[DWJ] 1st person (was Sayers and Meg Cabot v. DWJ)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sat Feb 2 05:23:20 EST 2008

In <20080201.173940.6136.5.jstallcup at juno.com>, Jackie E Stallcup wrote:
>Ok, yes, so this makes sense:  a deliberately written account *would*
>allow for more literary language than the type of first person in which
>you are, as Joe puts it, simply lodged in the person's head for no
>particular reason.
>I think that sometimes first person gets used because at some level it
>seems like it will be easier.  (I know that's how it turned out in the
>novel that I wrote but which has been shelved because, I'm sure, it's
>really not very good).  In a lot of ways (like many first novels), it's
>*my* story so it made sense to me to be in first person.  But it
>definitely doesn't have any reason for it beyond that.  And when I tried
>to rewrite it in third person, ugh, it was such a much more difficult
>task that I gave it up.  

Hats off to *Treasure Island*, which suddenly changes 'viewpoint' to the 
Doctor for that part of the narrative which Jim Hawkins didn't witness!  
I didn't even notice it until I was a lot older and studying literature; 
when I first read that book it carried me along seamlessly through what 
could have been a really awkward change of voice.

>But it ISN'T easy to *do well*.  In my children's literature class, we
>read Letters tfrom Rifka, which is an epistolary novel (well,
>technically, it's written as a journal that take the form of letters to
>Rifka's cousin, but because the cousin is not able to reply, it's quite
>one-sided.)  When I press my students to think about the form, they start
>to realize the difficulties that arise.  In particular, Rifka has to
>explain quite a bit of historical information to her cousin which is kind
>of ridiculous.  After all, she is right there in the middle of it, too! 
>It gets particularly ridiculous when she says things like, "As you know
>Tovah, I have blonde hair and speak fluent Russian."  I think Tovah would
>be scratching her head and thinking "duh?"  (well, ok, not duh, because
>it takes place in the nineteenth or early twentieth century, but you see
>what I mean).

And easy to avoid if one has her say 'This was silly because *as you 
know* I may have blonde hair and look a bit foreign but I speak fluent 
Russian so of course I understood perfectly what the fishman was saying' 
or something of that sort.

>I also think of The Ivy Tree, by Mary Stewart, in which the first person
>narrator is *completely* unreliable but not in an obvious, Huck Finn kind
>of way.  You don't realize it until the end in a kind of Sixth Sense
>twist that really pissed me off the first time I read it.  So there, the
>use is deliberate, but as a reader I felt SO excluded in the end that it
>was really offputting.

Oh.  I felt that her 'secret' was blown after the first daylight meeting 
with Adam: the moment she cared about his hands, it was clear she knew 
him, certainly, after which all the rest made sense from the other 
direction, as it were.  The relationship with the grandfather certainly 
made no sense as a fake, lots of sense as reality.  And in retrospect at 
that point the whole business of the tell-tale driving-licence was 
clear, not lied about by the narrator.


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