Multiperspectival Narration: The Perspective Structure of Charles Dickens´ "Bleak House" and George Eliot´s "Middlemarch"

Thesis (M.A.) 2008 102 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature





1 Introduction

2 The Theory of Multiperspectival Narration
2.1 ‘Perspective’ in Optics, Art, Philosophy and in Literary Studies
2.2 Multiperspectival Narration
2.2.1 The Definition of Multiperspectival Narration
2.2.2 Forms of Multiperspectival Narration
2.3 The Perspective Structure of Narrative Texts
2.3.1 The Individual Perspectives Character-perspective Narrator-perspective
2.3.2 The Perspective Structure The Paradigmatic Dimension: Categories for the Analysis of the Selection and Arrangement of the Individual Perspectives The Syntagmatic Dimension: Categories for the Analysis of the Arrangement of Individual Perspectives Closed vs. Open Perspective Structures Controlling Strategies Supporting or Disturbing the Synthesis of the Perspectives
2.4 Framing and Multiperspectivity
2.5 The Role of Multiperspectivity in Narrative Texts

3 Multiperspectival Narration in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House
3.1 The Form of Multiperspectival Narration in Bleak House
3.2 Multiperspectivally Presented Subjects in Bleak House
3.3 The Individual Perspectives in Bleak House
3.3.1 The Narrator-Perspective
3.3.2 Esther’s Perspective Esther as the Experiencing “ I“ Esther as the Narrating “ I“
3.4 The Perspective Structure of Bleak House
3.4.1 The Paradigmatic Dimension of Multiperspectival Narration
3.4.2 The Syntagmatic Dimension of Multiperspectival Narration
3.4.3 The Synthesis of the Perspectives in Bleak House
3.5 The Illustration’s Role in the Novel’s Perspective Structure

4 Multiperspectival Narration in George Eliot’s Middlemarch
4.1 The Form of Multiperspectival Narration in Middlemarch
4.2 Multiperspectivally Presented Subjects in Middlemarch
4.2.1 Multiperspectivally Presented Themes and Events
4.2.2 Multiperspectival Presentation of Characters
4.3 The Individual Perspectives in Middlemarch
4.3.1 Character-perspectives Dorothea’s Perspective Casaubon’s Perspective Will Ladislaw’s perspective Lydgate’s perspective Rosamond’s perspective
4.3.2 The Narrator-perspective
4.3.3 Framing: The Role of the Prelude in Middlemarch
4.4 The Perspective Structure of Middlemarch
4.4.1 The Paradigmatic Dimension of Multiperspectival Narration
4.4.2 The Syntagmatic Dimension of Multiperspectival Narration
4.4.3 The Synthesis of the Perspectives in Middlemarch Middlemarch as a Narrative with an Open Perspective Structure.. Strategies that Support or Disturb the Synthesis of the Perspective Structure
4.5 The Different Roles of Multiperspectival Narration in Middlemarch Epistemological and Metanarrative Roles of Multiperspectival Narration in Middlemarch Normative and Ideological Roles of Multiperspectival Narration in Middlemarch

5 Conclusion



This thesis is dedicated to the memory of my father, who being an actor unconsciously imbued me with his love of literature; to my mother, whose perseverance has always stood for me as a model and who taught me to appreciate and love languages; and to my dear husband, Nicholas, who has supported me unstintingly throughout my studies. Finally, I owe a special word of thanks to Cini.


The following abbreviations will be used in this thesis together with page numbers in order to indicate quotations taken from Dickens’ and Eliot’s novels:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

1 Introduction

Es gibt nur ein perspektivisches Sehen, nur ein perspektivisches ‚Erkennen’; und je mehr Affekte wir über eine Sache zu Worte Kommen lassen, je mehr Augen, verschiedne Augen wir uns für dieselbe Sache einzusetzen wissen, umso vollständiger wird unser ‚Begriff’ von dieser Sache, unsre ‚Objektivität’ sein.

(Friedrich Nietzsche, Zur Genealogie der Moral)1

No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience.

(John Locke, Essay on the Human Understanding, dedicatory epistle, sec. 19)

I don’t pretend to understand the Universe - it’s a great deal bigger than I am … People ought to be modester.

(Remark to Wm. Allingham. D. A. Wilson’s and D. Wilson MacArthur’s Carlyle in Old Age)

The idea that knowledge is always perspectival, that every understanding is subjective and dependent on an observer, and that by a multiperspectival way of looking at a thing, our notion of this object, our objectivity becomes more extensive and more complex has become a common-place idea.2 According to the German philosopher’s, Nietzsche’s philosophical theory, termed perspectivism, “there are no immaculate perceptions”, and “knowledge from no point of view is as incoherent a notion as seeing from no particular vantage point”3. As Berndt Magnus puts it, “perspectivism also denies the possibility of an all-inclusive perspective, which could contain all others and, hence, make reality available as it is in itself”4. Moreover, he argues that “the concept of such an all-inclusive perspective is as incoherent as the concept of seeing an object from every possible vantage point simultaneously”.

