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IlanaSimons
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Narrative Voice

[ Edited ]
Narrative Voice

We’re flooded with the narrator John Dowell’s voice in this book. We see everything through his eyes and words.
What’s his voice’s effect on you? Does his voice feel earnest, passionate, moralistic…or something else?

Would you say we’re viewing this story from far away or close up?
Ford said that both he and the novelist Joseph Conrad agreed that “life does not narrate, but makes impressions on our brains…. If we wished to produce...an effect of life [we] must not narrate but render…impressions” (Good Soldier, xv-xvi).

Tell us something about the book's narrator.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 02-02-200712:20 PM




Ilana
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ELee
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Impressions

As I was reading TGS, I formed a very distinct visual image of how his narrative affected me. It was as though the narrator was modeling clay. First taking a lump and kneading a rough form, then pushing, pulling, pinching the clay into a more resolved figure. Smoothing a roughness here, adding a detail there...as the clay appeared to take one recognizable shape and then was manipulated into something else, I was powerless to do anything but watch...
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PaulK
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Re: Impressions



ELee wrote:
As I was reading TGS, I formed a very distinct visual image of how his narrative affected me. It was as though the narrator was modeling clay. First taking a lump and kneading a rough form, then pushing, pulling, pinching the clay into a more resolved figure. Smoothing a roughness here, adding a detail there...as the clay appeared to take one recognizable shape and then was manipulated into something else, I was powerless to do anything but watch...




That is a very interesting way to describe how the story is unfolding. I was having a hard time following the story and thought I was missing something. Then I read the back cover of the B&N edition and it referred to "Dowell's disjointed stumbling storytelling." I have been trying to figure out why FMF choose to present the story this way. I think it could be that Dowell is upset about what he learns over time and had a hard time processing the information. It is almost like he is trying to sort things out in his own mind as he tells the story. This makes me want to read on not because I am so interested in the Ashburnham's or his wife but rather how Dowell handles events and what he learns from them.
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saltydog
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Re: Impressions

This "rambling" style fits with Ford's being part of the "modernist" movement. I guess it can be considered a form of "stream of consciousness" writing. However it is certainly much more conventional than say Woolf (Mrs. Dallworth) or Ulysses (Dubliners.) I find I just sort of have to "go with it" to get and "feel" what the author is attempting to impart rather than "understanding it."
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IlanaSimons
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Re: Impressions



saltydog wrote:
This "rambling" style fits with Ford's being part of the "modernist" movement. I guess it can be considered a form of "stream of consciousness" writing. However it is certainly much more conventional than say Woolf (Mrs. Dallworth) or Ulysses (Dubliners.) I find I just sort of have to "go with it" to get and "feel" what the author is attempting to impart rather than "understanding it."




Yes: The fact that we're so consiously sitting inside someone's head makes this book prototypically modernist.
Ford also developed the idea of the "unreliable" narrator here. The narrator makes it clear that memory and emotion distort this story. Do we trust him? Sometimes he's self-serving, pitying, or angry. He's telling _his_ story, not necessarily the objective story. Time distorts his story.



Ilana
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KathleenVitale
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Re: Narrative Voice

Oooh he is bitter! But at the same time forgiving of the many faults he continues to bring up of both his wife and her lover - most likely because they are both dead.

I'm really enjoying enjoying this story because Ford does not bore me, he goes right in for the gossip! It helps to make the story flow, creates a quicker read and I'm not forgetting anything pertinent to his view.

After reading the chronology of Ford's life in the beginning of the book I am somewhat convinced that he knew what he was talking about in the area of sentimentality.
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Everyman
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Re: Impressions

The strange role of the narrator is revealed in the first sentence. Consider:

"This is the saddest story I have ever heard."

Pretty straightforward, except that right away we find that he didn't hear this story at all. He was in it, he was part of it, and he is in fact telling it. How can he say it is a heard story?

