"The Privatization of Public Life: Free Direct Discourse in Persuasion" argues for the importance of other narrative techniques beyond free indirect discourse in Jane Austen’s work, such the related but in many ways opposed form, free direct discourse. Paying particular attention to such techniques, I contend, allows us to see the ways in which public discourse in a novel such as Persuasion is repeatedly converted into a medium for private feeling. The result is a strangely fractured view of public life, in which characters fail to share even something as fundamental as time itself.
The Privatization of Public Life: Free Direct Discourse in Persuasion
1. “With insufferable vanity had she believed herself in the secret of every body’s feelings; with unpardonable arrogance proposed to arrange every body’s destiny” (Austen, Emma 339). Emma Woodhouse’s withering self-indictment offers a exemplary instance of free indirect discourse, so exemplary indeed that it is tempting to read her judgment as extending to its co-speaker, the narrator of Emma, who really is privy to all secrets, arranger of all destinies. Suspicion of the authority granted by free indirect discourse to narrative, and in particular to Jane Austen, was widespread in the 1980s and 1990s, when critics saw it as the means by which, in D. A. Miller’s words, “the narration simultaneously subverts [the characters’] authority and secures its own” (The Novel and the Police 25). Casey Finch and Peter Bowen, in an influential account of Emma, followed Miller’s lead, contending that free indirect discourse functions as a form of “surveillance” (3), incessantly “mak[ing] public the private thoughts of characters” (5). Yet since, needless to say, we do not inhabit the same world as that occupied by the characters we read about, it is far from clear how their thoughts can be described as being made public. If novels can be said to involve the notion of publicity this surely belongs exclusively to the diegetic world, which often feels like much more of a panopticon than the novels themselves: few acts or remarks in the society Austen depicts go unnoticed, and without the protection of money or marriage individuals are pitifully vulnerable to the judgments of others.
2. This essay argues against the idea that free indirect discourse, at least in Austen’s hands, renders the realist novel a “stylistic Panopticon” (99) to quote from Franco Moretti’s recent study of the bourgeoisie. To characterize the technique as a means of making public what should ideally remain private misunderstands the relation between private and public within the novels themselves. For public and private life in Austen’s fiction are less easily opposed than the surveillance model of criticism suggests. Not only do Austen’s characters repeatedly discover what it is they think and want by seeing these thoughts and desires manifested by others, her protagonists are less on display in public than we might imagine, since they may be said to be under the protection of the narrative itself. Austen’s unfinished manuscript The Watsons gives a sense of how cruel her world looks shorn of what Miller describes as the “anonymous, impersonal, universal” (Jane Austen 27) voice of free indirect discourse; with no authorial consciousness to echo her thoughts, no matter how ironically, the text’s unmarried heroine feels terrifyingly exposed. The desire to protect her characters does not, however, explain Austen’s fascination with free indirect discourse. Rather, this fascination is a result, I will be contending, of a recognition that the structure of free indirect discourse, in which one voice speaks through or with another, shapes relations within the society upon which she reports. Austen’s popularization of the technique, that is, represents a formalization of a social practice. My focus will be on the Austen novel most indebted to free indirect discourse, Persuasion, whose heroine’s thoughts are expressed almost exclusively in the third person. The distance this imposes between Anne Elliot and a world which refuses to acknowledge her extends to every aspect of that world, inverting the relationship between public and private. So extensive is this reorientation that it ends up reordering relations even more primary—those involving time itself, a reordering which narrative is peculiarly well equipped to document.
3. According to Frances Ferguson, free indirect discourse represents “the novel’s one and only formal contribution to literature” (159). Leaving aside the truth of this claim, it is safe to say that free indirect discourse is limited to literature; for all that it mimics the structure of the social world depicted in Austen’s novels, the practice itself can only exist in the world of the novel. Austen’s development of the technique would thus seem to disqualify her work from consideration in a volume devoted to Romantic prose, a form Yoon Sun Lee’s introduction defines as inseparable from an “idea of the spoken.” Yet if free indirect discourse belongs to the domain of unspoken speech, the related device I examine in this essay, free direct discourse, aligns Austen’s work much closer with the genre of Romantic prose. In free direct discourse, a rare and critically neglected form, utterances go unattributed, leaving open the possibility that they have been said by more than one speaker. Austen’s deployment of the technique—a carryover from the eighteenth century novel’s looser sense of the boundaries between direct and indirect speech—is motivated in part by her fascination with the ways speech brings communities into being, a question explored in relation to philosophical discourse in Timothy Milnes’ essay for this volume, “Trusting Experiments.” I borrow the term, appropriately enough, from a reading of Persuasion. But unlike the author of that account, Norman Page, who characterizes free direct discourse as a means of summarizing lengthy conversations “without the loss of immediacy” (“Categories” 735), I understand the device as generated by a unusual structural component of the novel. Persuasion narrates the renewal after eight years of the romance between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in the face not just of social barriers but of narrative ones too: the novel seemingly goes out of its way to bar its protagonists from speaking directly to one another. The result is a courtship conducted almost exclusively through the expressions, opinions, and judgments of others. Kept apart by their friends and family, Anne and Wentworth are able to renew relations only by turning public life into a medium for private feelings. Their second courtship, in other words, inverts the structure of free indirect discourse.
