Modern style emerged from the ruins of the premodern “separation of styles” (high, middle, and low). Whereas, previously, only the nobility could be represented in the high style and commoners in the low, modern style harbors a democratic, generic potential: in principle, anyone can write about anything in any way he or she likes. The history of modern style, as a central critical and compositional principle, is thus deeply imbricated with modern democracy and capitalist modernity. It has a unique relationship to the history of realism, which was itself premised upon the demise of the separation of styles. Many critics (e.g., Erich Auerbach, Roland Barthes, and Fredric Jameson) stress the way in which, as a concept and linguistic practice, style connects the body to a generic, Utopian potential of the everyday. Feminist critics, such as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray, have pursued style’s relationship to the body to delineate a specifically feminine mode of writing [écriture féminine]. Marxist critics, such as Raymond Williams, have argued that style should be understood as a linguistic mode of social relationship. The corollary is that social contradictions are experienced by writers as problems of style (e.g., in Thomas Hardy: how to unite the “educated” style of the urban ruling class with the “customary” style of the rural working class into a single artistic whole). Other critics (e.g., Franco Moretti, Roberto Schwarz) have extended this logic to the scale of “world literature:” they identify stylistic discontinuity as a feature of peripheral world literature that seeks to imitate European realist forms; it is caused by a mismatch between prevailing modes of production and dominant ideologies at the core and the (semi-)periphery of the capitalist world-system. Free indirect style, which merges narrator and character into a new, third voice, has been identified as a key feature of prose fiction in the world-systemic core—the symbolic embodiment of modern, bourgeois forms of power (an “impersonal intimacy”). Finally, “late style”—a concept associated with Theodor W. Adorno and Edward W. Said—has become an influential way of characterizing works of artistic maturity written as the author approaches old age and death (though it is certainly not limited to biological maturity). It is a style in which form and subjectivity become torn from one another, the latter freeing itself only then to subtract itself (rather than “express” itself). Style thus hovers between the impersonality of the demos and the grave.
Daniel P. Gunn
In free indirect discourse (FID), the narrative discourse of a text incorporates the language and subjectivity of a character, including emotional coloring, deictics, judgments, and style, without an introductory attributing frame like “she thought that” and without shifts in the pronouns or the tense sequence to accord with the character’s perspective. By combining the immediacy of direct quotation and the flexibility of indirect discourse, FID allows for the seamless integration of a character’s thought or speech, with all of its distinctive markers, into the narratorial discourse. Because FID occurs in the context of narratorial discourse and allows for a fluid movement back and forth between narratorial and figural subjectivities, it characteristically entails a mixture or interplay of two voices—the narrator’s and the character’s—in the same utterance, as in parody or mimicry. The evocation of a character’s thought or speech through FID and its relation to narratorial commentary and report can be subtle and nuanced, and identifying and making sense of FID sentences requires significant interpretive activity on the part of the reader. FID has been a crucially important technique for the representation of consciousness in the English novel, particularly in the tradition which runs from Jane Austen through George Eliot to Henry James, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce, which concerns itself increasingly with the imagined thought-lives of characters. Depending on the context, FID passages can be presented sympathetically, inviting the reader to immerse herself or himself unreservedly in the character’s thought or speech, or ironically, with the language of the character creating a dissonant effect against the background of the narrator’s discourse and the novel’s design. FID is also sometimes referred to as style indirect libre, free indirect style, represented speech and thought, or narrated monologue.
Prose is a fabrication, not a linguistic axiom. It has a complex history well before its intricate literary genealogy. Made, not given, prose comes down to modern use with the form, formally determined, of a world-historical invention. As culturally significant in its evolutionary advent as in its ramified means of reporting event, prose thus bears with it a biography as telling as the fictional narratives it eventually serves to recount. Born of empiricism and print culture, prose is neither neutered poetry nor transcribed speech. Only its immediate ancestry is oratorical. Nonetheless, when “modern prose” is launched by leaving embellished declamatory models behind for the reign, first of epistemological lucidity, later of verisimilitude in narrative fiction, the oral is not thereby cancelled entirely. For prose, not unlike poetry, makes—and shapes—its way by incorporating the subvocal underlay of alphabetic (hence phonemic) language into the rhythms of its evoked readerly enunciation. It is in this fashion, by tapping its own linguistic platform or substrate, that prose comes to seem, more than otherwise, a medium rather than just one among several contested rhetorical means. Long after the modified or overthrown “plain style” taken up by early fiction like that of Daniel Defoe or Jonathan Swift, prose’s developing tendency to recover language’s silent phonetic resonance anticipates, in turn, one major Victorian inheritance from the complexities of Romantic verse sonority: a legacy that renders, ever afterward, the idea of “prose poetics” anything but an oxymoron. Here, too, is where the idea of “style” persists as an ongoing flashpoint for literary response. From Charles Dickens and Herman Melville to Joseph Conrad, for instance, we hear the potential sounding of theme in the depth charges of fictional prose. At the same time, from Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf, we can track an alternate mode of deflected orality in the “free indirect discourse” of surfaced inner speech—not overheard talk, these elicited mental monologues, but their own kind of artificial and subliminal eavesdropping—as they channel the cadences of represented psychology. Channel: in precisely that sense of a medium by which prose can best be understood and studied, both in the ecology of modern literary communication and in its reframing by media theory.