_The Thief_, Melissa & Hallie's ed. SPOILERS!!

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Mon Mar 11 14:55:20 EST 2002

Even clipping this didn't make it short enough to send easily, so 
I've divided it in two - sorry, but I couldn't see how to cut out 
enough to make it short while still retaining enough of the 

>  >
>>>spoiler space
>>>more spoiler space because
>>>I don't know
>>>how much
>  >>

>>Well, you have omitted an important clue - as soon as Gen gets up in
>>the tree he says that he rebraided his hair - and in the only
>>previous mention of doing his hair he said that the braid was useful
>>for hiding small things he'd stolen.
>Not entirely true.  He said first that he liked having his hair done up out
>of the way AND that it was useful for hiding stuff.  So that wasn't the only
>reason--it wasn't the only conclusion that might be drawn from that action.

I thought he said that it made him look aristocratic and that it was 
useful for hiding stuff.  But I don't really want to quibble about it 
anyway - the point was just that he had told us that he hid stolen 
items in his braid, and that he mentioned re-doing his braid.  So it 
was a clue.

>>>What's more, this is a manipulation of what readers expect from the
>  >>first-person POV (something Ros noted above).  The assumption is that
>>>whatever lies the POV character may tell to other characters--and whatever
>>>lies other characters tell which go unquestioned by the POV--that narrator
>>>will not, at least, lie to the reader; if his internal narrative is flawed,
>>>there will be external evidence to clue the reader in to the discrepancy.
>>>Turner takes advantage of this to keep the secret up until she can reveal it
>>>to best advantage.  This isn't strictly cheating, but it's a manipulation
>>>writers can't get away with very often, because it destroys the reader's
>>>trust in the author's narrative choices.
>>Oh, dear - I disagree with this both because I think there IS a clue, and
>>because I think everything is a little less black-and-white than 
>>this.  I don't
>>think Gen *did* lie to the reader - he just didn't disclose the 
>>full truth (and
>>I see his theft of the Gift as really almost as dangerous to him as the
>>knowledge of his identity - if he's allowed repress one bit of 
>>information, why
>>not another?).
>Who's he repressing it from?  As I asked in another post, why on earth
>should he even know we exist?  In one sense, the reader has a completely
>separate identity from the world of this novel, and we are peeking in on
>him.  If he has no idea we-the-readers exist, he has no reason to hide
>anything.  What's more, on the topic of his identity, he thinks exactly as
>much as he ought to be doing at that moment.  The only reason he would have
>to think something like "my father, the Prime Minister of Eddis" or "boy, I
>hope the Queen has that entourage at the top of the pass" would be to inform
>US.  It would be unnatural for him to think it to himself.

I'll answer all this together further down.

>  > But more than that, I think it's that I'm not sure we
>>should expect this particular narrative to be a certain way just
>>because it's first-person.  I'm never going to manage to explain this
>>as clearly as I want to, but it goes back to my feeling when we
>>studied _Pride and Prejudice_ last year and read in a section on
>>realism and comedy something about the "duplicitous narrative voice"
>>in P&P.  I was a bit taken aback at first, but came to see what was
>>being said.  And I think it relates very well to the narrative voice
>>in _The Thief_, on a deeper level than "if Jane Austen can do it, why
>>can't MWT?"  (Which I also feel, of course.)
>I see.  Here's what I perceive as the difference.  A duplicitous narrative
>voice--if I'm remembering correctly, and please tell me if I'm getting it
>wrong--has to do with not being required to take the narrator's word for
>things.  It's possible, and often desirable, to question what the narrator
>is saying, especially when it comes to the conclusions that narrator makes.

Well, I think that's an unreliable narrator (usually first person, 
btw) and duplicitous here meant exactly what it means in normal life.

>(That's sort of rough; would you mind telling about the _Pride and
>Prejudice_ discussion?  I love that book, but I never studied it formally,
>so I'm not sure how this applies to _P&P_.  In fact, that might be a good
>thing, because I don't know how much of that is interpretation and how much
>of it is Jane Austen choosing to be duplicitous.  I would definitely like to
>hear this.)

:)  An invitation!  I'll block this off so those as can't stand 
anything even remotely like lit crit can just hop on by.  (And 
apologies in advance if I'm saying what people already know or using 
jargon obnoxiously  - I'm just trying to summarise somewhat 


Ok, we studied P&P as part of a block on (mostly) genre - The Realist 
Novel.  So most of the analysis (narrative voice, pov, 
characterization, setting etc.) fit into the study of P&P as a 
classic realist text.  Realism is, of course, notoriously difficult 
to define, but we were shown some of the conventions, which all 
foster the portrayal of a credible world, with ordinary characters 
and settings, and no supernatural elements.  These realist novels 
usually use an omniscient narrator (most have a moral aim, and so the 
reader needs to know that the lessons demonstrated in the novel apply 
to "real life").

Anyway, P&P has an omniscient narrator, seemingly completely 
trustworthy.   But there are places where the narrative very subtly 
plays on this to tease the reader.  One example is the scene when 
Jane gets the letter from Caroline Bingley telling her that they've 
left Netherfield. It starts "Hope was over, entirely over: and when 
Jane could attend to the letter, she found little, except the 
professed affections of the writer, that could give her any comfort". 
The "professed" puts this firmly in the narrator's focalization, as 
Jane still believes Bingley's sisters are sincere at this point. 
However, there is nothing at all to indicate to the reader that "hope 
is over" is in *Jane's* focalization, rather than the narrator's.  So 
in one sentence, the narrative slips out of a character's 
focalization to the narrator's, without even a hint to the slippage, 
causing the reader to believe something which isn't true.  There are 
lots of examples like this, and each is small enough, admittedly. 
But these examples of teasing the reader are examined along with 
(again, subtle) acknowledgements in the text that memory, the 
observing as well as the observed consciousness, are instable - are a 

The author concluded the section on P&P by stressing that she wasn't 
saying it was a mistake to read it as a realist novel, but that it 
was important "not to let our preconceptions about a literary genre 
become a straitjacket to our reading that limits the perpetual 
novelness of the novel form."

So this may go some way towards explaining why this seemed to me to 
have some bearing on the narrative voice in TT.  JA's readers 
presumably assume that the narrator is trustworthy, but sometimes she 
plays with that trust - not in any outrageously wanton way, imo, but 
rather in the way Elizabeth likes to play and tease.  Similarly, imo, 
the fact that we assume certain things about what will be revealed in 
a first-person narrative, doesn't necessarily mean that those 
assumptions and expectations have to be honoured and met.

>But I seem to remember that there should be ways of identifying
>"the truth" within the text that don't require dependence on the unreliable
>narrative voice.  In fact, this ought to mean that NOTHING the narrator says
>can be taken as reliable--which in this case would include Gen's final
>"true" account.

I'm not sure that there is any "should be" about it.  An obviously 
unreliable narrator is of course identifiable.  But in P&P there is 
no way to know that the omniscient narrator is occasionally being 
duplicitous until you get to the end.  (On a first read, of course, 
and my first read was eons ago.)

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