and Postcolonial Literature in English. No Date. 6 October 2009 (www.postcolonialweb.org/uk/gswift/lastorders/hhb1[2,3].html) Hutcheon, Linda (1980). Narcissistic Narrative: The Metafictional Paradox (New York & London: Methuen). Mecklenburg, Susanne (2000). Martin Amis und Graham Swift: Erfolg durch bodenlosen Moralismus im zeitgenössischen britischen Roman (Heidelberg: Winter). Shaffer, Brian W. (2006). Reading the Novel in England 19502000 (Malden, MA & Oxford: Blackwell), 195211. Weidle, Roland (2006). “Humanistische Utopie oder historiographische Metafiktion? Graham Swifts Last Orders (1996)”, in Cool Britannia: Literarische Selbst-vergewisserungen vor der Jahrtausendwende, ed. N. Greiner & R. Weidle (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag), 12745. Wheeler, Wendy (1999). “Melancholic Modernity and Contemporary Grief: The Novels of Graham Swift”, in Literature and the Contemporary: Fictions and Theories of the Present, ed. R. Luckhurst & P. Marks (Harlow: Longman), 6379. Widdowson, Peter (2001). “The Novels of Graham Swift”, in Literature in Context, ed. R. Rylance & J. Simons (Basingstoke: Palgrave), 20924.

17 Conclusion Peter Hühn The preceding plot analyses have shown that the selected English novels and tales from the late Middle Ages to the end of the 20th century all comprise an event, a decisive turning point, as the central feature of their narrative sequence or plot-development, which constitutes their tellability, demonstrating at the same time that this event may take a wide variety of forms, including the failure, erosion, reversal or lack of an eventful turn, e.g. in the shape of a negative event, which in itself then counts as significant and, in a different way, eventful. The form and meaning of the respective eventfulness will now be discussed from the following perspectives: (1) the thematic dimension of the event: the prototypical eventfulness of the fairy tale as reference pattern, (2) the prototypical events and their variations through the combination with schemata, (3) the contextualization of eventfulness, (4) the localization of events within the dimensions of the narrative setup. 1. Prototypical Eventfulness: The Fairy Tale For the purpose of describing, assessing and analysing the variability of events in fiction it is useful to draw on prototype theory and employ a prototypical example of eventful plot-structure as a general frame of reference. The (folk or) fairy tale 1 may serve as such a prototype of eventful narration, on account of the simple archaic structure both in its plotdevelopment and turning points and in its presentation and mediation. 2 “Cinderella”, because of its long history and world-wide dissemination, is a suitable example. Its main features are as follows. With respect to mediacy, a fairy tale has a heterodiegetic narrator who does not appear as an individual; the narrative act is not thematized; the abstract (implied) au_____________ 1 For a recent overview of research on the fairy tale, cf. e.g. Pöge-Alder ( 2007). 2 Cf. Hühn & Kiefer (2005: 23435). Wolf (2002: 35–37, 43-53) has employed the fairy tale as a prototype of fictional literary narration for the purposes of a comparison with narration in other media, using “Bluebeard” as an example.


