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Point of view in first-person narratives: a deictic analysis of David Copperfield.

1. Who Speaks Is Who Sees?

In stylistics, first-person "homodiegetic" narratives are commonly held to be rather straightforward in terms of point of view--even more so if the narrator is the hero in his/her own story, and the narrative can thus be defined as "autodiegetic" (Genette 253). When that is the case--thus the argument goes--readers get to see the fictional events from a single point of view, that of the narrator/character: who speaks is who sees, and there is no legitimate escape from the single perspective (unless certain well-known narrative expedients--diaries, letters, etc.--are employed). In Style in Fiction, for instance, Leech and Short operate a distinction between "fictional" and "discoursal point of view" which is reminiscent of Genette's separation of "focalization" from "voice." But their exposition of these twin terms makes it clear that they are heavily dependent on one another, and that it is only in heterodiegetic narratives that the fictional point of view can be legitimately shifted:
   A fiction writer, although not compelled to take one person's point
   of view, can voluntarily limit his "omniscience' to those things
   which belong to one person's model of reality. He can also vary the
   fictional point of view, sometimes claiming authorial omniscience,
   sometimes giving us one character's version of events, sometimes
   that of another..., if events are recorded through the words or
   thoughts of a character, they are by that fact limited to what that
   character could reasonably be expected to know or infer. Discoursal
   point of view, that is, implies a parallel restriction of fictional
   point of view.


If the narration is entrusted to an external narrator, therefore, the story can even be told from "the point of view of an animal, or of a man on the point of death" (Leech and Short 174)--while if the narrator is a character within the story, what he/she can tell will be limited to what he/she sees/knows. A dozen years after Leech and Short's seminal book, Paul Simpson makes very similar assumptions on the connection between narrating voice and point of view: in his "modal grammar of point of view in narrative fiction" (which describes the combined effects of Leech and Short's "lictional" and "discoursal" points of view), Simpson distinguishes between "Category A" (homodiegetic) and "Category B" (heterodiegetic) narrations, and maintains that only the latter can be filtered through a "reflector." He further distinguishes between three "patterns of modality" (positive, negative, and neutral) which may be exhibited by the narrator/predicated upon the reflector: roughly, a positive shading reflects an epistemically confident and openly evaluative view of the world; a negative shading imbues the narrative with a general tone of uncertainty ("it seemed to me/him," "perhaps he thought I/he was wrong"); while if the general pattern of modality is neutral, "the narrator withholds subjective evaluations and tells the story through categorical assertions alone" (Simpson 60). Here are Simpson's two examples of "Category A" narration with positive shading (condensed), from Jane Eyre and Three Men in a Boat:

It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action, and they will make it if they cannot find it.... Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties... It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or lean more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

George has a cousin, who is usually described in the charge-sheet as a medical student, so that he naturally has a somewhat family-physicianary way of putting things.

I agreed with George, and suggested that we should seek out some retired old-world spot, far from the madding crowd ... some half-forgotten nook, hidden away by the fairies, out of reach of the noisy world ...

Harris said he thought it would be humpty. He said he knew the sort of place 1 meant; where everybody went to bed at eight o'clock, and you couldn't get a Referee for love or money, and had to walk ten miles to get your baccy.

(57-58; his emphasis in the first example)

Simpson notes that both passages display characteristics of what he terms positive modality--evaluative adjectives and adverbs, verba sentiendi, generic sentences with universal or timeless reference. In other words, both passages can be said to be "evaluatively transparent" (cf. Morini, Jane Austen's Narrative Techniques 15-36, for the concept of "evaluative opacity"). What Simpson fails to notice, however--because it falls outside the bounds of his categories--is that the sources of positive modality change from one passage to another. In Jane Eyre, it is uniquely from the narrator's point of view that the plight of women is looked at and judged; whereas in Jerome K. Jerome's passage, even though the narrator is a homodiegetic first person, the source of positive modality shifts from the I-narrator ("so that he naturally ...") through the I-character ("suggested that we should ... far from the madding crowd ...") to another character, Harris ("he thought it would be humpty ..."). Of course, Harris' evaluative stance can be passed over as irrelevant in narrative-taxonomical terms--it is, after all, perfectly possible to have characters commit themselves to positive judgments through direct or indirect speech in a negatively or neutrally shaded narration--but even so, it is important to note that for the purposes of modality, the I-narrator and the I-character cannot comfortably be considered to be one and the same. It is true, for instance, that in Jerome's first paragraph the I-narrator foregrounds his presence by judging a state of affairs--but when the I-character takes charge, the selfsame foregrounded narrator hides in the background. For if the I-narrator stated openly what the narration appears to be implicating (through a breach in Grice's maxim of quantity), i.e., that he (the I-narrator) knows that he (the I-character) was being obtusely sentimental at the time of utterance, the subtle effect of irony resulting from the I-character's repetitions would be spoiled.

