Friday, April 05, 2013

Jane Austen's gift of making readers complicit in the misapprehension of her characters

... By her painstaking re-creation of Mary’s talk—her witty paragraph-length discourses on the absurdities of country life, the hypocrisy of the clergy, the abominations of her uncle the admiral—Austen makes us feel for Mary what Edmund feels. She once again makes us complicit.
That ability to make us complicit is essential to Austen’s art. A moralist can lecture, but a novelist must create lifelike moments that let us experience the consciousness of another. Austen does this so subtly that it can be easy to take for granted. ...
One of the finer aspects of Austen's art, even after every plot twist has been spoiled, is that she can lead us by the nose through the biases of her characters in such a way that her tone and sentence structure predispose us to reach the conclusions of her characters, even when those conclusions turn out to be spectacularly wrong.  While Austen didn't have any fear of telling rather than showing she still accomplishes a kind of showing in which character reactions and particularly their speech, show us quite a bit about the psychological state of a protagonist.  Austen and Dostoevsky can both be clever at using a third-person omniscient narrator that turns out to withhold details or is bound by the restricted vision of a central character. 

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