These views about the limits of human understanding and perspectivism were not developed in the field of literature, but in the field of philosophy. However, since the eighteenth century, through the development of innovative narrative forms the novel has had a very important role in making people aware of the fact that all experience, understanding and even history is bound to a person’s subjectivity5. As Vera & Ansgar Nünning state in their article, the relationship between narration and perspectivity, or rather the subjectivity of experiencing reality (“Subjektabhängigkeit von Wirklichkeitserfahrung”) is especially clear in the case of multiperspectival narration, because in these narratives several versions of the same events are presented side by side, and thus in such multiperspectival narratives, the emphasis shifts from the narrated events to the mode of experiencing reality. Besides, they add that by contrasting the different descriptions and interpretations there is a constant relativization of the imperfect points of view and of the norms and values of the different individuals, from whose perspective we learn the story while reading the narrative. Therefore, in their view, multiperspectivally narrated novels are suitable to present the diversity of different social viewpoints, ideas, and social discourses6.

Though mutiperspectival narration is a central means of representation in many narrative texts, and we can also find numerous examples in English literature which use this narrative technique, such as the novels of Samuel Richardson, Tobias Smollett, Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Aldous Huxley, Lawrence Durrell, John Fowles, Iris Murdoch, Julian Barnes, and Ian McEwan, this literary phenomenon has received very little attention among literary theorists and critics. The few critics who have been concerned with the topic use various terms in their studies for this narrative technique, among which the following German terms compete with each other: “Mehrfachperspektive”, “Polyperspektive”, “vielperspektivisch”, just to name a few. The first study which dealt with the forms of multiperspectival narration is Volker Neuhauses’s, Typen Multiperspektivischen Erzählens7. Although the book has long served as the theoretical basis for the many different forms of this narrative, it still leaves many questions open, and does not present precise theoretical tools, such as a well-defined terminology for the classification and analysis of multiperspectival narration. The first study that provides a precise terminological framework for the analysis of multiperspectival narration is Vera & Ansgar Nünning’s groundbreaking work, in which they apply Manfred Pfister’s theories for the analysis of the different character perspectives in drama8.

The main objective of this thesis is to investigate the different uses of multiperspectival narration in two nineteenth century English novels, in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1852-53) and George Eliot’s Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life (1871-72) and to discuss the possible functions of this technique in these novels. After examining the different forms of multiperspectival narration in these novels, I will identify the different perspectives, and will also examine the different relations between these perspectives by considering the paradigmatic and syntagmatic dimension of the perspective structure in the respective novels. Furthermore, I shall consider how the perspective structure of these two narratives steers the reception process by looking at the various factors that make the integration of the different perspectives within the aforementioned two novels easier or more difficult for the reader.

The main part of my thesis is divided into three parts: in the first part of my thesis I will present the theoretical framework that I intend to use in my analysis of these novels, and then in the second and third parts my attention will be devoted to the analysis of the novels.

2 The Theory of Multiperspectival Narration

“A man that seeketh precise truth, had need to remember what every name he uses stands for; and to place it accordingly; or else he will find himselfe entangled in words, as a bird in lime-twiggs: the more he struggles, the more belimed.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651), I. iv.15.

As the different uses of the term ‘perspective’ in the science of history, art, philosophy, literary studies and in many other disciplines show, the concept has an interdisciplinary relevance. Since the term ‘perspective’ has so many different connotations, and because its use in the context of narratology is a metaphorical one, it is very important to give an explanation as to how the term is used in literature. Moreover, a precise definition is also necessary for the term’s reestablishment and dissociation from concepts like focalization1, which refers to a constituent of the narrative transmission, i.e. to “the perceptual centre from which the events of the story are presented”2.

2.1 ‘Perspective’ in Optics, Art, Philosophy and in Literary Studies

According to Nünning’s explanation of the term3, the concept of ‘perspective’ derives from the Latin verb perspicere, which means ‘to see through’, to look through’, or ‘to see clearly.’ The term perspectiva was originally used in natural sciences, especially in optics. In the Middle Latin period, the word perspectiva referred to the science of sight, which deals with correct seeing, its rules and problems of optical distortions4. In painting and art the concept is used as a “method of graphically depicting three-dimensional objects and spatial relationships on a two-dimensional plane or on a plane that is shallower than the original”5. Following Ansgar Nünning, in philosophy, in the Rationalism and in the Enlightenment, the term is expanded to the depiction of problems in the theory of understanding6. Philosophical uses of the concept tend to be more metaphorical, describing general cognitive processes and proposing the theory of perspectivism mentioned in the introduction, according to which our knowledge of the world is inevitably partial and limited by the individual perspective from which it is perceived7.

As Surkamp states, literary critics and narrative theorists adopted both the visual and the cognitive aspects of the term. Following her explanation, in structuralist narratology and in more recent work in narrative theory inspired by structuralist approaches, the `perspective' usually refers to stylistic features of narrative discourse. Moreover, in such structuralist theories ‘perspective’ is closely related to terms like ‘point of view’ and ‘narrative situation’, which is synonymous with the term ‘narrative perspective’, bridging narration and focalization8. Nevertheless, in Surkamp’s view, this narratological approach to perspective overlooks crucial differences at the level of narrative transmission. Therefore, as she continues, in recent years narratology has introduced a number of more specific terms such as ‘narrative voice’, which refers to aspects of narratorial discourse, and ‘external’ and ‘internal’ focalization referring to narratorial and character-based viewpoints, respectively, to describe these basic elements more precisely9.

In recent reconceptualisations, the use of the term 'perspective' tends to be restricted to “the subjective world-views of characters and narrators”10. In such theories of perspective, the term does not anymore imply the way a story is told as it is the case in ‘narrative perspective’, according to which we distinguish between three typical narrative situations: the authorial narrative situation, the figural narrative situation and the first person narrative situation, but rather, the emphasis in such recent theories shifts from the way a story is told to the “semantic component of narratives”, that is to say, to the “totality of the world- and belief-models embraced by the fictional individuals of the storyworld”11.