In the last few decades, there have been warnings--mainly of narratological provenance--against conflating the I-narrator with the I-character in homodiegetic and autodiegetic narratives. In his narratological study of fiction and film, Seymour Chatman has criticized Genette for maintaining that in first-person narration, the narrative is inevitably "focalized" through the narrator--while even in autodiegetic narration, Chatman has argued, it is only the character who sees the action, whereas the narrator speaks from the universe of discourse and can only report "what he saw or felt 'back then,' when he was a character" (145). Other narratologists have pointed out that homo- and autodiegetic fiction hinges around two competing points of view, so that the focus can be on what Dorrit Cohn calls the ';narrating" or on the "experiencing self" (also cf. Stanzel): in Dickens' Great Expectations, for instance--as Monika Fludernik has noted--the experiencing self is often foregrounded, and "the narrating self does not step in to provide a sober retrospective evaluation of young Pip's illusions" (An Introduction to Narratology 122). To use Cohn's terms, "Self-Narration" can either be "Consonant" (153), or "Dissonant" (145) -the impression of hierarchy between I-character and I-narrator being maintained (in all but the most postmodern experiments) by the fact that it is only the latter who has the benefit of hindsight (cf. Edminston).

When it comes to classifying the "narrating voices" (Black 55-57) of autodiegetic fiction, however, stylisticians tend to conflate the I-narrator with the I-character, the narrating with the experiencing self. And while of course it is perfectly justifiable to think of homodiegetic narration as being "told" by a single voice, this single voice should not be confused with the single point of view. As Simpson's two examples show, and as I will try to illustrate in the following section: homodiegetic or autodiegetic narration, far from being simple, can be seen to be intrinsically more complex than heterodiegctic narration in terms of point of view. For while third-person narratives can be told through a reflector, first-person narratives are always told through a reflector--and the fact that the narrator and the reflector are one and the same person should not blind us to this effect of double or dual perspective. (1) Homodiegetic and autodiegetic narratives are the result of an interplay between these two perspectives, which can be juxtaposed, superimposed or contrasted to varying effects. In David Copperfield, for instance, and in terms of Simpson's taxonomy, the I-narrator and the I-reflector can be shown by turns to have similar or different modal attitudes, this oscillation being exploited by Dickens for comical or moralizing purposes.

The analytical confusion between I-narrator and I-reflector can perhaps be obviated if "point of view," rather than "narrating voice," is taken as a starting point for stylistic analysis. And since that is precisely what Dcictic Shift Theory (DST) proposes, the rest of this article will attempt a DST reading of one particular autodiegetic narrative, Dickens' chapter"My First Dissipation" in David Copperfield (1849-50). (2) In its simplest version, Deictic Shift Theory argues that the deictic centre "is the conceptual substitute for the discourse situation within the fictional world" (Segal 174). When they suspend their disbelief', readers anchor their interpretation of the fictional world and its deictic referents to this centre--which can be located everywhere, and is often shifted in the course of the narrative. The most common deictic shift in an autodiegetic novel such as David Copperfield, to borrow Peter Stockwell's terminology, is the "push" from David-as-a-narrator to David-as-acharacter, and the "pop" back onto the plane inhabited by the narrator (Stockwell, Cognitive Poetics 47). As we shall see, pushes and pops between these two planes are very frequent--though often very subtle--and any analytical observations on such aspects as modality and evaluation cannot help taking into account this shuttling to and fro. (3)

Of course, most readers (and, as seen above, many stylisticians) will tend to overlook any shifts between the I-narrator's and the I-reflector's deictic planes, for the obvious reason that these two figures share the same person deixis: in other words, the two planes will be perceived as perfectly "blended" (Fauconnier and Turner), and the story will be heard as being told and experienced by a single agency. In terms of Monika Fludernik's "natural" narratology, most readers will picture "'David Copperfield" as a real storyteller relating his/her own tale--a teller and a witness, all in one (Towards a 'Natural' Narratology 34). Such a figure, in his role as a narrator, will be held to be eminently reliable, a fictional double of the author rather than one of the many voices competing for dominance in a heteroglossal genre (cf. Bakhtin). In a traditional autodiegetic narrative like David Copperfield, this kind of "natural" reading is encouraged by the fact that the I-narrator is often seen to be endowed with superior interpretive faculties and moral qualities.

But even this impression of moral and intellectual authoritativeness, as will be shown below, is partly a result of the interplay of deictic centres in the novel, and more specifically, in the chapter under discussion. The shifts between the I-reflector's and the I-narrator's planes fall under two of the categories identified by Stockwell ("Miltonic Texture and the Feeling of Reading" 78): "temporal" and "perceptual." Temporal shifts are unambiguous and relatively easy to spot: the I-narrator interrupts the past-tense narrative to speak in the present tense, from his own "coding time." Whereas when the shift is perceptual, the flow of events is not interrupted, but there may be hints--more or less subtle--of a gap between young David's views or opinions and those of his older self. Through most of the chapter, these shifts are exploited for their comic possibilities: young David seems to understand very little of what is going on, but the perceptive reader is encouraged to laugh or smile at him with the overt or covert complicity of David the narrator. Before the end, however, David's older and wiser narrator-self takes charge to provide a moral which may sound a bit contrived to those readers who have heard his tongue-in-cheek comments for the rest of the chapter.

2. Deictic Shifts in David Copperfield

Being essentially a piece of comic bravura with a final moral, "My First Dissipation" (296-303) can be taken as highly representative not only of David Copperfield, but of Dickens' narrative ideology. Its exaggerated title refers to the first dinner given by David as a young bachelor in London, in the course of which he gets so drunk that he all but loses consciousness. The disastrous preparations of the dinner itself, David's dealings with his rapacious landlady Mrs Crupp, his exchanges with guests Steerforth, Markham and Grainger, his sensory confusion once he gets drunk--all this is humorously described in the chapter. Before the end, however, David goes to the theatre and meets the morally unexceptionable Agnes, whose "indelible look of regret and wonder" makes him realize his shameful behavior and inspires him with "agony of mind" and "remorse." A new light is thus shed upon the whole proceedings: funny as David's night has been made to be, we are now told--largely from the deictic perspective of the older narrator--that it was only a disgusting "revel" (302).