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thor is (ideologically) congruent with the narrator; external focalization is used; narration is retrospective throughout; and the event is located within the dimension of the happenings. With respect to sequentiality, the course of the happenings is markedly eventful; the happenings and the event have a physical, social status (i.e. they are not essentially located in a human mind); and central conventional frames and scripts are activated (e.g. the progressive course of an individual’s life as a general frame, the act of proving oneself in a series of tests followed by a reward as a script). In concrete thematic terms primarily two frames are activated and combined: love and marriage (the relation to the other sex) and social position (acquiring the appropriate social role, position, and, often, occupation, typically connected with an elevation in social status, or, sometimes, the regaining of an inherited but denied high rank). The events consist in finding and gaining a suitable sexual partner in marriage on the one hand and, often in conjunction with that, gaining a prestigious high social position (e.g. king or queen). These two events, usually interrelated, are frequently connected with another basic eventful change – the transition from an adolescent to an adult status and the achievement of an independent, mature, full life. In this sense the prototypical fairy tale features a positive event (“a happy ending”). The frames and events therefore concern the fundamental dimensions of the existence of an individual in a socially specific context, in other words, they refer to the extratextual conditions and needs of human life in general, with possibly transcultural and transhistorical validity: forming an essential emotional attachment and social nucleus (also as a basis for procreation) and securing an economically and socially stable position in the collective. For the reader the degree of eventfulness is not very high since the prototypical fairy tale customarily ends with the successful double transition, which is therefore to be expected; but the protagonist perceives the change as highly eventful since in the concrete constellation he or she is confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and succeeds only through supernatural assistance and/or on account of his/her own superior worth. 3 _____________ 3 For a summary of the basic plot structure of a great many fairy tales, cf. e.g. Propp (1968), who reconstructs the plot of fairy tales as a sequence of functions; Holbek (1987: 410î34), who subdivides the syntagmatic structure of fairy tales into five moves; Ashliman (2004: 4144, 4549), who distinguishes a three-step development (separation/departure, initiation, return to society) and refers to the two aims of “upward mobility” and courtship/marriage; and Freund (2005: 88î90, 93î95), who describes the hero’s/heroine’s search for his/her true self and the general movement from lack and loss to fulfilment and redemption.



Turning to this prototype as a heuristic (but not normative) point of reference makes it possible to give a clear outline of forms of eventfulness in narrative fiction. A survey of the novels and tales analysed above reveals that almost all of these texts activate at least one of the two fundamental frames featuring the respective event relevant to the fairy tale, albeit in culturally and socially as well as historically specific contexts: finding a suitable sexual partner and gaining an appropriate position in society. The great majority combine both frames and events in various constellations and different degrees of realization, including forms of failure. Some of the texts concentrate on only one of these plotlines. The specific structure and development of these events in the individual texts is produced by the combination with other frames and scripts and it is through these variable combinations that the historical and cultural context-dependence of the eventfulness in the stories and novels is conditioned. 2. The Two Prototypical Events and Their Variations: The Combination of Schemata In the following, the shape and type of eventfulness in the selected texts will be reconstructed, on a high level of abstraction, against the background of the prototype and with regard to modifying factors (especially frames and scripts) as indicators of the respective socio-cultural contexts. To be sure, these analyses will not do justice to the overall complexity and semantic richness of these texts in reference to setting, characterization, style and perspective, but it is proposed that the tellability in as much as it rests on the central eventful plot-development is essentially captured in these schematic reconstructions. Remarks on the degree of eventfulness included in the following overview are to be understood in relation to the system of norms presupposed and implied by the novels or tales in question within their respective contemporary cultural and social contexts. The degree will be different for readers with normative positions deviating from that of the texts and, especially, for readers of a later period and/or from a different cultural or social background. A first group of texts  Richardson’s Pamela, Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Fielding’s Tom Jones from the 18th century and (with a characteristic reversion) Lawrence’s “Fanny and Annie” from the 20th century  combine these two prototypical events in various ways, structurally comparable to the fairy tale. Richardson’s Pamela wins her suitor and, through marriage with him, a high (aristocratic) status. Defoe’s Moll finally reaches a wealthy, respected position in society, together with her favourite husband