In the analyses of the aforementioned novels, I rely on this second conceptualisation of perspective, and I will use Vera & Ansgar Nünning’s groundbreaking theories on multiperspectival narration12 as the basis for the theoretical framework of my thesis.

2.2 Multiperspectival Narration

As Vera and Ansgar Nünning emphasize in their essay on multiperspectival narration, we can hardly find another aspect of narrative texts which has had a larger imbalance between its importance as far as its occurrence in narrative texts is concerned and its lack of adequate theoretical models for its description, as the technique of multiperspectival narration, even though multiperspectivity is a fascinating literary phenomenon, from a narratological as well as from a historico-cultural perspective13. In view of these facts, they propose a theoretical framework for the analysis of this narrative technique, in which they give a precise definition of what they mean by multiperspectival narration, and furthermore they introduce new categories which enable the analysis of the perspective structure of narrative texts, including the analysis of the individual perspectives and their different relations to each other.

2.2.1 The Definition of Multiperspectival Narration

According to their preliminary definition of the term, multiperspectival narration is a form of narrative transmission in which a subject, an event, a character etc. is presented from at least two or more individual perspectives14. Nevertheless, multiperspectivity, also called ‘polyperspectivity,’ is in comparison with other narratological concepts a relatively vague term, and it is not clear which narratives can be regarded as multiperspectival narratives. Consequently, to prevent theoretical confusions around the concept, Nünning/Nünning find it essential to give a precise narratological definition of the technique. In considering the term and its definition they raise the following unsolved questions:

Does the term refer only to narrative texts that have two or more narrators, or does it also refer to those texts in which the events are related at the level of the story, embedded into the level of discourse, the characters thus functioning as intradiegetic narrators ?

Do narratives in which the events are related alternately from the perspective of different reflectors (Stanzel’s tem), or focalizers (Genette’s term), also belong to this form of narrative transmission?

Does the term also include novels in which the presence of an authorial narrator is predominant, but which nevertheless present the inner life of the story’s characters by means of free indirect discourse15 or by means of any other narrative technique used for presenting consciousness?

Furthermore, can we describe modernist texts, in which fragments from different text-types and genres are joined together (assembled) into a narrative collage, as multiperspectival narratives?

And how do framing techniques and illustrations relate to multiperspectivity? Do they also serve different perspectives for describing a particular event, character, or subject?

In order to be able to decide which texts can be regarded as multiperspectival narratives, Nünning/Nünning reconsider a few earlier narratological definitions of multiperspectival narration. One of the earlier narratological definitions of multiperspectival narration was given by Neuhaus (1971), as follows:

Unter dem Begriff ,multiperspektivisches Erzählen’ sollen diejenigen Romane und Erzählungen zusammengefasst werden, in denen sich ein Autor nebeneinander mehrerer Erzählperspektiven bedient, um ein Geschehen wiederzugeben, einen Menschen zu schildern, eine bestimmte Epoche darzustellen oder dergleichen.16

As Nünning/Nünning point out, in Nauhaus’s definition the use of the term narrative perspective (Erzählperspektive) does not make it clear what is meant under perspective and it does not distinguish between narrators and focalizers. Besides, it is unclear what is meant by several narrative perspectives (“mehrerer Erzählperspektiven”), and what kind of shifts in the narrative transmission can be regarded as signs of multiperspectival narration17.

A second important definition of multiperspectival narration, which adds two important aspects, can be attributed to Buschman (1986)18. First, he criticizes the neglect of character speech as a change in perspective (“Figurenrede als Blickpunktwechsel”) in Neuhaus’s definition, and pleads for the inclusion of the characters’ perspective into the definition of multiperspectival narration. Furthermore, he tries to restrict the unlimited (endless) expansion of the term by demanding additionally a common ‘point of attention’, i.e. a common point of reference among the perspectives. As he puts it, “Damit liegt multiperspektivisches Erzählen dann vor, wenn aus dem ‘ point of view ’ verscheidener narrativer Instanzen (Erzähler unf Figuren) ein zentraler ‘ point of attention ’ dargestellt wird.“19. Besides, he restricts the term multiperspectivity to narratives in which from different perspectives different aspects of a subject are presented, or to those which lead to contrasting attitudes towards a subject. In his formulation, “aus verschiedenen Blickpunkten auch verschiedene Ansichten der Dinge und Erzählhaltungen folgen, wenn also auch im normativen Sinn mehrere points of view vorliegen“20.

In Vera & Ansgar Nünning’s view, Buschman’s definition distinguishes between narrators and characters as separate narrating instances, but he does not make a distinction between narration and focalization, which are important aspects to distinguish between story and discourse at the level of the narrative transmission. In their view, the two categories, i.e. the narrator and the characters, are blended in Buschmann’s definition into the vague concept of point of view. As a result, the question as to whether narrative texts with several focalizers should also be regarded as instances of multiperspectival narration still remains open.