At the beginning of the chapter, the deictic gap between the I-narrator and the I-reflector is exploited by Dickens as a source of comic effects. Young David's alternating enthusiasm and depression in his new London life are generally described from the reflector's point of view, though the odd present-tense comment (temporal shift) and the rhetorical organization of the whole (perceptual shift) may tell a different tale:

It was a wonderfully fine thing to have that lofty castle to myself, and to feel when I shut my outer door, like Robinson Crusoe, when he had got into his fortification ... It was a wonderfully fine thing to walk about town with the key of my house in my pocket, and to know that I could ask any fellow to come home... It was a wonderfully fine thing to let myself in and out, and to come and go without a word to any one, and to ring Mrs. Crupp up, gasping, from the depths of the earth, when I wanted her--and when she was disposed to come. All this, I say, was wonderfully fine; but I must say, too, that there were times when it was very dreary.

It was fine in the morning, particularly in the fine mornings. It looked a very fresh, free life, by daylight: still fresher, and more free, by sunlight. But as the day declined, the life seemed to go down too. I don "t know how it was; it seldom looked well by candle-light.

(297; italics mine)

The overall effect of the passage builds upon two kinds of oscillation: on the one hand, the deictic shifts between the I-reflector's and the I-narrator's planes; on the other, an artful suspension between Simpson's positive and negative modalities. At the very beginning, young David's feelings are described (from his own point of view, in what Elena Semino and Mick Short (45) call "Internal Narration") in the positive mode as "wonderfully fine," through the use of verba sentiendi and evaluative adjectives and adverbs. At the same time, the breach in Grice's maxim of quantity (the unnecessary repetitions) suggests that there may be a "perceptual" difference between the I-reflector and the I-narrator, and the feeling is confirmed by the latter coming out into the open in the present tense (a "pop," in DST terms) to admit ("I must say") that "there were times when it was very dreary." With this temporal shift, the modality remains "positive"--the I-narrator openly evaluating the situation--but the very next paragraph registers a switch to the negative mode. This switch is signalled by the transition from "it was" through "it looked" to "the life seemed": the deterioration of life towards evening heralds a decline not only in the I-reflector's spirits, but also in the I-narrator's certainties. This decline reaches its nadir when the I-narrator admits that not only was he unaware of his sources of sadness back then (when he was a character)--he is also unaware here and now, on his own temporal plane ("I don't know how it was").

What is particularly interesting here is that while Dickens occasionally foregrounds the temporal and perceptual distance between the I-narrator and the I-reflector, he also takes advantage of the "conceptual blending" (cf. Fauconnier and Turner) inherent in autodiegetic narrative to create an epistemic confusion which will be exploited to comic effects in the rest of the chapter. A neat separation between the planes is operated whenever the I-narrator speaks in the present tense--above all if he steps in to provide the clear evaluations he wasn't in a position to provide as a character. But after his initial intervention in the positive mode, the I-narrator's certainties falter ("I don't know"), and as a consequence, the existential verbs shade into verbs of perception ("looked," "seemed"). Moreover, when the I-narrator steps into the negative mode, his deictics get mixed with the I-reflector's ("I don't know how it was"). In this case, even if there is a separation on the temporal axis, the I-narrator is presenting the fictional world in the same negative modality predicated upon the I-reflector. The reader, unassisted by the I-narrator's hindsight, is left to work out the implications of what is "negatively" described for him/herself.

That is what happens in much of "My First Dissipation"--if the moralizing ending be excepted. The I-reflector's deictic plane remains quantitatively dominant (temporally and perceptually), and the I-narrator only steps in to declare that he is as in the dark now as he was then--or, more rarely, to explain a joke that might otherwise prove too subtle. The latter, however, happens very seldom, and always post-factum, when a circumstance has already been described from the I-reflector's (estranging) point of view. When David decides to purchase a "slab" of Mock Turtle on the Strand, for instance, his mental and physical processes are reproduced in the exact order in which they supposedly took place on his temporal plane (the explanatory label in the shop window being seen after the first, defamiliarizing appearance of the marble-like thing itself). The I-narrator, however, feels he has to speak from his own temporal plane in order to point out that the "slab" (a telltale term, but evidently not enough for Dickens' purposes) was too big for the dinner under preparation--so that an attentive reader may surmise that its shrinking up in a liquid state must have something to do with Mrs Crupp's cooking:

Walking along the Strand, afterwards, and observing a hard mottled substance in the window of a ham and beef shop, which resembled marble, but was labelled "Mock Turtle," I went in and bought a slab of it, which I have since seen reason to believe would have sufficed for fifteen people. This preparation, Mrs. Crupp, after some difficulty, consented to warm up, and it shrank so much in a liquid state, that we found it what Steerforth called "rather a tight fit" for foul'. (298-99; italics mine)

Almost as rarely, the narrator pops in from his own temporal plane but does not provide an explanation or a gloss. When David the character is having his coffee and roll in the morning, just before Steerforth's appearance, the I-narrator says "and I may observe in this place that it is surprising how much coffee Mrs. Crupp used, and how weak it was, considering" (299; italics mine). By now, the reader may already have worked out for him/herself that Mrs Crupp is constantly trying to swindle her tenant, but he/she is certainly not told so in so many words. In this case, even if there is a distinction of temporal planes, the I-narrator is, or pretends to be, in the same perceptual condition as the I-reflector.