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Jemy. These two novels combine the social or socio-economic ascent in different forms with a moral-religious frame, thereby enabling, justifiying and sanctioning it. Pamela’s exemplary sexual morality and Moll’s contrite religious repentance and conversion are presented as reasons or justifications for their socio-economic advancement, in each case (allegedly) sanctioned by divine providence, which, however, is also subject to doubt and suspicion: Both protagonists are liable to be accused of hypocrisy (depending on whether the moral attitude is accepted as genuine or seen through as a means to ulterior purposes  a problem of consciousness). Whereas in Richardson the social elevation is intimately linked to the love plot, Defoe adds it as a corroborative secondary reward. The degree of eventfulness is high in both cases, primarily because of the strong resistance of the boundary (i.e. the rigidity of the class division), and, furthermore, because of the deviation from the available scripts (the conventional stories of aristocrats seducing and “ruining” lower-class girls and the protagonist’s execution as the standard ending of criminal biographies, respectively). Fielding and Lawrence provide something like an aristocratic and a working-class counterpart to these two middle-class plots of social advancement. Fielding’s Tom Jones is enabled to perform the eventful boundary crossing to the high social standing as the squire’s heir and the husband of his equally aristocratic beloved Sophia on account of the maturation of his humane morality as well as his exercise of prudence and acquisition of world knowledge. Since it turns out that he is in fact of aristocratic birth, he thus becomes what he already is, but he has to earn and thereby justify his elevated position through the appropriate moral conduct and cognitive attitude. The high degree of eventfulness is here not determined by a crossing of the class-boundary (which does not occur after all) but by the energy and perfidy of Tom’s enemies as well as his own immature and imprudent impulsiveness. In Lawrence’s story, Fanny’s (long-delayed) love-fulfilment with Harry is directly linked to the return to her working-class origins (after having risen to middle-class respectability), the emphatic reversal, as it were, of Richardson’s and Defoe’s scheme of social ascent. Fanny’s social descent to her former working-class suitor is rendered as a positive event, essentially brought about by a changed mental and emotional attitude, the rejection of puritanic sublimation and the emphasis on sensual passion and fulfilled sexuality as the basis of the love relationship. The emphatic reversal of the established conventional script of middle-class morality and middle-class notions of social success constitutes a high degree of eventfulness. These four successful examples of near-prototypical eventfulness can be compared and contrasted with two cases of failure in both plotlines,



one from the 19th, the other from the 17th century  Dickens and Behn. In several respects, Dickens’s Great Expectations discredits and revises Pamela’s and Moll’s rise by a contrary coupling with the moral frame: The socially superior status of a gentleman is first devalued and then definitively contaminated morally, namely through Pip’s reprehensible attitude and behaviour (arrogance, condescension, superficiality) and finally through the criminal association of the origin of his wealth. The expected gift of advancement into the aristocracy is abruptly cancelled and later replaced with a moderate rise to a middle-class position, earned through active work and justified by a new moral sense of sympathy and solidarity, but with the love-fulfilment denied, at least for the time being. The disappointment of these two great expectations ranks higher on the scale of eventfulness than the final moderate success, which in turn, on the other hand, is heightened in its value by the ascription of moral maturation and active personal achievement to Pip’s development. In Behn’s Oroonoko, the eventful movement, usually expected within the aristocratic romance convention, of the noble couple Oroonoko and Imoinda across the border towards fulfilment and superior social status in freedom fails completely and blatantly (in their enslavement and eventual brutal deaths). This is brought about mainly by two adverse factors: the ruthless dominance in the colony of mercantile capitalism (which overrules moral concerns, turns the couple into commodities as slaves and eliminates them when perceived as threats to the political system), the internal weakness of the aristocratic code of honour and trust (which does not reckon with deceit and betrayal) and Oroonoko’s aristocratic inability to adjust to his new European environment (and learn from his experience). The degree of eventfulness (albeit of a negative direction) is very high on account both of the radical deviation from the romance code and the violation of aristocratic values and moral norms. Hardy’s “On the Western Circuit” presents a structurally different variation of the failure of the prototypical plot. While for Anna’s (limited) consciousness the marriage signifies the fulfilment of her love as well as social advancement, Charles is abruptly disillusioned in both respects, discovering that he had fallen in love with Edith through Anna as well as realizing that Anna on account of her simple-mindedness and illiteracy will mean a social impairment for him. This perverse outcome is brought about by the interference of two conventional scripts for sex-relations: Charles’s courting of Anna had started off as a quasi-aristocratic superficial love affair (the enjoyment of a socially inferior country-girl) but was then turned into an emotionally and intellectually profound interest in her, when in their epistolary communication Anna’s simple mind is replaced with Edith’s more refined, perceptive and stimulating spirit. And Edith’s