Consequently, Nünning/Nünning come to the conclusion that to be able to give a precise terminology of the different forms of multiperspectival narration and to show how differently the narrated world may be conveyed in such narratives, it is essential to differentiate between narrators and focalizers. In addition, it is also important to consider at which narrative level the narrator is situated. In contrast to extradiegetic narrators, who are external to the storyworld, intradiegetic narrators are narrating characters belonging to the narrated storyworld, i.e. to the diegetic level. In their view, for the definition of multiperspectival narration it is necessary to take both extradiegetic and intradiegetic narrators into consideration, because in both cases if there is more than one narrating instance, this results in parallel perspectives within the same narrative. As they put it, “weil es in beiden Fällen bei einer Pluralisierung der Erzählinstanzen zu einer perspektivischen Auffächerung der erzälten Welt kommt”. Thus, the distinction between narration, focalization and between the different narrative levels (story and discourse) is necessary if one wants to take into account both the narrators and the reflector figures, i.e. the internal focalizers of a text, when defining multiperspectival narration21.

Taking into consideration all these facts, Vera and Ansgar Nünning come to the following working definition of multiperspectival narration:

Multiperspektivisches Erzählen liegt in solchen narrativen Texten vor, in denen das auf der Figurenebene dargestellte oder erzählte Geschehen dadurch facettenartig in mehrere Versionen oder Sichtweisen aufgefächert sind, da ß sie mindenstens eines der folgenden drei Merkmale (oder eine Kombination von mehreren dieser Merkmale) aufweisen:

(1) Erzählungen, in denen es zwei oder mehrere Erzählinstanzen auf der extradiegetischen und/oder der intradiegetischen Erzählebene gibt, die dasselbe Geschehen jeweils von ihrem Standpunkt aus in unterschiedlicher Weise schildern;
(2) Erzählungen, in denen dasselbe Geschehen alternierend oder nacheinander oder aus der Sicht bzw. Blickwinkel von zwei oder mehreren Fokalisierungsinstanzen bzw. Reflektorfiguren widergegeben wird;
(3) Erzählungen mit einer montage- bzw. collagehaften Erzählstruktur, bei der personale Perspektivierungen desselben Geschehens aus der Sicht unterschiedlicher Erzähl- und/oder Fokalisierungsinstanzen durch andere Textsorten ergänzt oder ersetzt werden 22.

As this definition shows, it is not enough to have several viewpoints in a narrative text for multiperspectival narration to be present, because if we considered every narrative that includes more than one perspective as a multiperspectival narrative then almost every text could be defined as such. In Vera and Ansgar Nünning’s view, we can speak of multiperspectivity in a narrative text only when several versions of the same events, or of the same phenomenon occurring at the story level, are presented. A multiperspectivally presented event or subject becomes especially important when there are discrepancies and disagreements in the judgement (assessment) of the multiply presented events, characters, setting, facts, topics or world-views, so that the separate perspectives cannot be synthesized23. Consequently, we need to have at least two deviating perspectives on the same subject for the technique of multiperspectival narration to be present in a narrative text. Hence, the special effect of multiperspectivity is due to the confrontation of the different perspectives on a specific subject or event24. Hence, the emphasis shifts from the question of how the story-world is presented to the semantic content of these different perspectives, to the different bearers of the perspectives (“Perspektiventräger”), and to their relation to each other. In the theory of multiperspectival narration the stress is rather on how differently one and the same thing may be conceived.25. Thus, the reader is presented with several interpretations of one and the same subject, and so it is left to the reader to choose between the different perspectives, to decide which one is more reliable. In consequence, multiperspectival narration leads the attention of the recipient from the level of the events to the subjectivity of the different bearers of these contrasting or deviating perspectives, and also shows that it is impossible to reproduce a precise account of the events, etc., and that all observation and every version of the different accounts is subject-dependent, that is to say, is dependent on a narrator’s or character’s perspective26. Accordingly, when analysing multiperspectival texts we are not only interested in how the narrated events are presented, but also in what constitutes the different perspectives that occur in the narrative.

2.2.2 Forms of Multiperspectival Narration

Relying on their working definition of the technique and considering how the perspective structure of a narrative text is conveyed, Vera and Ansgar Nünning distinguish between the following types of multiperspectival narration27:

Type 1: Multiperspectivally narrated texts (‘multiperspektivisch erzählte Texte’)

Multiperspectivally narrated texts are narratives in which the narrated events are presented from the perspective of two or more than two narrative instances. This type is characterized by the presence of two or more than two narrators, and following Nünning/Nünning (2000), it corresponds to Bertil Romberg’s narratological concept of ‘ multi-narrator novels28.

Type 2: Multiperspectivally focalized texts (‘multiperspektivisch fokalisierte Texte’)

Multiperspectivally focalized texts, on the other hand, are narratives in which the narrated events and the story-world are presented from the viewpoint of two or more reflector figures. In this case, the term multiperspectivity does not refer to several narrating instances, but to the presence of two or more focalizers, i.e. to the presence of several ‘ centers of consciousnes ’. This type thus corresponds to novels that Neuhaus termed “Romane der vielpersonigen Bewußtseinsdarstellung”, that is to say to novels in which the thoughts, feelings and perceptions of several characters are presented (cf. Ibid.).

Type 3: Multiperpectivally struxtured texts (‘multiperspektivisch strukturierte bzw. collagierte Texte’)

Multiperspectivally structured texts are narratives in which the multiperspectival layering of the texts is due to the combination of various text-types, e.g. letters, diaries, newspaper articles etc., which thus use the technique of collage. As Nünning/Nünning point out, this type corresponds to Neuhaus’s category “Archivroman”.