4. Whereas free indirect discourse is spoken by both narrator and character, free direct discourse is spoken by more than one character. The technique is thus concerned less with consciousness than with social interaction, with public rather than private life. Little penetration is required to discern who in Emma remarks on “‘the handsome letter Mr. Frank Churchill has written to Mrs. Weston’” (17) or the identity of the “some” who wonder why gruel is not “taken every evening by every body” (85). In not attributing these remarks to a specific speaker at a specific moment, Austen not only underscores the recognizability and transferability of speech, she describes a society in which almost every character speaks for, through, or on behalf of another. Mr. Woodhouse is undoubtedly the source of the comment about the gruel, but his success in convincing his daughter Isabella to join him in eating it allows him to disappear into the plural subject “some.” The maneuver is characteristic. Mr. Woodhouse, who constantly validates his hypochondria by referring his own opinions to his doctor, happily voices the opinions of his younger daughter Emma, oblivious to her actual views. But then Austen’s heroine repeatedly speaks on behalf of her friend Harriet, dictating to her who she should and should not marry.  Harriet is little more than a surrogate for Emma, which makes it almost inevitable that the one desire Emma’s friend gives voice to without prompting—her love for Mr. Knightley—should be “the means whereby [Emma] . . . comes to acknowledge her own” (Miller, Narrative 12). This vicarious economy extends not just to relations between characters but to the subplot of the novel, the love affair between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill: one a surrogate daughter, the other a surrogate son. Their decision to keep their love secret leads to Frank ventriloquizing his own feelings—his fulsome praise for the unknown person who sends Jane a piano is eventually revealed as self-directed—and Emma ventriloquizing Jane’s—she imagines a scenario in which Jane falls in love by proxy.
5. In the end, the story told in Emma is of characters finding their own voice: Frank admits his love for Jane; Mr. Knightley proposes to Emma; Harriet accepts the man she actually loves, Robert Martin. Things are quite different in Persuasion. Rather than characters recognizing their desire only when expressed by another, as in Emma, they depend on others to articulate feelings that would otherwise not be able to find a voice; characters know what they want, but they cannot say what they want. As Miller’s reading of the novel details, the reason Anne’s feelings are inexpressible is because of her social status: a spinster lacks the social standing to give voice to her desires. The result is a use of free indirect discourse so extensive some critics have characterized Persuasion as a radical departure from Austen’s other novels.  The novel features a number of scenes in which Anne refers the expressed thoughts and feelings of others to her own situation, as if she and the actual speaker were the twinned subjects of a first-person utterance. When Louisa Musgrove expresses to Wentworth her mistaken belief that Lady Russell “persuaded Anne to refuse” (80) Louisa’s brother Charles, before going on to dismiss the idea that she herself would be “so easily persuaded” (81), her words are also heard by Anne, hidden behind a hedgerow. The extraneous repetition of the term persuasion signals the work of delegation being performed here. In distinguishing her own feelings from ones Anne never possessed (Austen’s heroine never wanted to marry Charles) Louisa ventriloquizes feelings Anne has since come to possess (regret at having been persuaded by Lady Russell not to marry Wentworth). No wonder the listening Anne “could imagine what Louisa was feeling” (81), since what Louisa is feeling is exactly what Anne is feeling.