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attitude in turn is motivated by her unfulfilled desire for love because she is trapped in a purely conventional marriage, which induces her to promote (vicariously) Anna’s prototypical love plot. Direction and degree of eventfulness differ according to perspective: moderate and positive for Anna, high and negative for Charles (likewise for Edith), low (because announced beforehand) and negative for the reader. Numerous texts deviate more extensively from the prototype by concentrating on only one of the two plotlines, either love (Swift, Fowles, Chaucer, James, Mansfield) or social position (Conrad, Joyce). Swift’s main plotline in Last Orders is Ray’s and Amy’s love-story, structured as a realistic version of the romance-script. After a first abortive attempt at fulfilment in the past as a clandestine affair, then blocked, however, by moral norms, the present happenings prepare the ground for an imminent crossing of the boundary in the near future, envisaging even the establishment of a family complete with children (Vince, Sue). The driving force of this development is not so much the lovers’ conscious intentions and plans, as the inadvertently shifting circumstances, especially changes in their attitudes and allegiances, sanctioned by Jack’s death as a kind of symbolic sacrifice. Ray’s and Amy’s coming union has to be considered as highly eventful, not only on account of the many obstacles in the past but also because the lovers cannot as yet foresee this eventual fulfilment (only the readers can do so as a result of their superior perspective). The context is the emphasis on the value of life and living fulfilment against the background of disease, mortality and death. In “Enigma”, Fowles ends his story of uncovering Fielding’s disappearance as the attempted escape from literary and social restrictions through death by presenting an alternative positive way in the intense passionateness of love-fulfilment, which is therefore highly eventful but also profoundly paradoxical because both are literary and social nonetheless. Chaucer, in “The Miller’s Tale”, narrates three differing sex-relationships, all focused on the same woman (Alisoun), contrasting the successful consummation of a clandestine purely sexual love affair (Nicholas) with two failing or unsuccessful relationships: romantic courtship (Absalon) and conventional marriage (with John), which because of the lack of passion induces the woman to seek gratification elsewhere (comparable to Hardy). However, this consummation, a one-time event, does not count as a permanent border crossing and is marred, moreover, by the male lover’s subsequent humiliation by punishment for overreaching himself. These successful completions of love-plots can be contrasted with two examples of failure. James’s “The Beast in the Jungle” traces the drawn-out process of the male protagonist (John Marcher) missing the potential happy love-fulfilment (with May Bartram) on account of extreme self-centredness. Mansfield’s “At the Bay” contains



an episode of erotic disappointment, Beryl shying away from a possible sordid love-affair, which is structurally congruent with numerous other frustrating experiences which occur on this day. Whereas in these cases the main emphasis is on the protagonist’s love relationship, two stories feature changes exclusively in terms of occupation and social position, one successfully, the other unsuccessfully. Conrad’s narrator in The Shadow-Line eventfully succeeds in proving his competence for the captaincy, the leadership of the ship’s community, while Joyce’s “Grace” narrates the disillusionment (for the reader, though not for Kernan and the other characters) of a hollow rehabilitation of social respectability, making the non-achievement of eventful change the point of the story. Finally, a couple of texts – Woolf’s “An Unwritten Novel”, Fowles’s “The Enigma” – establish a different kind of frame altogether, a literary, metanarrative or metafictional frame, i.e. the main emphasis here is laid not so much on the concrete incidents on the level of the happenings as on the type and selection of happenings as such and their reality status as well as the function and power of the narrator. This new frame implies a rejection of conventional literary plots involving suspicion and critique of events as decisive changes. Eventfulness is being problematized in other novels and tales, too, but generally as a result of adverse or disadvantageous (social) circumstances in the story world (Behn, Dickens, Hardy, Joyce) or of (psychological) failings on the part of characters (James). Woolf and Fowles imply a more fundamental, meta-level or conceptual reason for avoiding events. They present different ways of turning away from (positive or negative) eventful plot-developments, but in doing so, paradoxically (and inadvertently) introduce an event of a different kind: transgressing narrative levels. Woolf’s narrator performs the replacement of an out-moded, conventionally eventful plot of a negative turn with a more “real”, ordinary one, devoid of spectacular events as in itself eventful (a presentation event). Fowles’s story shows a comparable escape from literary (and social) confinement, transcending conventional eventfulness, towards more vitality and freedom, which as such is eventful on a higher level. In both cases, this shift ultimately constitutes a basically literary move in its own right. One can add, by way of a less radical example of rejecting conventionally evenful plot-structures, Mansfield’s “At the Bay”, where a coherent sequence leading to (or crucially failing to lead to) a decisive, vital change is replaced with a more or less unconnected series of unspectacular, everyday, inconclusive incidents. In varying degrees, the final event, whether of a successful or an unsuccessful type, comprises both a factual change in the protagonist’s existence (in terms of his or her social position or personal relationships) and,