As can be seen from the above differentiation, multiperspectivity may occur not only in narrative texts, in which the narrated world is presented from the perspective of more than one extra- or intradiegetic narrators, but also in texts in which the narrated events are transmitted through the perspective of several characters29, i.e. in narratives in which multiple, or variable focalization predominates30. As Nünning/Nünning emphasize, the type of text termed multiperspectivally structured text seldom occurs in its pure form, because very often in such narratives there are various narrating instances or focalizers in addition to the combination of various text-types.

Furthermore, there are also mixtures of these basic types and special cases, which cannot easily be integrated into such a strict typology. Such an example is Charles Dickens’ novel, Bleak House, in which there is an alternation between the authorial passages and the embedded first-person narration of Esther, and in which the illustrations as an integral part of the narrative also function as an additional perspective within the novel.

Nevertheless, these three basic forms of multiperspectival narration can be further subdivided31. In the case of multiperspectivally narrated texts two criteria have to be considered. First, it is important to consider at which narrative level of communication the narrators are situated, whether they are part of the story-world, or whether they belong to an extradiegetic level, that is to the discourse (of the narrative transmission) . Secondly, one has to consider the quantitative criterion, that is the number of the narrative instances within a text. According to these criteria Nünning/Nünning differentiate between extradiegetic and intradiegetic multiperspectivally narrated texts, and furthermore between biperspectivally and polyperspectivally narrated texts.

Type 1a: The concept of the extradiegetic multiperspectivally narrated text refers to narratives in which the narrated events are conveyed alternately by two or more narrators, who are situated at the level of the narrative transmission, which is hierarchically at a higher narrative level of communication than the level of the characters.

Type 1b: In contrast, the term intradiegetic multiperspectivally narrated text designates narratives, in which the events are related by two or more narrating characters, who are situated at the hierarchically lower embedded narrative level of the storyworld. Typical examples for this type of narratives are Samuel Richardson’s multiperspectival epistolary novels, and many of the 18th-century novels, in which characters tell of their lives in the form of interpolated tales or embedded stories.

Type 1c: In the case of biperspectivally narrated texts, the events are presented alternately by two narrating instances.

Type 1d: On the other hand, in polyperspectivally narrated texts, the events are conveyed alternately by more than two narrating instances.

Relying on the same two criteria, Nünning/Nünning make similar distinctions in the field of multiperspectivally focalized texts. Thus, they differentiate between extradiegetic and intradiegetic multiperspectivally focalized texts, moreover between biperspectivally and polyperspectivally focalized texts.

Type 2a: In extradiegetic multiperspectivally focalized texts, the events are presented alternately from the perspective of two or more external focalizers, who are situated at the level of the narrative transmission. Since extradiegetic narrators normally also function as focalizers, types 1a and 2a coincide in practice.

Type 2b: In intradiegetic multiperspectivally narrated texts, the narrated world is presented alternately from the viewpoint of two or more internal focalizers, or reflectors, that is to say, from the viewpoint of fictitious characters, who are situated at the level of diegesis.

Type 2c: Biperspectivally focalized texts are narratives, in which the events are presented from the perspective of two focalizers.

Type 2d: In polyperspectivally focalized texts, on the other hand, the events are reported from the standpoint of more than two focalizers.

However, as Vera and Ansgar Nünning point out, with reference to the fact that narratives are not either intradiegetic multiperspectival or bi- or polyperspectival, but always a combination of the two critera (i.e. the narrative level of communication and the number of narrators or focalizers), the following types of multiperspectival texts can be established: extradiegetic biperspectivally narrated texts, extradigetic polyperspectivally narrated texts, intradiegetic biperspectivally narrated texts, intradiegetic polyperspectivally narrated texts. Similarly, we can distinguish between four types of multiperspectivally focalized texts.

These two distinguishing criteria, on the other hand, do not apply to multiperspectivally structured texts. Such texts with a “narrative structure resembling a montage or collage”, in which “the observations of the characters are replaced or supplemented by other text-types”32 have to be classified on the basis of other criteria. Although the possibilities of combinations are endless, on the basis of two fundamental criteria we can distinguish between the following four types of multipersectivally structured texts. The first criterion is concerned with the question as to whether the assembled text-types are non-fictional or fictional text-types. The second criterion is concerned with the structure of such texts, that is to say, with the range of text-types. Following these two criteria, Nünning/Nünnning (2000) distinguish the following sub- types of multiperspectivally structured texts:

Type 3a: One type of multiperspectivally structured text is characterized by a large number and range of intertextual references to non-fictional text-types, such as newspapers, letters, documentary reports, etc. Such references to non-fictional text- types often serve as an authentication of the narrated events and as a concealment of fictionality.

Type 3b: At the other end of the spectrum between the poles of fiction and non-fiction are such multiperspectivally structured texts to be found, which exhibit a very high density, frequency, and range of inter-textual references to fictional genres, thus revealing the fictionality of the whole text.

Type 3c: Homomorph multiperspectivally structured texts consist of the same or similar types of texts. Accordingly, their structure is relatively homogeneous. A well-known example of this kind of multiperspectivally structured texts is the genre of intradiegetic multiperspectivally narrated epistolary novels.

Type 3d: By contrast, heteromorph multiperspectivally structured texts combine elements from different text-types and genres. Their inner structure is accordingly heterogeneous and varied.

Vera and Ansgar Nünning summarize these various forms of multiperspectival narration as follows33:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Although multiperspectival narratives seldom exist in such pure forms as presented above, and in practice there are numerous examples of combinations and mixed forms of the aforementioned types, the categories introduced by Nünning/Nünning enable the description of the constituents of such mixed types as well.

