The Novel that its origins go much further

The importance of the narrator to the genre of the novel, using two texts from the module.Since its invention, the novel has become the most popular of all literary forms. However, the issue of its origin has been rather controversial as both the Spanish, the French and the English lay claims to having invented it. While literary critic and historian Ian Watt argued in his book The Rise of the Novel that the genre emerged in eighteenth century England, Canadian author Margaret Doody stated in her book The True Story of the Novel that its origins go much further back and can be traced to antiquity. As this course has introduced the novel as a modern literary genre, we will assume that it emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries where it differentiated itself from previous genres. (By genre we mean a specific kind of literary work, characterized by a particular form, style or purpose.) The word “novel” comes from the Italian “novella storia” meaning “new story”, and E. M. Forster simply defined the novel as “a fiction in prose of a certain length.” Thus, in addition to having characters and character development, the novel has a plot – a storyline building to a climax and then a resolution of some issue. Usually, it is too long to be read in one sitting. As will be seen in this essay, the novel is a genre in which the narrator plays an important part.First, the essay will define what a narrator is and establish what different types exist as well as their impact on the novel. Then, it will go on to analyze the narrator in Daniel Defoe’s The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe. Finally, the narrator in Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes will be examined.As mentioned in the introduction, the narrator plays an important role being the storyteller in a novel. In other words, the narrator is the person who narrates the story. The word originates from the Latin “narrare” which means “to tell” or “relate”. In a work of fiction, the narrator is therefore different from the author as he/she is communicating the story from his/her own perspective. The narrator is not necessarily a character in the story, however, his/her role is important as the opinions and biases of the narrator affect the readers. What the narrator sees will essentially affect what the reader will know, and likewise, if a narrator’s version of the story cannot be trusted, this might be seen as an “unreliable narrator”, a category that includes mythomaniacs and downright liars. There are different kinds of narrators which all tell a story from a different point of view. The various points of view can include the first, second, or third person perspectives. A first person narrator uses the pronouns “I/we”, “me/us”, “my/our” etc. We know that this type of narrator is a character in the story since he/she is telling it from his/her point of view. Consequently, the narrator usually participates in the story in some way. This kind of narrator cannot comment on something he/she has not experienced directly and is limited to describing only what he/she sees to the readers. The second person narrator is naturally much more rare and uses the pronouns “you”, “your” and “yours” (notable example Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City). We know once more that the narrator is a character in the story as he/she is telling it to another person. Inevitably, the narrator is involved in the action and can make the reader feel as though he/she is part of the novel. This narrator also makes it seem as if he/she is speaking to the reader directly. Just like the first person narrator, second person narrators can only relate what they see. The third person narrator, lastly, is the most common kind of narrator. A third person narrator uses the pronouns “he/she/they”, “his/her(s)/their(s)” and can be either limited or omniscient. The former is not a common type of narrator in literature and just as the narrators previously mentioned, this narrator does not see everything; that is why it is called “limited”. The latter, however, the third-person omniscient narrator, is the most common kind. Just as the “limited” narrator, the omniscient narrator is not a character in the text, however, he/she is called omniscient because he/she knows everything that every character experiences or is feeling. The third person narrator observes everything that is happening in the story but is unbiased. The essay will now be focusing on a more concrete example of a narrator in a novel. In 1719, English writer and pamphleteer Daniel Defoe wrote The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, which today is generally considered the first novel written in English. Normally, a work that is part of a genre is subject to formal constraints and is shaped by conventions, but when Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe, there were no rules concerning the novel yet. (Incidentally, the beginning of the eighteenth century was a time of advances in printing technologies and of open forms in literature, it also saw the rise of the middle class in Europe.)Ian Watt has said: “The various technical characteristics of the novel … seem to contribute to … the production of what purports to be an authentic account of the actual experience of individuals.” If we begin by looking at the book cover from when it was first published, Robinson Crusoe was initially presented as an autobiography. Defoe – the author’s name – did not appear on the cover which read “The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, where-in all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. Written by Himself.” We know that Robinson Crusoe is not an autobiography as what is told in the story did not happen to Defoe, but there is strong evidence pointing to the fact that it was inspired by the story of a Scottish sailor named Alexander Selkirk. In other words, the narrator must be described as unreliable. However the case may be, the original title suggests both truth of narration by the wealth of detail and claims that the account was “Written by Himself”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines verisimilitude as “the fact or quality of being verisimilar; the appearance of being true or real; likeness or resemblance to truth, reality, or fact; probability.” With Robinson Crusoe, Defoe plays with verisimilitude: although his book is fictional, it is portrayed as fact and the narrator influences this immensely. The novel tells the story of a young and impulsive Englishman, Robinson Crusoe, who is seeking adventure. To turn a long story short, Crusoe is shipwrecked and castaway on a remote tropical island for twenty eight years. Before being rescued at the end of the novel, he encounters both cannibals, mutineers and captives. The narrator of this story, as has been suggested, is therefore the protagonist of the story. The readers are let in on Robinson Crusoe’s point of view through the first person perspective, told both in the form of a journal and as an adventure novel. This work is regarded as one of the first realistic fiction novels but one may wonder if essentially, Defoe is not blurring fiction.  By the time Joseph Conrad wrote Under Western Eyes in 1911, the genre of the novel had existed for more than two centuries. Conrad was an English writer of Polish descent who, despite not speaking English until his twenties, has increasingly been regarded as one of the greatest English novelists. Because he wrote in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Conrad belongs to the movement called modernism. More specifically, he is regarded as an early modernist. Modernism arose from the rapid changes happening in society at the time, these included changes in cultural trends, in the development of industrial societies or the rapid growth of cities. Modernism was a reaction against Victorian morality and also strongly reacted to the horrors of the first world war. In Under Western Eyes, the narration plays a large part in how the story is told; the story is made up of two narrations, one embedded in the other. The primary narrator is a language teacher, he is the one narrating the novel as a whole and he is merely a Western observer of Razumov’s diary. Razumov, through the quotes from his diary embedded in the story, becomes the second narrator, a hypodiegetic narrator. This doubling divides the reader between two narrators with different perspectives, the language teacher is and sees himself as a Westerner, a European, while Razumov is Russian. The first narrator can be seen as an unreliable narrator, he even acknowledges it himself when confessing his troubles understanding the Eastern mindset and culture, including Razumov’s diary and warning the reader that words can be deceiving. In Under Western Eyes, Conrad introduces Russian culture to the Western reader. Using the language teacher as the primary narrator acts as a softener of the culture clash between Western and Eastern culture, giving the reader someone to identify with more easily while also showing the reader that understanding Eastern culture is not easy through the teacher’s incomprehension of the Russian character.To conclude, this essay has studied how narrative has an impact on the novel. The first part showed that narrators may or may not be characters within a story and that depending on the way in which the author decides to write his/her narrator determines how the story is received by the reader. Then, when analyzing the narrator in Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe, we saw that Defoe played with his protagonist and narrator, making his novel seem as an autobiography, a work of nonfiction while one of the characteristics of the novel is that it is a work of fiction. In Under Western Eyes, Conrad skillfully created a double narrative giving the reader two different perspectives on a story and on a culture. Conrad and Defoe used two very different narratives in their respective stories, giving the reader different experiences. While the reader may have been able to identify with Robinson because of the first-person narrative in Robinson Crusoe, the reader was able to understand Russia better thanks to the two narrators in Under Western Eyes.