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in addition, a cognitive or mental development (in terms of a new consciousness of, or a new insight into, his or her situation). In numerous, mostly later and especially modernist texts, this cognitive dimension of insight and consciousness seems to gain significance and become more prominent: Pip’s sudden revelation about the true background of his expectations in Dickens, Charles’s sudden disillusionment about the real identity of his beloved in Hardy, the reader’s (if not Kernan’s) insight into the superficiality of the latter’s social rehabilitation in Joyce, John Marcher’s final realization of the missed opportunity of a happy love fulfilment in James, the narrator’s sudden realization of the pure fictionality of her ordinary-life-based story-telling in Woolf, the characters’ discovery of their own fictional status in Fowles or the reader’s superior view enabling them to anticipate the lovers’ final union in Swift. In a way, these texts superimpose an additional superordinate frame  consciousness and knowledge  on the two prototypical schemata. 3. The Contextualization of Eventfulness: An Overview The individual analyses have indicated the specific ways in which the eventfulness of changes (or their failure) in the texts is dependent on contextual factors, i.e. social and cultural phenomena, more precisely: on certain social, moral, religious or ideological discourses at the time of writing. The following general overview will provide a brief, short-hand summary of the various types of contextual reference. The most frequent and most basic reference concerns the class structure of Britain, the strict division between the middle and upper and between the lower and middle classes, which has become somewhat less rigid since the 19th century. This social division (especially between the two upper layers of society) forms the context in one way or another of eight texts: Behn, Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Dickens, Hardy, Joyce and Lawrence. All these novels or stories are focused either on the successful or the eventually failing attempt to cross the boundary between two classes, predominantly upwards, but in one case, Lawrence, downwards (as a provocative reversal of the conventional trend). The actual plotdevelopment with respect to the eventful change of the social position (frequently linked to the question of love-fulfilment) or its failure is then largely determined by the influence of, and correlation with, a psychological or ideological frame, the factor of moral, religious or ideological attitudes, on the part of the protagonist and/or other characters. In some cases, the moral or religious attitude enables and/or sanctions the border crossing: Pamela’s insistence on chastity in Richardson, Moll’s penitent



conversion in Defoe, Tom’s acquisition of prudence, world knowledge and sympathy in Fielding and Fanny’s liberation of her vitality and sexual sensuality in Lawrence. In others, it counteracts and prevents the decisive change: Pip’s discrediting of the gentleman’s status on the one hand and his rejection of the wealth for moral reasons on the other in Dickens, the commercialist values and the politically repressive spirit of the English in Behn and the general hollowness of morality and of moral reformation in Joyce. In Hardy, the inadvertent fatal interaction of various psychological attitudes leads to a perverse situation: illusory fulfilment (for Anna) and tragic disappointment (for Charles, in a different way also for Edith). In addition, in some cases the plot-development is believed by the characters to be sanctioned and steered by a transcendent power: benevolent providence in Defoe, Richardson, Fielding and, by implication, malicious fate in Hardy (also, incidentally, in Conrad). These moral and ideological attitudes are themselves indicative of specific historical discourses: the strict sexual morality and the puritanical religiosity in the self-concept of the middle classes (Defoe, Richardson), the enlightened neoclassicist ideology of sections of the aristocracy (Fielding) during the 18th century, the growing ruthless (middle-class) commercialism and the internal weakening of the aristocracy in the context of the Civil War (Behn), the growing middle-class criticism of aristocratic privileges in mid-19th-century Britain (Dickens), the vitalist tendency and criticism of commercialism and technological rationality, associated with the middle class, in the early 20th century (Lawrence), the hollowness of middle-class respectability together with general stagnation in Ireland (Joyce), the growing pessimism during the 19th century about man’s ability to shape his own existence and the wide-spread notion of a meaningless or even malevolent universe, the reverse or rejection, as it were, of the former belief in divine providence (Hardy, also Conrad). Four of the remaining novels and short-stories – Conrad, Chaucer, James and Swift – rely on diverse contextual references without connection to the social stratification in Britain. The late 19th-century pessimistic notion of a meaningless or hostile universe underlies Conrad, too, somewhat similarly to Hardy, but is consciously countered by a strong work ethic and the active concept of professionalism, which has religious roots in Puritanism but is then secularized. The contexts in Chaucer comprise the medieval moral code that behaviour should be guided by reason, superimposed upon the anarchic, lust-oriented genre of the fabliau. James refers to the contemporary interest in psychology, the insight into the often irrational workings of human consciousness and the unconscious, the discovery of the power of unacknowledged selfish drives. Swift’s plot