Of course, the fact that the I-narrator rarely speaks from his own temporal plane does not mean that he disappears altogether. Unlike third-person heterodiegetic narrators, autodiegetic narrators can never be completely absent from the scene they describe--if nothing else, because they share their person deixis with the I-reflector, so that their presence, while not always foregrounded, is given as understood. What happens in "My First Dissipation," therefore, is not that the I-narrator's plane gets forgotten, but that it is normally blended with the I-reflector's. When the I-narrator says "I thought about my predecessor, who had died of drink and smoke; and I could have wished he had been so good as to live, and not bother me with his decease" (296-97), the reader thinks of the I-narrator speaking of his feelings back then, as an I-reflector. (4) On the other hand, the I-narrator would be much more perceptible if he said something like "and another thing that got me down was the idea of the former tenant having died in the selfsame flat"--i.e., if he explained, or made a summary of, his past feelings. What we get instead is a presentation of those feelings--of David's rather unreasonable but very realistic irritation at a dead predecessor--and it is only by unlocking the jocular implicatures released by the breach in the maxim of quality (how can a person be "so good as to live"?) that the reader can get at the substance of those feelings. The I-narrator's intervention, in this case, is minimal and non-explicit.

When the I-narrator does not produce a deictic "pop" from the narrated past to his narrating present, or when he does not foreground his perceptual distance by explicating what is implicit or obscure for the I-reflector, the two planes are perceived as blended--just as David-the-narrator and David-the-character are conflated (the same person, after all (5)). But this blending is never complete in the chapter, because there are always material details or verbal incongruities (breaches in some of Grice's maxims) pointing towards an interpretation that is not literally given (Mrs Crupp is a lazy swindler; David is ingenuous; David is drunk), and therefore producing more or less subtle perceptual shifts from the I-reflector's to the I-narrator's plane. Since the I-narrator foregrounds himself at the beginning (at the very beginning of the novel, in point of fact), the reader who perceives the discrepancy between what is told and what is implicated may be led to attribute his/her alternative interpretation to the I-narrator (who is, after all, older and wiser, and supposed to be responsible for the rhetorical organization of the tale). In the following example, for instance, one may be tempted to think that while the I-reflector has no clue about what is really going on, the I-narrator knows that Mrs Crupp does not want to work too much for David's dinner (otherwise, he would never accept or commit himself to such a logical absurdity):
   It was a remarkable instance of want of forethought on the part of
   the ironmonger who had made Mrs. Crupp's kitchen fireplace, that it
   was capable of cooking nothing but chops and mashed potatoes. (298)

Amongst other things, this passage offers an interesting illustration of Simpson's positive modality, and of how we should be wary of equating the latter with a clear understanding of the fictional world. In this case, either the I-reflector or the I-narrator provides an evaluation of "what is going on" in the form of a categorical assertion--and yet the illogical formulation of the whole suggests that the assertion may be wrong. (6) For the rest of the chapter, whether explicit evaluations are given or not, whether the I-narrator foregrounds his presence or not, both the I-narrator and the I-character appear to understand very little of what is going on. When two bottles of wine disappear unaccountably, for instance, this is said to make "Mrs. Crupp very uncomfortable" (299), and the I-narrator does not expand on Mrs Crupp's motives. When. Steerforth's friend Markham is observed by young David to be a man who "always spoke of himself indefinitely, as 'a man,' and seldom or never in the first person singular" (299), no sardonic comment at all is offered by the I-narrator. Again, the reader must work out explanations and conclusions for him/ herself--and in terms of cognitive effects, one might say that certain categories of readers may appreciate Dickens' reliance on their inferring capabilities, while others might simply fail to see the point.

Readers of the former kind--the only ones who would find "My First Dissipation" funny, perhaps--may rely on various textual clues to construct a perceptual discrepancy between the I-narrator and the I-reflector. While very few explicit evaluations are given, and even those few do not appear to be entirely reliable, several repetitions and incongruities between style and matter may arouse suspicion:

When [Steerforth] was gone, I rang for Mrs. Crupp, and acquainted her with my desperate design. Mrs. Crupp said, in the first place, of course it was well known she couldn't be expected to wait, but she knew a handy young man, who she thought could be prevailed upon to do it, and whose terms would be five shillings, and what I pleased. I said, certainly we would have him. Next, Mrs. Crupp said it was clear she couldn't be in two places at once (which I felt to be reasonable), and that "a young gal" stationed in the pantry with a bedroom candle, there never to desist from washing plates, would be indispensable. I said, what would be the expense of this young female, and Mrs. Crupp said she supposed eighteen pence would neither make me nor break inc. I said 1 supposed not; and that was settled. Then Mrs. Crupp said, Now about the dinner.