2.3 The Perspective Structure of Narrative Texts

2.3.1 The Individual Perspectives

In order to be able to identify the individual perspectives in a narrative text, to differentiate between them, moreover to be able to analyse them with the categories presented in the previous sections, and to describe the relationship between the different perspectives, to be able to distinguish between different types of perspective structure, and to be able to portray these different perspective structures it is first of all necessary to give a definition as to what exactly constitutes the individual perspectives. As Nünning (2001) emphasizes, and as I have already hinted, by perspective he does not mean the act of narration or focalization, but more generally a character’s or a narrator’s subjective world-view34. In the following sections, following Nünning/Nünning (2000) and Nünning (2001), I will try to give a more detailed explanation of the terms character- and narrator-perspective. Character-perspective

Relying on Manfred Pister’s discussion of the character-perspective in drama theory, Nünning/Nünning term the individual world-view of the characters as character- perspective. An individual’s world-view contains “the sum of all the models he or she has constructed of the world, of others, and of herself”35. A character’s perspective is conditioned by the following main factors: by the individual’s knowledge and belief sets, intentions, by their psychological dispositions, that is, psychological traits and attitudes, and by their ideological orientation, i.e. by their system of values36. Thus, in line with Nünning/Nünning’s explanation, the term character-perspective refers to the make-up of a character’s qualities (Eigenschaftsspektrum) and to the system of all pre- conditions that constitute his or her world-view. The emphasis on the individual perspectives of the characters calls attention to the subjective nature of perceptions, attitudes, thinking, feelings, as well as value and norm systems, and thus the use of the concept within Nünning/Nünning’s theory of perspective structure is connected to the use of the notion in the history of art and in philosophy. Hence, the concept of character-perspective provides “an analytical tool for accounting for the fact that the semantic domain projected in a narrative text consists not just of one fictional world, but of a range of subjective perspectives, each organizing its constituents into a different world-model.37 Narrator-perspective

Nevertheless, the analysis of the perspective structure of a narrative structure would be incomplete, if we didn’t take into consideration “the existence of an additional communicative level of narrative transmission”38. Nünning/Nünning (2000) and Nünning (2001) argue that the concept of perspective, initially proposed by Manfred Pfister, can also be applied to narrators, because “narrators may also be endowed with a range of individuating features”. In contrast to the term ‘narrative perspective’ (Erzählperspektive in German), the notion narrator-perspective (Erzählerperspektive) does not refer to the mode of the narrative transmission, but to the personality of the narrator (Persönlichkeitsbild) that the reader constructs. Thus, similarly to the term character-perspective, the concept of narrator-perspective can be defined as “the system of preconditions or the subjective world-view of a narrating instance”39, which is situated at the level of narrative transmission, i.e. discourse, or in the case of intradiegetic narrators, the narrator is a character at the diegetic level. However, Nünning adds that the concept of narrator-perspective is relevant only for what Chatman calls “overt narrators” not for “covert” narrating instances or impersonal voices, since these are

“deprived of their human dimension, and cannot express subjective opinions divorced from those of the implied author, the reader may dispense with the reconstruction of their personality, beliefs, judgements as an autonomous private domain”40.

However, for overt narrators Nünning proposes an individual perspective or world-view similar to those private world-views of the story’s characters, which he defined as character-perspective. Accordingly, in the same way as the characters’ perspectives, a narrator’s perspective is conditioned by the narrator’s knowledge, psychological disposition, his or her intentions, values and norms. Although the make- up of the subjective perspectives of the characters and that of the narrator is similar, there are differences in the process of how the reader construes them during the reception of the text. As Nünning puts it:

While the reader constructs the perspectives of the various characters on the basis of what the narrator tells him or her about the characters’ physical, verbal, and mental acts, a narrator-perspective manifests itself solely in what he or she says, that is, in the discourse that “reflects the contents of his or her mind”.41

As Vera and Ansgar Nünning point out, whenever we want to reconstruct the narrator-perspective of a narrative text, it is crucial to consider the remarks and comments of a narrator42. Each time a narrator makes a remark or comments on the events or characters, we learn something about his or her ideas, worldview, intentions, attitude, etc.

2.3.2 The Perspective Structure

The perspective structure of narrative texts can be defined as the totality of all individual perspectives, including the character-perspectives as well as the narrator- perspective, and their relationship to each other43. It results from the contrast and correspondence relations between all individual perspectives of a narrative text. Although the notion of perspective structure includes the totality of the individual perspectives, its aim is not to define the individual perspectives, but to establish the complex interrelations between them44. According to Nünning/Nünning, it is comparable to a network, which is created by the relations between the different parts, and they add that thus the concept of perspective structure is a relational and structural category, which designates the formal relations between the individual perspectives.

Following their argumentation, the analysis of the perspective structure of a narrative text consists of two steps: the reconstruction of the individual perspectives and their relations to each other. As Nünning/Nünning stress, only after having completed the interpretation of the individual perspectives can we make statements about the perspective structure of a given narrative.

In the reconstruction of the character-perspectives it is essential to consider the characters’ statements in their dialogues, their actions, and all the information about the characters that is given by the narrator, or by other characters in form of explicit characterization, as well as all information conveyed by means of thought representations, like stream of consciousness etc. By contrast, in the reconstruction of the narrator-perspective only the narrator’s statements can help the reader to ascertain the narrator’s psychological disposition and value system.

