Thursday Lecture Series

Jane Austen and the Secret of Free Indirect Style

Thursday, The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Frances Ferguson has called free indirect style, or the intimate third-person representation of a character's words and thoughts, "the novel's one and only formal contribution to literature." In English letters, the invention of free indirect style is normally attributed to Jane Austen. And yet, the interdisciplinary turn of our moment asks us to reconsider literary form through the lens of cross-cultural exchange with the sciences. This talk turns to Enlightenment psychiatry to reveal free indirect style's pre-novelistic roots in the Bedlam casebook. Ultimately, I hope to offer not just a new history of the novel's most distinctive formal device, but also a new reading of the surprising ramifications of free indirect style's psychiatric heritage in two Romantic novels: Mary Wollstonecraft's Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman (1798), and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813).