... I declined, and said, "Never mind fish." But Mrs. Crupp said, Don't say that; oysters was in, and why nut them? So that was settled. Mrs. Crupp then said what she would recommend would be this. A pair of hot roast fowls--from the pastrycook's; a dish of stewed beef, with vegetables--from the pastrycook's; two little corner things, as a raised pie and a dish of kidneys--from the pastrycook's; a tart, and (if I liked) a shape of jelly--from the pastrycook's. This, Mrs. Crupp said, would leave her at full liberty to concentrate her mind on the potatoes, and to serve up the cheese and celery as she could wish to see it done. (298; italics mine, except for the repeated "that")

The effect is very subtle--all the more so because most of the passage can be construed as a free indirect rendering of a conversational exchange between David and Mrs. Crupp. Again, the only evaluation offered in the positive modality, except for Mrs Crupp's own comments, is attributed to the I-reflector ("which I felt to be reasonable" (7)), and can only be interpreted as tautological (and therefore, as a breach of the maxim of quantity, and as a source of implicatures). The I-reflector's and the I-narrator's deictic planes appear to be perfectly blended--the narrator never speaking in the present tense and never commenting on what happens--and it is only the repetitions and exaggerations that can be construed as adding up to a perceptual discrepancy. The clearest sign of the I-narrator's distance from the I-reflector is that initial "desperate"--a breach of the maxim of relation (as an adjective, it would be appropriate for bank robbery, but not for the preparation of a dinner) that can be said to trigger implicatures about young David's ingenuous enthusiasm, or about the foreseeable consequences of his reliance on Mrs Crupp. After that, the more or less perfectly blended deictic planes of the I-narrator and the I-reflector also become blended with Mrs Crupp's deictic plane, through free indirect speech. In this case, a series of repetitions ("of course it was well known. .. it was clear"; "and that was settled"--emphasized by Dickens himself; and the omnipresent pastrycook), incongruities of style ("at full liberty to concentrate her mind on the potatoes"), and tautologies ("it was clear she couldn't be in two places at once") suggest that a non-literal interpretation is possible. But in this collapse of planes within planes, things become even more difficult to disentangle: can we be sure, for instance, that Mrs Crupp's exact words are always reported? Is it plausible that a person who says "oysters [was] in, and why not them?" would also say that ordering all that food from the pastrycook "would leave her at full liberty to concentrate her mind on the potatoes, and to serve up the cheese and celery as she could wish to see it done?"

A traditional reading of such passages would define them as "ironic"--and in point of fact. if one thinks of "echoic irony" (Wilson and Sperber) or "disengagement" (Morini, "The Poetics of Disengagement"), such a reading would appropriately, if vaguely, describe the effects of deictic shuttling at work here. Being the more or less qualified endorsement of someone else's point of view, "echoic disengagement"--or, more specifically in terms of attitude, "echoic irony"--depends on a (not quite perfect) blending of deictic planes, on the perception of a "perceptual" discrepancy. In this passage, the I-narrator's and the I-reflector's planes are blended through person deixis, and the I-narrator's plane is blended with Mrs Crupp's through the use of free indirect speech. At the same time, various textual hints suggest that the perceptual blending is not complete--but since no definite signposts are given by the I-narrator, it is up to each and every reader to decide whether, for instance, the I-narrator knows more than the I-character, or whether Mrs Crupp really says that she wants to be at liberty to concentrate her mind on the potatoes. As the critical literature on Jane Austen's novels demonstrates (Morini, Jane Austen's Narrative Techniques 15-17), in the absence of clear demarcations, each and every reader will decide for him/herself on the degree of perceptual blending or disengagement.

Dickens, however, does not only extract subtle comic effects from this kind of perceptual disengagement: he also exploits the "automatic" blending between the I-narrator and the I-reflector, and even heightens the impression of blending by withdrawing the I-narrator's interventions when young David's perceptions become particularly confused. In "My First Dissipation," in fact, much of what happens is described in the exact form and sequence they have in the I-reflector's experience. This form of "experiential sequencing," as seen above in the mock turtle example, can be used to create the effects of estrangement or defamiliarization (Shklosvky 1-14) for which Dickens is famous. When David gets so drunk that he starts to, quite literally, lose consciousness--he starts to see and hear "David Copperfield" as if he were someone else--it is only through experiential sequencing that his physical condition can be fully bodied forth. From the I-reflector's deictic position, the reader can perceive David's surroundings as they become increasingly vague and indistinct. In the end, they become so vague and indistinct that even David's sense of himself is lost:
   I went on, by finding suddenly that somebody was in the middle of a
   song. Markham was the singer, and he sang "When the heart of man is
   depressed with care." ...

   Somebody was smoking. We were all smoking. I was smoking, and
   trying to suppress a rising tendency to shudder. Steerforth had
   made a speech about me, in the course of which I had been affected
   almost to tears ....

   Somebody was leaning out of my bedroom window, refreshing his
   forehead against the cool stone of the parapet, and feeling the air
   upon his face. It was myself. I was addressing myself as
   "Copperfield" and saying, "Why did you try to smoke? You might have
   known you couldn't do it." ...

