Free Indirect Discourse in Emma

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Free and Direct Discourse in Jane Austen’s, Emma

Jane Austen is often considered to have one of the most compelling narrative voices in literature. Blurring the line between third and first person, Austen often combines the thoughts of the narrator with the feelings and muses of the focalized character. Emma is perhaps her most prominent example of free indirect discourse, where the narrator’s voice is often diffused into that of the characters. In the following passage, Emma takes on her role at match-maker between Mr. Elton and Harriet Smith, two naïve and somewhat air-headed characters in the novel. Mr. Elton was the very first person fixed on by Emma for driving the young farmer out of Harriet’s head. She though it would be an excellent match; and only too palpably desirable, natural, and probable for her to have much merit in planning it. She feared it was what everybody else must think of and predict. It was not likely, however, that anybody should have equaled her in the date of the plan, as it had entered her brain during the very first evening of Harriet’s coming to Hartfield. The longer she considered it, the greater was her sense of expediency. Mr. Elton’s situation was most suitable, quite the gentleman himself, and without low connections; at the same time not of any family that could fairly object to the doubtful birth of Harriet. He had a comfortable home for her, and Emma imagined a very sufficient income; for though the vicarage of Highbury was not large, he was known to have some independent property; and she thought very highly of him as a good humoured, well-meaning, respectable young man, without any deficiency of useful understanding or knowledge of the world. (Austen, 88)

The narrative technique used in this passage is clearly free indirect discourse. There is a definite blur between the narrator and the character, who in this case is Emma, as it often is. The very first sentence delves into Emma’s plotting thoughts of connecting...
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