6. The odd thing about the conversation Anne overhears is that Louisa, despite being mistaken about Anne’s feelings for Charles and ignorant of Anne’s feelings for Wentworth, ends up speaking for Anne anyway, albeit without knowing this. Anne’s private feelings are made public, yet not by her, and not in a manner recognizable to anyone else, even the subject of those feelings. This leads to a strange situation which in many ways is the opposite of the ones depicted in Emma: rather than discovering her feelings by hearing them voiced by another, Anne has to indulge these feelings vicariously, since she has no-one to share, sympathize, or even suspect her love for Wentworth. The delight Louisa and her sister Henrietta take in Wentworth’s stories of life at sea thus becomes for Anne, however painfully, the only means in which her own memories of hearing these tales could possibly find expression outside of her own thoughts: “their surprise at his accounts . . . drew from him some pleasant ridicule, which reminded Anne of the early days when she too had been ignorant” (60). Diegetic space is converted into the space of Anne’s consciousness; private life given public form, yet Anne (and the reader) is the only public in a position to recognize this. The conversations between Wentworth, Louisa, and Henrietta are mirror image of earlier ones between Wentworth Anne, yet because the narrator never describes this courtship—and because no character ever acknowledges it—they function as the novel’s only depiction of it. Anne and Wentworth’s second engagement functions, we might say, as a kind of proxy for the first. It seems no more than fitting then that this engagement should follow René Girard’s model of mediated desire so closely: Wentworth, observing the interested look Anne’s cousin Mr. Elliot casts on her at Lyme, “gave her a momentary glance . . . which seemed to say, ‘That man is struck with you, and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again’” (97). Having been triggered by a third person, Wentworth’s feelings, appropriately enough, are only expressible within it. Castigating his friend Captain Benwick for having fallen in love with Louisa less than a year after the death of an adored wife, Wentworth counsels Anne that “A man does not recover from such a devotion . . . He ought not; he does not” (173). Speaking of his friend provides Wentworth with the opportunity to speak about himself, as if he were barred from directly expressing his feelings.
7. Anne and Wentworth’s eventual reconciliation follows the same pattern, offering a particularly literal instance of triangulated desire, in which an oblivious third speaker acts as a medium for Anne’s feelings in the presence of Wentworth. Faced with the prospect of having to go to a dinner in honor of Mr. Elliot, Charles Musgrove peevishly remarks “What is Mr. Elliot to me?” “The careless expression,” Austen’s narrator asserts, “was life to Anne, who saw that Captain Wentworth was all attention, looking and listening with his whole soul; and that the last words brought his enquiring eyes from Charles to herself” (210). Both Anne and Wentworth, in the strangest of substitutions, refer the question to Anne rather than to Charles: ‘what is Mr. Elliot to me?’ Anne wants Wentworth to imagine her having said, dismissively; ‘what is Mr. Elliot to you?’ Wentworth wants Anne to imagine him having said, anxiously. Anne is given an opportunity to answer this question the next day, again by proxy. This time the speaker is Mrs. Croft, arguing in favor of young people marrying quickly no matter their financial situation; Anne, we are told, “felt [the conversation’s] application to herself” (217). Austen’s heroine promptly enters into a passionate defense of women’s constancy in a conversation with a naval officer, speaking so as to be overheard by Wentworth. Inspired by Anne’s words, Wentworth abandons the letter he is writing and starts composing one to Anne instead, which she reads moments later. Wentworth’s decision to express himself in a letter ensures that the climatic moment of the novel, the moment in which the two lovers express their renewed feelings for one another, takes place out of the direct gaze of reader and narrator: “they exchanged again those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure everything” (225).
8. That the two lovers’ vows should remain unheard by the reader is fitting, since their relationship has been wrapped in silence from the very beginning. Anne’s father and her sister Elizabeth not only refuse to recognize Wentworth socially, they appear to have completely forgotten his existence. The first conversation in the novel concerns a former neighbor of Sir Walter whose name neither he nor Elizabeth nor their lawyer Mr. Shepherd can remember until prompted by Anne: “Wentworth was the very name! Mr. Wentworth was the very man” (24). The man in question turns out not to be Anne’s old lover but his brother, a former neighbor of the Elliots, though Sir Walter observes that “Mr. Wentworth was nobody, I remember” (24). The sliding of Captain Wentworth’s identity under that of the ‘nobody’ who is his brother continues through the opening chapters of the novel, in which Anne repeatedly mistakes which Wentworth brother is being discussed. Austen seems to want to affirm Sir Walter’s arch observation that “a Mr. (save, perhaps, some half dozen in the nation,) always needs a note of explanation” (24–25). Indeed the novel goes out of its way to provide Wentworth with just such a note, for when Anne reflects that soon “he, perhaps, may be walking here” (25), the next chapter opens by pedantically noting “He was not Mr. Wentworth, the former curate of Monkford, however suspicious appearances may be, but a Captain Frederick Wentworth, his brother” (26).
