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In Austen's Pride and Prejudice, what parts of the following passage are focalization,...

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manfie | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 25, 2011 at 12:43 AM via web

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In Austen's Pride and Prejudice, what parts of the following passage are focalization, free indirect speech, and just the narrator.

Pride and Prejudice: Chapter 22, Volume 1.

"The possibility of Mr. Collins's fancying himself in love with her friend ... it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen."

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted March 22, 2011 at 7:09 AM (Answer #1)

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Focalization is defined as the act of determining who is seeing the events and characters in the narrative. Or to put it in reverse, it is defined as through whose eyes the reader sees other characters and events. The passage you cite is the conversation between Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice in which Charlotte has just told Elizabeth that she has accepted Mr. Collins's proposal of marriage. The passage starts out:

The possibility of Mr. Collins's fancying himself in love with her friend had once occurred to Elizabeth ....

This is an interesting passage to analyze because of what comes before it. Chapter 22 begins with just the narrator [this is called "empty center" focalization, with an "empty," or deictic, center]. After which, the focalization becomes variable focalization as it moves from one character to another: first from the narrator to Elizabeth, then to Charlotte, then Collins, then the narrator again, to the whole Lucas family, and back to Charlotte.
Next, in the passage in question, Austen directs the focalization into a different and more dedicated path. The words, "The possibility of Mr. Collins's fancying himself..." begins the passage with just the narrator’s focalization.

The omniscient narrator is just stepping out of the Lucas household and shifting the focalization--the eyes through which we see events and characters--to the heroine. This return to the heroine is part of Austen's greatness: She takes us on escapades but never leaves us dangling in the wind without focus. The rest of that sentence says in part:

The possibility ... had once occurred to Elizabeth ... but that Charlotte could encourage him seemed ... as far from possibility ... as she could encourage him herself.

From having the Lucases, Charlotte, and Collins as focalizers, we have now come back to Elizabeth who once again becomes the focalizer, the one through whom events and characters are focalized, or seen. This focalization through Elizabeth gives way to the narrator again at "The steady countenance ...." The narrator now is in a position to present free indirect speech in this portion:

the prospect of their relationship was highly grateful to her, and that she wished her all imaginable happiness.

The narrator steps back in after the indirect speech at the words "Elizabeth quietly answered 'Undoubtedly;'" the narrator continues through the words "was added the distressing conviction that ...." Following this, the passage ends with another example of Elizabeth's free indirect speech:

it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.

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