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is partly based on the originally Christian concept of sacrifice and atonement vicariously redeeming personal guilt and error. The last three texts – Mansfield, Woolf and Fowles – share a literary frame and variously refer, as their context, to the 19th-convention, still prevalent in the 20th century, of realistic, eventful fiction, rejecting or seriously undermining it, in favour either of depicting unspectacular, everyday life and inconclusive ordinary occurrences (Mansfield, Woolf) or of metafictionally debunking the author’s power (Fowles, also Woolf). In addition, Fowles draws on the contemporary critique, prevalent since the 1960s, of the oppressive control of the individual by society, in particular by the “establishment”. Within this context of the (post)modernist erosion of traditional stabilities Swift’s novel adopts an emphatic counterposition in terms of morality and social realism. Although it has proved difficult to systematize the contexts to which these narratives from various periods and (partly) different generic traditions refer and which condition the eventfulness of the individual plotdevelopments, mainly two tendencies have become apparent: the pervasive relevance of the stratification of society (in Britain) together with a widerspread desire for a change of the social position and the impact of moral or religious and generally ideological codes and norms guiding people’s behaviour and ways of seeing themselves. The latter especially account for the variation in plot-development and eventfulness. The selection of the texts for this project was specifically focused on the transition from 19th-century Realism to early-20th-century Modernism because it was assumed that during this period the notion of eventfulness became particularly problematical, especially if viewed against the background of the 18th century and its tendency of having novels end in eventful changes. This assumption has indeed been confirmed by the detailed analyses (see the chapters on Dickens, Hardy, James, Joyce, Conrad, Mansfield, Woolf and Lawrence). Although the selected texts cannot claim to be representative of the period, they allow some tentative remarks about the historical variability of eventfulness. Only two texts  Conrad and Lawrence’s  present an unambiguously positive event in the happenings, both mobilizing uncorrupted, as it were, non-modern values against corroding modern tendencies: traditional professionalism and heroic self-reliance in Conrad, sexuality, vitalism and working-class solidarity in Lawrence. Most of the other texts demonstrate the interference of psychological and cognitive factors, specifically different forms and degrees of the limitation and distortion of consciousness and perception, which block the occurrence of positive eventful changes and produce negative developments instead: the corruption and hollowness of social values in Dickens and Joyce, the negative psychological