9. What motive could Austen have for repeatedly confusing the hero of her novel with a man who never actually appears in it? The fussiness of Austen’s syntax—“He was not”—represents a curiously literal acknowledgement of the ambiguity of the third person, which, because it “does not specifically designate anything or anyone . . . can take any subject whatsoever or no subject” (Benveniste 199). The hesitation with which the novel introduces Wentworth mirrors the indifference with which he is regarded by the Elliots, whose monumental self-regard is signaled by their adoption of the third person in referring to themselves. The first thing we are told about Anne’s father is that “Sir Walter Elliot was the constant object of his warmest respect and devotion” (6), an attitude adopted with equal zeal by Elizabeth and her obsequious friend Mrs. Clay, all of whom speak in one voice: “‘Oh! yes, perhaps, it had been Mr Elliot. They did not know’” (131). The conflation of subjects results in a confusion of direct and indirect speech, most conspicuously in Sir Walter’s opening remarks, in which he responds to Lady Russell’s suggestion that he rein in his expenses:
10. At times Persuasion betrays a remarkable lack of interest in specifying who is speaking and when. Perhaps the most remarkable instance of this comes in another passage of free direct discourse, in which the panicked statements of a number of different characters in the aftermath of Louisa’s fall are contained within a single set of quotation marks:
11. Her family’s reluctance directly to address Anne is not surprising given their belief that, like Wentworth’s brother, she is “nobody” (7). But then, this appears to be Anne’s view of herself: “her word had no weight, her convenience was always to give way—she was only Anne” (7). For Miller, Anne’s sense of herself as ‘nobody’ represents such a thorough internalization of the position adopted by the narrative that Persuasion gives the impression of having originated with Anne herself, as if it were “a diary written in the third person” (Jane Austen 72–73).  The formulation is irresistible. I would only add that such a diary is the product of many hands. For just as Anne’s adoption of the third person to talk about herself represents “a thorough internalization” of the narrative, so the references to her in the third person that Anne overhears while playing the piano at a dance at the Musgroves represent a thorough externalization of it: “she has quite given up dancing. She had rather play. She is never tired of playing” (67). Anne is of such little consequence that she can be spoken of as if she were not present—as if, that is, she had no means of claiming the first person for herself.
12. Anne’s situation is not dissimilar to Fanny Crawford’s in Mansfield Park. Like Anne, Fanny is constantly spoken for and about; like her, she is often privy to the intimate conversations of others. Page observes of the heroine of Mansfield Park that “perhaps no heroine of a great novel has quite such a fondness for silence” (Language 36) but in fact Fanny, like Anne, speaks more than we might think—it is just that almost all her speech is indirect, whether or not it appears in quotation marks.  In this sense her first reported utterance—“‘William did not like she should come away’” (13)—parallels her last, on which Austen’s narrator refuses to report: “Let no one presume to give the feelings of a young woman on receiving the assurance of that affection of which she has scarcely allowed herself to entertain a hope” (370).  Anne-Lise François notes that “Austen’s third-person narration . . . relieves Fanny from first-person assertions” (224). But Fanny is sheltered from the first person even in direct discourse. The episode detailing Miss Crawford’s gift of the necklace to Fanny, for example, records all of Mary’s remarks, but none of Fanny’s responses, restricting itself merely to noting that Fanny has responded: “Fanny still resisted . . . Fanny protested . . . Fanny dared not make any further opposition” (202–4). The effect of placing Fanny, like Anne, outside the moment of utterance is to insulate her from the world, indeed from the passing of time. If Tony Tanner is right to argues that Mansfield Park tells the story of “a girl who triumphs by doing nothing . . . she waits, she endures” (143) then we might say that removing her from direct discourse affords her a time in which to wait, just as the novel’s trick of exiling her to Portsmouth provides her with a place in which to do so. Thus Fanny preserves her defining characteristic: moral consistency; she remains where she is—in the right—while Edmund and Sir Thomas Bertram slowly move toward her.
13. Consistency is not exactly Anne Elliot’s defining trait, as Captain Wentworth knows to his cost. Yet, just like Fanny, Anne spends the novel of which she is the heroine standing still while others come round to her position. This results in a curious temporal dissimilarity between Anne’s consciousness of events, to which Austen’s free indirect discourse gives us unparalleled access, and that of those around her. Anne inhabits a time all her own. Consider, for example, the first, oddly delayed, words she speaks in the text. Introduced with the portentous line, “Here Anne spoke” (20), her opening remark is uttered in support of the idea that her improvident father should let his house to an admiral, but it can also read as a response, eight years too late, to Lady Russell’s objection to the idea of her marrying a sailor: “The navy, I think, who have done so much for us, have at least an equal claim with any other set of men” (20). Anne’s words do not possess a double meaning so much as occupy a double time. This time can best be glimpsed in two distinct yet similar moments in the text in which Wentworth saves Anne: first from the unwanted attentions of her young nephew—“some one was taking him from her . . . and he was resolutely borne away, before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it” (74)—second from a tiring walk—“he had done it. She was in the carriage, and felt that he had placed her there, that his will and his hands had done it” (84). Both episodes are described from within Anne’s consciousness, a place where Wentworth, here “some one” rather than no-one, needs no introduction.  And both play strange tricks with time, the sign of which is the odd repetition of the phrase, “had done it.”
