The Modern Novel

New narrative techniques were introduced by JOSEPH CONRAD (1857–1924) and HENRY JAMES (1843–1916).

JOSEPH CONRAD grew up in Russia and Poland, became a member of the British merchant marine in 1878 and a British citizen in 1884. Though he could not speak English before he arrived in England, he produced some of the finest works of English fiction: Lord Jim (1900), Typhoon (1902), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907), Under Western Eyes (1911).

The novelette The Heart of Darkness (1902) is the story of Marlowe, who was sent up the Congo River by a trading company to search for Kurtz, one of their agents. In the course of his journey he finds that Kurtz, living in a remote place in the jungle, has shed all the rules of civilization to become evil personified. For Marlowe, the first-person narrator of the story, relating what he experienced is at the same time a chance for reflection and realization.

“'Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream – making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams (…).'
He was silent for a while.
'No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence - that which makes its truth, its meaning – its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream – alone (…).'”

(Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. Reclam 1984, p. 58)

So the reader learns about the events from a totally subjective point of view. He is able to trace Marlowe's growing insight into man's moral degeneration, which in this story goes far beyond what Marlowe had thought possible. The narration conveys the attitude towards reality that Marlowe has drawn from his experiences.

“When you have to attend to things of that sort, to the mere incidents of the surface, the reality – the reality, I tell you – fades. The inner truth is hidden (…).”
(Heart of Darkness. Reclam 1984, p. 73)

The American film director FRANCIS FORD COPPOLA exchanged the African setting of The Heart of Darkness for present-day Vietnam to produce the film adaptation Apocalypse Now (1979).

HENRY JAMES was born in New York City; he settled in Europe in 1875. In addition to nearly a hundred short stories he wrote novels such as Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904). It is HENRY JAMES's achievement that he developed and refined the narrative technique of the limited point of view and the substitutionary narration. He made one of the characters the “centre of consciousness” through whom he was able to offer insight into the mind of the main character. Thus his narration leaves ample room for the reader to draw his own personal conclusions about the characters' behaviour.

The following passage from The Ambassadors is presented from one of the main characters', Strether's, (i.e. selective point of view) point of view. Strether is trying to assess the young man he is talking to:

Strether met his eyes with a sense of multiplying thoughts. What was it that made him at present, late at night and after journeys, so renewedly, so substantially young? Strether saw in a moment what it was – it was that he was younger again than Madame de Vionnet. He himself said immediately none of the things that he was thinking; he said something quite different. 'You really have been to a distance?'”
(Henry James, The Ambassadors. Book XII, chapter IV)

In addition, scenic presentation is the prevailing mode of presentation HENRY JAMES uses in his novels, which makes the readers observe scenes of the novel as eye-witnesses, as if they were watching a stage play.This development of the point of view was further advanced by the introspection and the stream-of-consciousness technique employed in the narrative texts of KATHERINE MANSFIELD, JAMES JOYCE and VIRGINIA WOOLF.

Stand: 2010
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