effects of social conventions (marriage practices) together with the fatal perversity of circumstances in Hardy and the power of egotistical selfcentredness in James. And two texts  Mansfield and Woolf  preclude the occurrence of events altogether, because they are not true to everyday life. As was mentioned above, these factors are conditioned by certain contemporary tendencies, in broad terms: the growing critical awareness of the corruptibility of social norms and the growing insight into the complexity, unreliability and self-intransparency of the human mind. 4. The Localization of Events Events, as decisive changes of state, are always linked to a person and usually occur within a plotline. They may be located, however, on different levels of the narrative setup: events in the happenings (placed within the story which is being narrated and linked to the protagonist), presentation events (situated on the level of the mediation of the story with the narrator as the figure who undergoes a change) or reception events (with the reader as the person intended to change his consciousness or attitude, when the story clearly indicates that the protagonist, or the narrator, ought to change but does not). The most pervasive type among the 15 texts analysed here is the event in the happenings, in conformity with the prototype. But there is also one example of a presentation event, in Woolf’s “An Unwritten Novel”, where the narrator herself undergoes an abrupt change in the course of narrating, altering the kind of story she is telling together with her conviction of what should be told. The distribution of these two types of event differs markedly from the situation in poetry, 4 where clear examples of completed events in the happenings are rare and presentation events much more numerous. Another difference between narration in poetry and prose fiction concerns the degree of completion of the plotline and the realization (or non-realization) of the event. Whereas all the examples of prose fiction (with one solitary exception) follow the plot-development up to the successful event or its failure (and beyond), poems frequently break off the narrative before, sometimes immediately before, the event, utilising narration as a means of negotiating, or preparing for, a crucial transition. Among the novels and stories it is only Swift’s Last Orders that does not actually narrate the eventful change (Ray’s and Amy’s union), rendering its completion, however, as foreseeable in the future. The prototype of _____________ 4 See Hühn & Kiefer (2005: 24651).


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eventfulness appears to be much more representative of prose narrative than of narrating in poetry. This seems to have to do with the different functions of narration in the two genres. While narrative fiction, broadly speaking, is usually above all interested in presenting and mediating a story, poems, on account of the preponderance of subjective perspectives (speakers tell something about themselves), frequently functionalize the act of narrating to cope with their own problems of living, changing or adjusting etc. In a number of cases – Joyce, Chaucer, Hardy, Swift – the texts present reception events, where the reader is meant to gain an essential insight or reach a comprehensive understanding which the protagonist in the story is unwilling and/or unable to achieve. Thus, Joyce’s readers are meant to see through the hollowness of Kernan’s social rehabilitation as well as respectability in general and possibly change their own moral and mental attitude. In Chaucer the reader is enabled to laugh about the characters’ self-induced mishaps as well as understand and criticize their cognitive and moral mistakes and recognize the appropriateness of their punishments, while the limitation of their faculty of reason prevents them from drawing these conclusions themselves. In Hardy, all characters, even Charles, have limited views of the resultant situation and their mutual contributions to it. Only the reader recognizes the full extent of the fatal interaction of their various conscious intentions and unconscious desires. The individual limitations are even more extensive and radical in Swift, where only the reader gains a superior, comprehensive insight into the interactions and tensions between incalculable chance and human will, transitoriness and hope, mortality and vitality, failure and luck, and can foresee and vicariously experience the final union of the lovers eventually brought about as a result of these interactions. Besides, there is one text with a different – unique – type of event. In Fowles the eventful change consists in a transgression of boundaries between narrative levels, what might be called a metaleptic event. Both Fielding and Jennings together with Isobel are alleged to have escaped from the level of fiction (discours) into existential reality (histoire), a paradoxical claim which can be described as a postmodernist, metafictional strategy, self-consciously flaunting the inescapable fictionality of narrative literature and at the same time expressing the desire to reach out to extraliterary reality.



References Ashliman, D. L. (2004). Folk and Fairy Tales (Westport, CT etc.: Greenwood). Freund, Winfried (2005). Märchen (Köln: Dumont). Holbek, Bengt (1987). Interpretation of Fairy Tales: Danish Folklore in a European Perspective (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia). Hühn, Peter & Jens Kiefer (2005). The Narratological Analysis of Lyric Poetry: Studies in English Poetry from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, tr. A. Matthews (Berlin & New York: de Gruyter). Pöge-Alder, Kathrin (2007). Märchenforschung: Theorien, Methoden, Interpretationen (Tübingen: Narr). Propp, Vladimir (1968 [1928]). The Morphology of the Folktale, tr. L. Scott (Austin: Univ. of Texas Pr.). Wolf, Werner (2002). “Das Problem der Narrativität in Literatur, bildender Kunst und Musik: Ein Beitrag zu einer intermedialen Erzähltheorie”, in Vera Nünning & Ansgar Nünning, eds. Erzähltheorie transgenerisch, intermedial, interdisziplinär (Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag), 23104.