   A man, sitting in a pigeon-hole place, looked out of the fog, and
   took money from somebody, inquiring if I was one of the gentlemen
   paid for, and appearing rather doubtful (as I remember in the
   glimpse I had of him) whether to take the money or not. Shortly
   afterwards, we were very high up in a very hot theatre, looking
   down into a large pit, that seemed to me to smoke; the people with
   whom it was crammed were so indistinct. (300-1)

If the I-narrator's and the I-reflector's planes were not blended, it would be impossible to follow David's escalating loss of consciousness with such intimate, "grammatical" precision. The initial "I went on" does not describe any physical action, and must therefore be taken as a generic indication that some time has (confusedly) passed. David suddenly finds that "somebody was in the middle of a song"--maybe David himself was sleeping or otherwise unconscious when the song began--and only after that first realization, he identifies the singer as Markham. The very foregrounding of "Markham" in "Markham was the singer" appears to suggest that the I-reflector's perception of his surroundings is very piecemeal--as if he heard someone singing, turned his head, saw Markham, realized he is the singer, and only at the end of the process understood which song it is that Markham is singing. In the second paragraph quoted above, this sequential, piecemeal perception of reality extends to the I-reflector himself, who first perceives that somebody is smoking, then that "we were all smoking," and finally realizes that he is smoking himself. In the third paragraph, David's loss of consciousness is complete: and again, rather than having the I-narrator tell us that David is so drunk that he no longer knows who is who, Dickens forces his reader to follow the I-reflector's perceptions in their exact sequential order. The I-reflector, therefore, sees or feels that somebody is leaning out of his bedroom window, "refreshing his forehead against the cool stone of the parapet," and then realizes that "It was myself." This is possibly the strongest kind of psycho-grammatical "estrangement" one could imagine, because normally, every other perception of the (fictional) world comes after the instinctive understanding of one's own deictic position. But it must be added that when it is made explicit, the revelation that "somebody" is actually David himself does not come as a complete surprise--for the very fact that the "somebody" in the opening sentence is feeling the parapet as "cool" may have alerted at least a corner of the perceptive reader's mind to the fact that this estranged somebody is actually the I-reflector, seen from an external deictic centre.

Another deictic-grammatical indicator of David's intoxicated condition appears in the following paragraph, and has to do with the ratio of described to "real" (that is, fictional) duration of events. Again, a more external, less blended I-narrator might tell us that as he went to the theatre, paid for his tickets and found his seat, his perception of reality was very fragmentary, and that therefore he was going through all the required motions with no clear awareness of the passage of time or the intermediate steps between one action and the next. But in Dickens' form of experiential sequencing, this skipping of passages is only implicated by the juxtaposition of situations (we were in the fog / we were very high up in a very hot theatre) and by a handful of temporal adverb phrases, such as that slightly suspect "Shortly afterwards." The fact that readers are still seeing everything from the reflector's confused and confusing point of view is proved by the negative modality of much of the chapter ("appearing rather doubtful"; "that seemed to me to smoke"), though even when the modality is positive, it is clear enough that what we have is not an accurate description ("the people with whom it was crammed were so indistinct"). The I-narrator is generally blended with the I-reflector, and even when he is not ("as I remember in the glimpse I had of him") he only peeps out to certify the confusion, rather than to solve it. (8) In this case, we are told from the I-narrator's temporal plane that the I-reflector only caught a quick glimpse of the box-office man.

The oscillation of the I-narrator between perfect and imperfect blending with the I-refector, between negative and positive modality, and--more generally--between apparent neutrality and open interventionism, can be illustrated by looking at how David's direct speech is presented and introduced in the course of the chapter. In "My First Dissipation," ample use is made of indirect and free indirect speech, perhaps because the latter mode, in particular, allows for the subtle kind of disengagement described above. When David starts to get drunk, however, and his powers of speech suffer as a consequence of his intoxication, some of his words are reported verbatim (and, indeed, with increasing phonetic precision) so that they can be made to serve as humorous indications of his state:

(1) ... I said (in two words) "Steerforth, you're the guiding star of my existence."

(2) ... Steerforth then said, "You are right. Copperfield, are you not?" and I told him, "Neverberrer."

(3) "Agnes!" I said, thickly, "Lorblessmer! "'Agnes!"...

"Agnes!" I said. "I' mafraidyou'renorwell." ...

"Amigorawaysoo?" I repeated ....

... and with a short "Goori!" (which I intended for "Good night") got up and went away. (300, 301, 302)

It is the I-narrator that sets the ball rolling in this little phonetic game: the parenthetical comment in (1) amounts to an implicit description on his part of David's actual words--while paradoxically, what is contained between inverted commas is only an intended utterance--and prepares the ground for the following acts of phonetic mangling. When David answers Steerforth's question in (2), for instance, the reader may already be expecting to hear something strange, and therefore, no narrative introduction at all is used for "neverberrer" (even the verbum dicendi is neutral). In the four examples given in (3), however, even though the game continues as in (2), some little but significant comments are offered from the I-narrator's deictic position. In the first case, the reader is told that David's words are pronounced "thickly"--a fact that he/she might have surmised for him/herself, given that the I-reflector says "Lorblessmer"; and after two unexplained mispronunciations ("I'mafraidyou'renorwell" and "Amigorawaysoo?"), the I-narrator pops back to explain that David's "Goori!" was intended for "Good night."

The first intervention and the last (both of them "perceptual pops," because they reflect or express the I-narrator's view) may be construed as most similar in nature and purpose: they serve to set the rules and describe the effects of the game, preemptively in one case (when reading David's speech in praise of Steerforth, one is given the explanatory introduction, reads the direct speech, presumably realizes it is a normalization, and may rephrase it for oneself) and post-factum in the other (maybe "Goori!" would be too hard to understand as "Good night"). In (2), no intervention at all is offered, because the rules of the game are already set and the interpretation of "Neverberrer" is easy enough. The other narrative "pop" in (3), on the other hand--that little and apparently unassuming "thickly"--is much more interesting, above all in ideological and moral terms. Because when David says "Lorblessmer" (incidentally uttering the Lord's name in vain), Agnes has already made her appearance in the chapter, and her "indelible look of regret and wonder" invests that short adverb with strong moral overtones:

Then I was being ushered into one of these boxes, and found myself saying something as I sat down, and people about me crying "Silence!" to somebody, and ladies casting indignant glances at me, and--what! yes! Agnes, sitting on the seat before me, in the same box, with a lady and gentleman beside her, whom I didn't know. I see her face now, better than I did then, I dare say, with its indelible look of regret and wonder turned upon me.

