‘the Narrative Voice Is an Important Element in the Use of Realist and Non-Realist Techniques and Conventions.’

Topics: Literature, Gothic fiction, Fiction Pages: 5 (1567 words) Published: March 7, 2011
It is not always easy to categorise literary forms into a particular genre or style of writing. Therefore to classify the realist novel, which became the foremost form of writing in the early nineteenth century, we can perhaps best describe it as a body of prose that is interested and concerned with everyday life. This of course leads us to assume, as readers of twenty-first century novels, that a non-realist novel would therefore offer the reader an escape into an alternative world where settings and events are far from what would be expected in everyday life. Two examples of this that would immediately spring to mind nowadays would be perhaps the science fiction or horror genres. However, during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, novelists thought of their works as realist if they were simply not recognised as ‘romantic’ writings, which had been the dominant literary form for centuries, ‘…realism meant writing fiction based on observation of the world of ordinary men and women in society, using the simplest language to reach the widest audience. It also meant avoiding ‘the torments of soul of young men with too much imagination’, tortured phraseology and ideas’ and ‘romantic psychology’ (The Realist Novel, p.26.).

A realist novel can also then be categorised as having a certain ‘voice’ and narrative structure. If, as a reader, we are to connect with the characters and believe in the realistic world that the author has created, then certain narrative techniques and language are to be expected.

This being said, there are of course novels that cleverly combine both literary forms; offering the reader the chance to connect with the characters in a recognisable setting or family group but also creating an atmosphere or sequence of events that would not be expected in real life.

One such sub-genre as this is the Gothic novel. The Old English Baron: A Gothick Story, written by Clara Reeve in 1778 ‘…was, in fact, one of the first examples of a sub-genre of the novel, Gothic, that tried to combine the ‘real’ and the ‘fabulous’. (The Realist Novel, p.28.). Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1764), considered as the first fitting example of the Gothic novel, is where the term originates from, being derived from the ‘…Gothic or medieval architecture of the gloomy castles…’ (The Realist Novel, p.28.) he favoured in his work.

Frankenstein, a Gothic novel written by Mary Shelley in 1818, is a perfect example of how the realist novel can be combined with the non-realist. The narrative voice that Shelley employs is also a combination as she creates an unusual blend of literary styles within the book.

The novel is essentially a series of letters written by Captain Robert Walton. They are all written to his sister, Margaret Saville, as he shares his travelling experiences and innermost thoughts with her. Once Walton has met Frankenstein though, and Frankenstein divulges the story of himself and the creature to Walton, it becomes easy for the reader to forget that it is still Walton’s letters to his sister that we are essentially reading as it feels more like a direct autobiography from Frankenstein himself.

This happens again, when we are immersed in the creature’s world. We are taken so deep into the creature’s thoughts and feelings that we forget that what we are reading is third-hand information. In reality it is Walton’s letter to his sister, wherein Frankenstein dictates to Walton what the creature has told him, even though we read it as if it is first person narrative directly from the creature himself.

The epistolary style is taken further by Shelley where, within Frankenstein’s dictation to Walton for his letters to his sister, there are also letters between Frankenstein and his family.

Using this narrative technique of first person, brings the reader to a closer observation of the characters and allows the reader to experience a link with them, feeling sympathy, empathy, pity or hatred towards...
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