Authorial intrusion (narrative discourse)—standard in 18th-19th-century fiction
Direct authorial commentary in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852):
- [Tom] was possessed of a handsome person and pleasing manners, and was a general favorite in the factory. Nevertheless, as this young man was in the eye of the law not a man, but a thing, all these superior qualifications were subject to the control of a vulgar, narrow-minded, tyrannical master.
- Flaubert’s response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin typifies the attitude towards didactic authorial commentary that would become standard by the century’s end: “The author’s comments irritated me continually. Does one have to make observations about slavery? Depict it: that’s enough. . . . Look at The Merchant of Venice and see whether anyone declaims against usury” (Letters 173). In his painstaking pursuit of stylistic perfection, in his realistic treatment of mundane subjects, and in his refinement of narrative technique to show more and tell less, Flaubert probably had greater impact on the modern novel than any other writer of his century. Flaubert went against the mid-century grain by attempting a purely “dramatic” work when he set out to write Madame Bovary with “No lyricism, no comments, the author’s personality absent” (Selected Letters 128), working on the principle that “An author in his book must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere” (Letters 173).
From Henry Fielding, Tom Jones (1749):
- Reader, I think proper, before we proceed any farther, to acquaint thee, that I intend to digress, through his whole History, as often as I see Occasion” (37). Fielding’s “historian” is true to his word and finds occasion to digress or intrude on virtually every page of the novel, even for entire chapters.
From Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (1759-1770)
- Upon looking back from the end of the last chapter and surveying the texture of what has been wrote, it is necessary, that upon this page and the five following, a good quantity of heterogeneous matter be inserted, to keep up that just balance betwixt wisdom and folly, without which a book would not hold together a single year: nor is it a poor creeping digression (which but for the name of, a man might continue as well going on in the king’s highway) which will do the business—no; if it is to be a digression, it must be a good frisky one, and upon a frisky subject too, where neither the horse or his rider are to be caught, but by rebound. (472)
From Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1853):
When Jo the crossing-sweeper dies in Bleak House, the author intrudes in propria persona to say: “Dead, your Majesty. Dead, my lords and gentlemen. Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Dead, men and women, born with Heavenly compassion in your hearts. And dying thus around us every day” (649). It is similarly the author himself who is moved to address the reader after Oliver Twist recounts for the Maylies, the “weary catalogue of evils and calamities which hard men had brought upon him”:
- Oh! if, when we oppress and grind our fellow-creatures, we bestowed but one thought on the dark evidences of human error, which, like dense and heavy clouds, are rising, slowly it is true, but not less surely, to Heaven, to pour their after-vengeance on our heads; if we heard but one instant, in imagination, the deep testimony of dead men’s voices, which no power can stifle, and no pride shut out; where would be the injury and injustice: the suffering, misery, cruelty, and wrong: that each day’s life brings with it! (193)