"Agnes!" I said, thickly, "Lorblessmer! Agnes!" ...

"Amigorawaysoo?" I repeated.


I had a stupid intention of replying that I was going to wait, to hand her downstairs .... She had so far improved me, for the time, that though I was angry with her, I felt ashamed, and with a short "Goori!" (which I intended for "Good night") got up and went away ....

But the agony of mind, the remorse, and shame I felt, when I became conscious the next day! My horror of having committed a thousand offences I had forgotten, and which nothing could ever expiate--my recollection of that indelible look which Agnes had given me--the torturing impossibility of communicating with her, not knowing, beast that I was, how she came to be in London, or where she stayed--my disgust of the very sight of the room where the revel had been held--my racking head--the smell of smoke, the sight of glasses, the impossibility of going out, or even getting up! Oh, what a day it was! (301-2; italics mine)

Anyone who finds "Goori!" funny in itself may continue to do so if David's mispronunciation is seen in its co-text and context, but there is no doubt that even fun is invested with moral significance at the end of the chapter. At the beginning of this passage, young David's perceptions are described from the I-reflector's distorted and estranging point of view: the protagonist is so confused that he finds himself saying something as he sits down, and does not even realize that the "somebody" that is being silenced is, again, himself. But when Agnes appears, the last stretch of "experiential sequencing" ("what! yes !") presenting the I-reflector's surprise, or perhaps dismay, gives way to the most decisive present-tense intervention of the I-narrator in the whole chapter. The older David Copperfield declares that he "sees" Agnes' face much better now than he did back then--a physical impossibility underlining his wish to take charge, to "pop" out of his blended position in order to judge things as "positively" as he can. Of course his position remains external with regard to other characters, but the I-narrator is "positive" that the look on Agnes' face is one of "regret and wonder," and that it is "indelible" (for himself--for the I-reflector and the I-narrator). Coming after this implicit, "embedded" evaluation attributed to a third person (of. Labov 372: if Agnes' look expresses wonder and regret, David's behaviour must be reprehensible), the following "thickly" acquires darker moral overtones. And though Dickens continues to have fun with David's mispronunciations ("Goori!" arguably being the most spectacular in the whole chapter), the I-narrator now foregrounds his own perceptual presence by committing himself to a number of evaluative terms: David's intention of handing Agnes downstairs is "stupid"; Agnes has already "improved" him, supposedly by fixing her gaze on him; in the following paragraph, the proceedings of the previous night are called a "revel."

Of course, in the last paragraph the I-reflector's deictic centre has moved to the following day--and by now, young David's judgment of the "revel" is probably as harsh as the I-narrator's. One could say, therefore, that the two deictic planes are once again blended: and in point of fact, certain evaluative terms--such as "beast that I was"--can still be attributed either to the I-narrator or to the I-reflector (who might be telling himself "beast that I am," that thought being presented by the I-narrator in the free indirect style). There are other evaluative terms, however, or certain "positive" descriptions of young David's feelings, that can only come from the I-narrator, and must therefore be construed as "perceptual pops": for in much of the paragraph, the reader is told what David's feelings are (shame, agony of mind, remorse) rather than simply shown the operation of those feelings in David's thoughts and actions. If the I-narrator and the I-reflector were truly blended, the reader would have to work out his/her own interpretation from a more neutral description, in which even "positive" evaluations might be embedded by attributing them to the I-reflector:

But on the following day, as soon as I became conscious, my mind was visited with the proceedings of the previous night. And I instantly asked myself how many other things I might have done and forgotten, and where I could find Agnes to speak to her, to explain--oh, that look on her face! But then I realized I didn't even know how she came to be in London, or where she was staying! What a beast! And at this point I looked up, and saw the table on which the dinner had been laid, and felt my racking head, and smelled the smell of smoke, and saw the glasses, and realized the impossibility of going out, or even getting up! (my rewriting of 301-2)

In Dickens' passage, by contrast, the I-narrator is popping out continuously to tell us what we ought to think ("I had a stupid intention") or what young David thought ("the remorse, and shame I felt"). The reader is not trusted to come out with the correct evaluations: a more authoritative figure than silly young David must take charge and provide this piece of sustained comic bravura with a suitable moral conclusion, delivered from a temporally and perceptually distant, neatly defined deictic centre.

3. Conclusion: First-Person Reflector Narration

It seems appropriate, then, to complement Simpson's taxonomy by specifying that first-person narration always, at least potentially, presupposes a reflector. When the narrative is autodiegetic, as is the case with David Copperfield, the reflector is always there--and therefore, just as in third-person narrative, the I-reflector's deictic plane may be more or less blended with the I-narrator's. However, while in third-person narrative the reader may tend to think that the narrator's and the reflector's planes are kept distinct unless otherwise stated--i.e., unless it is clear that the narrator adopts a specific character's point of view--in first-person narrative, the fact that the narrator and the reflector are one and the same person caught at two different stages of his/her life leads the reader to conflate their deictic planes almost automatically. And in point of fact, this conflation or blending is so intuitive that one may tend to forget that in autodiegetic narrative, the same interplay of point of view applies that can be observed in reflectorized third-person narrative.