14. Anne’s delayed perception is signaled by the strangely impersonal syntax, which sticks resolutely and confusingly to the third person, whether describing Wentworth, Anne’s nephew, or Anne herself. The passages are written in the third person of free indirect discourse, yet the perceptions belong exclusively to Anne. They do however share a significant feature of free indirect discourse: they lift the speaker out of the time of the narrative. Austen anticipates in such passages the kind of atomistic temporality common to modernist novelists such as Virginia Woolf, whose commitment to representing individual consciousness estranges her characters from each other, as if they failed to inhabit the same temporal moment. One of the striking characteristics of Sense and Sensibility, for example, is how often characters fall into reveries while speaking to one another: “From a reverie of this kind she was recalled at the end of some minutes by Willoughby . . . rousing himself from a reverie at least equally painful” (309). Mansfield Park could be said to personify such reveries in the still, silent presence of Fanny, which might explain its oddly playful attitude to time, which it bends to suit its own purposes: “exactly at the time when it was quite natural that it should be so, and not a week earlier, Edmund did cease to care about Miss Crawford, and became as anxious to marry Fanny as Fanny herself could desire” (369).
15. The same elasticity marks the passage of time in Persuasion. Just a few moments elapse between Wentworth writing the letter to Anne and Anne reading it, and just a few moments more before they are reunited.  Although Anne and Wentworth have to endure an agonizing wait, their second courtship possesses a strangely accelerated tempo: “Before Mrs. Croft had written, he was arrived, and the very next time Anne walked out, she saw him” (164). After the pair finally reconcile, time speeds up to such an extent that it erases the distinctions between moments upon which the passing of time depends: “All the little variations of the last week were gone through; and of yesterday and today there could scarcely be an end” (226). The repeat engagement with which the novel ends abolishes the passing of time altogether. For not just Anne’s consciousness is out of step with those around her; the text as a whole could be said to be out of synch, beginning with the act of persuasion which gives Austen her title, which is not only never narrated but takes place, strictly speaking, outside the time of the novel. Indeed the title, Persuasion, suggests an ongoing action rather than the results of that action, confusing past and present in a way that sets the tempo for the entire novel.
16. What reason would Austen have for organizing her last novel around a temporal disjunction? The answer takes us back to the relation between private and public with which I began, a relation introduced as early as the first paragraph of the novel, which reproduces the page of the Baronetage detailing the history of the Elliot family. Sir Walter reads this history “with an interest which never failed” (5), partly because he busies himself updating the entry to include events such as his wife’s death and his daughter’s marriage. The amendments put public and private life at odds in a way that could be said to determine the novel that follows. The trajectory of Persuasion is thus the opposite of the one outlined in Bowen and Finch, in which an all-seeing narrative makes private thoughts public. Instead, we find a consciousness constantly translating public events into private experience: “it would soon be over. And it was soon over. . . . Her eye half met Captain Wentworth’s, a bow, a curtsey passed . . . the room seemed full, full of persons and voices, but a few minutes ended it” (56). Anne’s consciousness speeds up time and slows it down, separates voices from persons and speakers from subjects, renders public life so private that one cannot even say when, where, and to whom it is happening.
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 George Eliot adopts this technique near the end of The Mill on the Floss for seemingly similar reasons. In response to Lucy Deane’s urging that he absolve his sister from her promise never to see Philip Wakem, Tom Tulliver replies that “of course Maggie could do as she liked. For Tom’s part, he held himself to be bound by his duty to his father’s memory” (456). Despite appearing within quotation marks Tom’s speech cannot be direct, underscoring how unapproachable, even inaccessible, he is on the subject of what he and his sister owe the past. BACK
 In a compelling reading of these twinned moments Adela Pinch observes that “Austen’s representation of Anne’s innerness takes the form of an inwardness that oddly seems only penetrated from the outside with difficulty” (106). BACK