It's a warp in the literary universe from the very beginning.
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Everyman
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Re: Impressions

I also took note when he wrote:

"I don't know how it is best to put this thing down--whether it would be better to try and tell the story from the beginning, as if it were a story; or whether to tell it from this distance of time, as it reached me from the lips of Leonora or from those of Edward himself.

So I shall just imagine myself for a fortnight or so at one side of the fireplace of a country cottage, with a sympathetic soul opposite me."

I don't know about your friend,s but I don't have any friends who could sit in front of the fire with me and tell a story covering nine years of their life in a coherent, logically flowing manner. It would have fits and starts, the teller would forget important bits and go back and fill them in, would wander here and there as various incidents arose and receded in their memories.

He warns us that this is how he is going to tell the story -- and he does!
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saltydog
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Re: Impressions

My sense up to this point - chapter III - is that he is confused - it's almost as if he can't quite figure out what happened. He really wishes things could just go back the way they were - in fact wishes he hadn't found out about his friend's and wife's infedelity.
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IlanaSimons
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Re: Impressions



saltydog wrote:
My sense up to this point - chapter III - is that he is confused - it's almost as if he can't quite figure out what happened. He really wishes things could just go back the way they were - in fact wishes he hadn't found out about his friend's and wife's infedelity.




Nice insight. Do you also get the sense that Ford Madox Ford, as a writer, is confused? Do you have the sense that he's got the plot and tone of the book figured out, or is trying to do something new...and that the struggle shows in this wordy writing?



Ilana
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Re: Impressions

I agree with you completely on the confusion - he's going through not only the loss of his wife and close friend but the realization that his marriage was a farce! Poor guy.

It's interesting to me how well he understands the mind of one who has been 'cheated' on when during his own life he seems to play the role of Edward to a certain degree.

It seems we are getting a close view of this story but from one who doesn't know the whole story. He was right there for all of it, but blind to much of it. We're getting a reminiscent view from one who is piecing together past events that were misunderstood.

I'm really enjoying this read!
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saltydog
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Re: Impressions



IlanaSimons wrote:


saltydog wrote:
My sense up to this point - chapter III - is that he is confused - it's almost as if he can't quite figure out what happened. He really wishes things could just go back the way they were - in fact wishes he hadn't found out about his friend's and wife's infedelity.




Nice insight. Do you also get the sense that Ford Madox Ford, as a writer, is confused? Do you have the sense that he's got the plot and tone of the book figured out, or is trying to do something new...and that the struggle shows in this wordy writing?




I do have a sense he is confused but not about the plot so much - I think he sees the endpoint but isn't sure yet how to get there. As I've read a little more he seems to be changing his opinion of Lenora - going from liking her to finding fault with her - especially the way she treated Edward. I'm wondering - will they become "a couple?"
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Everyman
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Re: Impressions



IlanaSimons wrote:
Do you also get the sense that Ford Madox Ford, as a writer, is confused? Do you have the sense that he's got the plot and tone of the book figured out, or is trying to do something new...and that the struggle shows in this wordy writing?

That's a question that takes some thinking about.

Viewed from our perspective, seeing the book in the long development of English language novel writing, we can see clearly that he was doing something different here from traditional novel writing.

But if we're going to ask whether he know what he was doing, or whether was he struggling his way through, we have to go back to the point he was at and ignore all that came after him, which is a challenge to do. Can we tell this from the novel, or do we need to look at external evidence -- his journals and letters, if he wrote any, for example.
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Re: Impressions



Everyman wrote:


IlanaSimons wrote:
Do you also get the sense that Ford Madox Ford, as a writer, is confused? Do you have the sense that he's got the plot and tone of the book figured out, or is trying to do something new...and that the struggle shows in this wordy writing?

That's a question that takes some thinking about.

Viewed from our perspective, seeing the book in the long development of English language novel writing, we can see clearly that he was doing something different here from traditional novel writing.

