Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Brown’s most striking technical accomplishment in “Somnambulism” is his narrative mode, which experiments with unreliable narrator and interior monologue decades before such techniques were supposed to have been invented. Brown’s first-person narrative in this story includes a lengthy and inconclusive detailed decision-making process, in which the narrator, Althorpe, alternately decides for and against pursuing Constantia’s affections. The name “Constantia” serves as an ironic contrast to Althorpe’s inconstant thought pattern. Althorpe’s inconstant thought is reinforced stylistically in alternations between direct and indirect discourse in the dialogue. Because the first-person format means that all dialogue is ultimately reported by the narrator, Althorpe, direct quotations often merge with indirect. Other characters’ references to themselves sometimes say “I” and sometimes “he,” though both ultimately derive from Althorpe. Conversely, interior monologues—Althorpe’s mental conversation with himself—at times are almost as argumentative and discursive as real conversation, with Althorpe often arguing with himself.

Brown’s presentation of a man oblivious to his own deepest thoughts and feelings is ahead of his time not only in narrative technique but also in terms of psychological understanding. In characters such as Althorpe, Brown explored in great detail what Sigmund Freud a century later would call the...

(The entire section is 454 words.)