As seen in the above analysis, this specification is technical in purpose, rather than merely theoretical, it is impossible to understand all of Dickens' comical effects, or his superimposition of a moral vision on the comical events of David Copperfield's youth, without at least an implicit understanding of this wavering between one perspective and another, between perfect blending and partial or total detachment.

Such an understanding is not completely new in literary studies. Some critics and narratologists--Stanzel, Cohn, Fludernik, among others--have tried to define the alternate focalization between the experiencing and the narrating self, or have distinguished between consonant and dissonant narration. But while their theories have the virtue of identifying the two centres of homodiegetic--and particularly autodiegetic--fiction, it is only through deictic analysis that one can observe not only the alternation, but also the degree of blending between one plane and another. In the specific case of "My First Dissipation," much of the humour is obtained by exploiting and fostering the automatic impression that the I-narrator's plane and the I-reflector's are perfectly blended (at least after the beginning and before the end), while at the same time interspersing the text with textual clues pointing at the possibility of imperfect blending. It is this kind of effect that leads traditional literary critics to say that the narrator is being ironical or speaking with "tongue in cheek."

This acoustic impression, in point of fact, can be construed as a consequence of choosing a specific perspective--and if one wished to extend the findings of the above analysis to all kinds of narration, one might be tempted to say that whereas deictic centre (point of view, focalization) is always there, "voice" (or at least the attribution of voice to a specific character) is an after-effect rather than a prerequisite. One cannot understand--or even follow--narrative without a deictic identification with the point of view chosen by the author; while on the other hand, in many kinds of "reflectorized" or "neutral" third-person narrative, one can understand the fictional world without projecting any specific voice (of. Segal). As Monika Fludernik has written, "We do not have any theoretical reason for assuming that certain words are indicative of a narrator's voice, or a character's. The text is language, but it is not a tape recording"--and when no narrator is foregrounded, "It does not really matter to the reader who is speaking" ("New Wine in Old Bottles?" 636).

In autodiegetic fiction, of course, the narrator's voice is always "there" by default, "heard" by all but the most forgetful and least perceptive readers--this omnipresence being the very reason why fewer taxonomic discriminations are made by stylisticians within the domain of homodiegetic narration. However, if one does follow the interplay of deictic planes, one can distinguish various kinds or modalities of first-person narration: and even in the absence of any textual evidence of "voice"--as in much of "My First Dissipation"--one can thus account for the effect of narratorial (relative)"presence" or "absence" in terms of deictic shifts and/or blended perspective.

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Massimiliano Morini

University of Udine


(1) The reference to Pascal is obvious and deliberate--for as will be seen in the next section, the same kind of "contamination" between the I-narrator's and the I-reflector's voices is possible that is often thought to be a prerogative of third-person reflector narratives.

(2) Cf. Warner for a like-minded attempt on a different sort of autodiegetic narrative.

(3) I speak of "deictic planes," as well as "deictic centres," for the purpose of indicating all the (spatial, temporal, perceptual) projections made from any single deictic centre.

(4) Cf. Fludernik's Towards a 'Natural 'Narratology for what I call the "perceptible presence" of the narrator. When I say "the reader," however, the inevitable reference is to a sort of ideal reader, or to myself as a reader; for much as I appreciate some recent--and valiant--attempts to gauge real readers' real reactions to stylistic traits, I cannot help thinking that the mixed results of many researches on reader's response--even for relatively basic stylistic traits as free indirect discourse (cf. Sotirova; Bray, "The 'Dual Voice' of Free Indirect Discourse" and "The Effects of Free Indirect Discourse"; also van Peer and Maat on the influence of point of view on readers' sympathy)--would make such an undertaking as "desperate" as David's dinner, in the present case.

(5) Cf. Dancygier's article on "Blending and Narrative Viewpoint": "The vital relation which is perhaps most saliently subject to numerous compressions and decompressions is Identity. Every person's sense of a unique identity is in fact a result of various types of blends. Conceptual integration can explain how we maintain a coherent sense of self in spite of a number of changes in appearance, social and family role, behavioural patterns, and beliefs which everyone goes through as time passes."

(6) In terms of "possible worlds" theory (Ryan), if we accept the "principle of minimal departure" of the textual from the actual world--i.e., if we accept that unless otherwise stated, the same principles apply in the two worlds--it is clearly nonsensical to suppose that the alleged unserviceableness of the fireplace is a result of a want of forethought on the ironmonger's part.

(7) In terms of Labor's structural description of oral tales, this would be seen as a strategy for creating "embedded evaluation" (372).

(8) The I-narrator's occasional role as a less than explicit guide can be fully appreciated if Dickens' David Copperfield is compared with its Italian translations, in which the I-narrator's interventions are often less deadpan (cf. Venturi). Enrico Piceni, for instance (in his 1939 translation, regularly reprinted to the present day) has the I-narrator explain, after the initial apparition of "somebody ... leaning out of my bedroom window" ("Qualcuno sporgeva il capo dalla finestra della mia camera da letto"), that "that somebody, it was I myself' ("Ero io stesso, quel qualcuno" Dickens and Piceni 352-53).
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Author:Morini, Massimiliano
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Date:Dec 22, 2011
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