As Vera and Ansgar Nünning state, since the form of the perspective structure depends on the selection and arrangement of the perspectives, it has both paradigmatic and syntagmatic dimensions45. The Paradigmatic Dimension: Categories for the Analysis of the Selection and Arrangement of the Individual Perspectives

The paradigmatic aspect of the construction of the perspective structure of a narrative text consists in the selection and arrangement of the individual perspectives. Thus, we can distinguish between the quantitative criterion of the number of perspectives that are established and “the quality of the scope or diversification of the perspectives”46. The second criterion, the quality of the diversification of the perspectives is even more important than the quantitative aspect, because “the greater the spectrum of social, moral, and /or ideological differences between the various character-perspectives, the more diversified and complex is the perspective structure that emerges”47.

Besides the quantitative and qualitative distribution of the character-perspectives there are further relevant aspects that aim at an even more precise analysis of the perspective structure48. These include: - the degree of specification of the character-perspectives (“Grad an Konkretisierung der Perspektiven”)

- the grade of representation of the narrator-perspective (“Ma ß an Ausgestaltung der Erzählperspektive”)
- the extent of individuality or collectivity of the depicted character-perspectives (“Individualität bzw. Kollektivität der dargestellten Perspektiven”)
- the extent of reliability or credibility of the different character-perspectives (“Grad an Zuverlässigkeit oder Glaubwürdigkeit”)
- the extent of representation of an epoch in a character’s perspective (“der Grad an Repräsentativität, den eine Figurenperspektive […] in einer fiktionalen Welt vertretenen Werte und Normen beanspruchen kann”)
- the extent of authority of the different character-perspectives (“Autorität des jeweiligen Perspektiventrägers”)

The degree of specification of the character-perspectives

The extent to which the character-perspectives are specified can be determined by considering how elaborately a character-perspective is depicted, i.e. how much do we learn of a character’s knowledge level, psychological disposition and value system.

The grade of representation of the narrator-perspective

When considering the extent of representation of the narrator-perspective, we observe how explicitly the narrator tries to steer the reception of the novel by adding comments, remarks etc. In many novels, the role of the narrator is, among other things, to establish a relation between the various character-perspectives within a narrative. Following Wayne C. Booth’s terminology, Nünning/Nünning distinguish between self conscious narrators, that is, between those who are aware of the fact that they are narrating and who discuss and comment on their narrating task, and those narrating instances who are not aware of their narrating function49.

The extent of individuality or collectivity of a perspective

The extent of individuality or collectivity of the depicted character-perspectives describes how far an individual perspective represents the value and norms system that is presented in the story-world. Here we consider whether a given perspective is deviant from the general ideas, values and norms accepted within the fictional world of a narrative or whether it corresponds to them.

The extent of reliability or credibility of a perspective

The extent of reliability or credibility of the different character-perspectives is an important aspect in the evaluation of perspectives. Here we look at how reliable a character’s or narrator’s evaluations, normative statements, etc. are. The more unreliable an individual perspective is, the less importance it receives in the construction of the perspective structure of a narrative text.

The extent of authority prescribed to a perspective

The extent of authority of the different character-perspectives is related to the previous aspect, and it examines the reputation and the recognition of a character within the fictional world, i.e. whether the character’s ideas, views are accepted by the other characters of the story-world or not. As Nünning/Nünning state, this is a very important aspect, since it is essential for determining the normative and ideological dimension of the respective perspective structure.

The analytical categories for the analysis of the paradigmatic dimension of multiperspectival narration can thus be summarized in the following table50:

illustration not visible in this excerpt


1 This quotation is taken from the following source: Vera & Ansgar Nünning, “Von der Erzählperspektive zur Perspektivenstruktur narrativer Texte: Überlegungen zur Definition, Konzeptualisierung und Untersuchbarkeit von Multiperspektivität“, In: Vera Nünning, and Ansgar Nünning (eds), Multiperspektivisches Erzählen: Zur Theorie und Geschichte der Perspektivenstruktur im englischen Roman des 18. bis 20. Jahrhunderts (Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag 2000), p. 3

2 cf. Ibid. p. 4.

3 Berndt Magnus, “Friedrich Nietzche”, Encyclopaedia of Britannica (Deluxe Edition CD-ROM. 2005)

4 Ibid.

5 cf. Nünning/Nünning (2000) p. 4

6 cf. Ibid.

7 Volker Neuhaus, Typen multiperspektivischen Erzählens (Köln: Böhlau, 1971).

8 Manfred Pfister, Das Drama: Theorie und Analyse (München: Fink, 1977).

1 cf. Nünning/Nünning (2000) p. 7

2 Seymour Chatman & Willie van Peer, (eds), New Perspectives on Narrative Perspective (Albany, NY: State U of New York P, 2001) p. 357. Furthermore, following Gerald Prince’s explanation of the term, in Jamesian terminology, the reflector, coined by Stanzel, and the synonymous term, focalizer, termed by the French narratologist Genette, refer to the focus of narration, the holder of point of view, to the central consciousness of a given narrative. cf. Gerald Prince, A Dictionary of Narratology (Lincoln/London: University of Nebraska Press, 1987), p. 31-32, 80

