Typology of the Narrator

Advanced—Fall

Aristotle’s idea of narrative as the report of news brought from elsewhere is susceptible to the inference that the reporter is a relatively inconspicuous conduit of the material transmitted, the benign midwife of information. If this stance is posited as a kind of degree zero for the definition of the narrator in fiction, the evolution of the narrator’s role in the modern novel signifies a consequential shift in the idea of fiction itself reflective, in turn, of profound changes in worldview. In this course, we will attempt to deepen our understanding of fiction through examination of the disparate functions assigned to the narrator by a range of “modern” writers. Indeed, in discussing Henry James, Percy Lubbock asserts: “The whole intricate question of method in the craft of fiction [depends on] the relation in which the narrator stands to the story.” James, in accordance with Flaubert’s principles, sought to purify the novel of authorial commentary, to make the author invisible, his innovations in perspective and voice recasting the role of the narrator. Flaubert’s “irony of undecidability,” furthermore, is complicated by features (tone, multiplication of perspective) that betray bias and vision. Scrutiny of these traces in Flaubert and in the implementation of the narrator(s) in Sterne, Ford Madox Ford, Balzac, James and Cather, among others, will necessarily involve consideration of issues fundamental to such an investigation; e.g., polyphony, “unreliability,” mimesis and diagesis, and indirect discourse.