But if we're going to ask whether he know what he was doing, or whether was he struggling his way through, we have to go back to the point he was at and ignore all that came after him, which is a challenge to do. Can we tell this from the novel, or do we need to look at external evidence -- his journals and letters, if he wrote any, for example.




I mean that at times the voice feels like it's trying _really hard_.
That said, a lot of people on the site feel that the voice flows and flows.
Perhaps what I feel to be a tone of pretense also has to do with the book's near-obsession with social class.



Ilana
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Re: Narrative Voice


IlanaSimons wrote:
Narrative Voice

We’re flooded with the narrator John Dowell’s voice in this book. We see everything through his eyes and words.
What’s his voice’s effect on you? Does his voice feel earnest, passionate, moralistic…or something else?

Would you say we’re viewing this story from far away or close up?


We are viewing this story from up close --- way too close! So close that the narrrator has trouble seeing the forest for the trees. The story is disjointed and contains so much detail about seemingly unimportant matters that I am having trouble sorting out what the flow of the story is.

I am not enjoying this book. However, I am intrigued by it. I do want to hear the story that Dowell is trying so desperately to tell. I will just have to put up with his style of narration.
Laura

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LCG
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Re: Impressions

The narrator's voice is also perfect for conveying the nonsensical attitudes and manners that will become meaningless as Europe is ground under the heels of a new kind of war.
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Re: Narrative Voice

Dowell is desperate indeed. With a desperate narrator, FMF cannot be confused. He has the plot figured out and has his narrator giving us intriguing hints along the way about what Dowell has lost, what he has come to understand. Dowell is unbelievably obtuse and full of contradictions and generalizations as he tries to grasp what has happened.
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Areopagitica
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Re: Narrative Voice

It is Dowell as the unreliable narrator that makes this novel an extraordinary read. The actual plot is only secondary to how the author employs narration that constantly oscillates between varying moments in time. The novel is not written in the stream-of-consciousness style, which is a method that Virginia Woolf and other modernist writers utilized consistently. NOnetheless, Ford is a master at exploring the inner thoughts of the narrator. When we reflect on the past, we don't exactly recall events or specific dialogue in an organized, linear fashion. Furthermore, when we tell a story to a fellow listener, we at times exlude certain information, sometimes intentionally and at other times unconsciously. The same is true of Dowell's story. It is interesting to notice that, despite the numerous interruptions we encounter, the plot is not difficult to follow, and regularly flows smoothly as new details and revelations are made obvious to the reader. This is definitely a book that requires more than one close reading.
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Re: Two Examples of Narrator Confusion (Unreliable) in Part II

These two examples of Dowell's confusion in his narration struck me:
Both are in Part II, Section I.

1) "But, looking over what I have written, I see that I have misled you when I said that Florence was never out of my sight. Yet that was the impression that I really had until just now."
This interesting to me because I knew when he first stated that Florence was rarely out of his sight, and he didn't know how she could have had an affair, that he had to be wrong. However, he himself didn't know he was mistaken until he had actually told someone else outside of the situation (the readers) about the circumstances. Maybe we will find he corrects other statements.

2)"Have I conveyed to you the splendid fellow that [Edward] was --- the fine soldier, the excellent landlord, the extraordinarily kind, careful and industrious magistrate, the upright, honest, fair-dealing, fair-thinking, public character?"
I became annoyed when I read this question. He has time and time again stated what a good person Edward was. He must be repeating this for some reason. Maybe he will realize that Edward had a bad side to him and was not all good.
Laura

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Re: Narrative Voice



reivers wrote:
Dowell is desperate indeed. With a desperate narrator, FMF cannot be confused. He has the plot figured out and has his narrator giving us intriguing hints along the way about what Dowell has lost, what he has come to understand. Dowell is unbelievably obtuse and full of contradictions and generalizations as he tries to grasp what has happened.




Agreed. It is interesting that some are having difficulty following the plot and others feel the story "flows." Perhaps that is because it is somewhat difficult to seperate the confusion of the character (Dowell) from the intent of the writer (Ford).
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