3 Ansgar Nünning, "Perspektive", Ansgar Nünning (ed.) Grundbegriffe der Literaturtheorie (Weimar: Metzler, 2004), p. 208

4 cf. Ibid., see also (Nünning/Nünning (2000), p. 7-10

5 “Perspective”, In: Encyclopaedia Britannica

6 Nünning (2004) p. 208

7 cf. Carola Surkamp, "Perspective", David Herman, Manfred Jahn, and Mariel-Laure Ryan (eds), Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory (London: Routledge , 2005) p. 423, see also the entry of “Perspective” in the Oxford English Dictionary Online (2008)

8 In Gerald Prince’s formulation point of view is the “physical, psychological, and ideological position in terms of which narrated situations and events are presented … the perspective through which they are filtered”. cf. Gerald Prince, “Point of view”, David Herman, Manfred Jahn, and Mariel-Laure Ryan (eds), Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory (London: Routledge , 2005) p. 442

9 cf. Surkamp (2005), p. 424

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

12 Nünning/Nünning (2000)

13 cf. Ibid. p. 4

14 cf. Ibid. p. 13

15 The term free indirect discourse (fr. style indirect libre) has been coined and introduced to narratology by J.E. Lorck in 1921. Following Fludernick’s definition, it refers to a mode of speech and thought representation, presenting consciousness in which the characters’ thoughts and expressions are conveyed in their own diction and syntax, but the pronouns and the tense patterns are adjusted to the reporting frame into which they are embedded. Thus, free indirect discourse still reflects the perspective of the original speaker or their consciousness. cf. Monika Fludernik, “Free indirect discourse”, The Literary Encyclopedia. ( 2001)

16 Neuhaus (1971), p. 1, recited also in: Nünning/Nünning (2000), p 16

17 Nünninng/Nünning (2000), p. 16

18 cf. Matthias Buschmann, “Multiperspektivität - Alle Macht dem Leser?”, in: Wirkendes Wort (46.2 1996) p. 259

19 Ibid, p. 260, see also Nünning/Nünning, (2000) p. 17

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid., p. 18

22 Ibid

23 Ibid. p. 19

24 Ibid., cf. also Uwe Lindemann, “Die Ungleichzeitigkeit des Gleichzeitigen. Polyperspektivismus, Spannung und der interative modus der Narration bei Samuel Richardson, Choderlos de Laclos, Ludwig Tieck, Wilkie Collins und Robert Browning.“, Kurt Röttgers & Monika Schmitz-Emans, Perspektive in Literatur und bildender Kunst (Essen: Die Balue Eule, 1999), p. 49, p. 51

25 Nünning/Nünning (2000), p. 19

26 Ibid., p. 20

27 Vera Nünning &. Ansgar Nünning, “Multiperspektivität aus naratologischer Sicht: Erzähltheoretische Grundlagen und Kategorien zur Analyse der Perspektivenstruktur narrativer Texte", Vera Nünning, and Ansgar Nünning (eds), Multiperspektivisches Erzählen: Zur Theorie und Geschichte der Perspektivenstruktur im englischen Roman des 18. bis 20. Jahrhunderts (Trier: WVT Wiss. Verl. Trier, 2000), p. 40-77.

28 cf. p. 42

29 cf. Ibid.

30 According to Gerald Prince (1987), multiple or variable internal focalization is a type of internal focalization or point of view, “whereby the same situations and events are presented more than once, each time in terms of a different focalizer”. ( cf. p. 56, 101)

31 cf. Nünning/Nünning (2000), p. 43ff.

32 Vera and Ansgar Nünning, An Introduction to the Study of English and American Literature (Stuttgart: Klett Verlag, 2004), p. 123

33 cf. the table entitled , “Modell 1: Erscheinungsformen multiperspektivischen Erzählens“, in: Nünning/Nünning (2000), p. 46.

34 cf. Ansgar Nünning, "On the Perspective Structure of Narrative Texts: Steps toward a Constructivist Narratology", in: ed. Willie van Peer, and Seymour Chatman, New Perspectives on Narrative Perspective (Albany, NY: State Univ. of New York Press, 2001) p. 207

35 Ibid, p. 211

36 cf. Nünning/Nünning (2000), p. 48, see also Nünning (2001), p. 211

37 Nünning (2001), p. 211

38 Ibid, p. 212

39 Ibid., see also Nünning 1989 p. 74-76

40 Marie-Laure Ryan, Possible Worlds, Artificial Intelligence, and Narrative Theory (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991), p. 71, recited in Nünning (2001), p. 213

41 Nünning (2001), p. 214

42 Nünning/Nünning (2000), p. 50

43 cf. Ibid. p. 51, see also Nünning (2001) p. 214

44 cf. Nünning/Nünning (2000), p. 51

45 cf. Ibid. p. 52, see also Nünning (2001) p. 215

46 Nünning (2001), p. 215

47 Ibid.

48 cf. Nünning/Nünning (2000), p. 52ff

49 Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), see also Nünning/Nünning (2000), p. 53

50 cf. The table entitled “Modell 2: Übersicht über Analysekategorien zur Selektion der Einzelperspektiven”, in Nünning/Nüninng (2000), p. 54


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University of Stuttgart – Institut für Literaturwissenschaft Neuere Englische Literatur
multiperspectival narration narration George Eliot Charles Dickens intermediality multiperspectivity perspective structure perspective Multiperspektivität multiperspektivisches Erzählen Magisterarbeit




Title: Multiperspectival Narration: The Perspective Structure of Charles Dickens´ "Bleak House" and George Eliot´s "Middlemarch"