How does the author use free indirect discourse?

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Free indirect discourse, most associated with Jane Austen, occurs when an author slides from the omniscient narrative voice (while setting the scene or explaining events) to inside the thoughts of one particular character. The technique tends to blur the distinction between the narrator's voice and the subjective voice of a character. One must be an alert reader, for the slide often happens within the confines of a single paragraph or even a single sentence. No quotation marks are put around the character's thoughts.

Forster uses this technique to give a quick summary of what has happened to characters who have been recently off stage or to set a scene and then to slide inside one character's subjective headspace. An example would be in chapter five of A Room with a View.

After a quick synopsis of Miss Bartlett and Miss Lavish's adventure, Forster then has his narrator explain Lucy and Mr. Beebe's thinking, then slides into the thoughts going through Lucy's mind. The phrase, "it was too dreadful" triggers us to know these are Lucy's thoughts:

It was too dreadful not to know whether she was thinking right or wrong.

A short time later, after some dialogue and some description of the blush of shame on Lucy's cheeks, we slide back into Lucy's thoughts:

How abominably she behaved to Charlotte, now as always! But now she should alter. All morning she would be really nice to her.

This type of writing allows for a fluid movement between external descriptions and internal thoughts in a novel.

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Through the use of free indirect discourse (a phrase that means that an omniscient narrator also provides insight into characters' innermost thoughts and feelings), Forster stays in the third person, yet he has access to the minds of his characters. For example, in chapter two, Forster relates that Lucy Honeychurch feels pleasant upon waking up in Florence and opening the window to the scene below. Later, the reader knows the reactions that Lucy has to Mr. Emerson and to his remarks as he speaks about his son, George. For example, Lucy feels like laughing at first when Mr. Emerson explains how unhappy George is simply because he has a kind of existentialist depression. Later, when George kisses Lucy in chapter six, the reader knows his thoughts as he sees the "radiant joy in her face" (55) before kissing her. By using free indirect discourse, the author can stay in the third person and yet have access to all his characters' innermost thoughts rather than only presenting only one viewpoint.

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A key element of Forster's narrative technique is on particular show in A Room with a View, that of "free indirect discourse" or what Forster scholars have come to know as the "bouncing narrative." The technique is one especially on display in the opening pages of the novel where we originally encounter a narrative voice that seems to be omniscient in its statements about the Pension Bertolini as a place that reveres Englishness with its "portraits of the late Queen and the Late Poet Laureate." As readers, we passively sit back and are told of a fictional world whose description we accept just as readers would have done in 1908 when the novel was first published and when the omniscient narrative was the dominant way of telling a story.

However, in his later work Aspects of the Novel, which recounts the history of narrative art, Forster tells the reader that "the novelist must bounce us [...] that is imperative" and, indeed, he does just this in the opening pages of A Room with a View when the characters begin to "invade" the narrator's voice, expressing their views as if they were the "truth" which we accept from the narrator. The first to do this is Charlotte Bartlett when she comments, seemingly invading the narrator's perspective, that Mr. Emerson is "one of the ill-bred people whom one does meet abroad." Of course, as we later discern, this is far from the truth and Mr. Emerson is only "ill-bred" from Bartlett's own perspective and, indeed, his "view" will become the dominant one as the narrative goes on. Indeed, a little later on in the same episode, we also see Lucy "invade" the narrator's view in a comic display of reticence in which she describes how the "old man attacked Miss Bartlett almost violently" (it is, of course, difficult to attack someone in an "almost violent" manner).

This tactic is one deliberately employed throughout the novel in which Forster is able to subtly introduce and allow the reader to question the various "views" of the different characters.

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