Friday, July 15, 2011

Nineteenth Century Narrators

I love narrators in nineteenth century novels. From Northanger Abbey to Belinda, Anna Karenina to The Idiot, the narrator is often my favorite character. I want my stories put in perspective, commented on, mocked. I want my characters brought down to size when they're being melodramatic or not quite honest with themselves. I want to know the story behind the story that they would never admit from a third-person perspective with totally different values. All of this is why I was enchanted with Kenilworth and why I'm now falling head over heels for Alexander Manzoni's The Betrothed.

Like Scott's epic, The Betrothed is a nineteenth century novel with a sixteenth century setting. I'm a bit familiar with the sixteenth century Italians, namely Machiavelli and Castiglione, both of whom get mentions in this book, but I really haven't dabbled much in Italian literature. It's amazing to see how similar the style was to the nineteenth century British writers. Obviously, my version is translated into English, so I'm not getting the actual colloquialisms (since reading side-by-side English and Spanish works, I've gotten a better feel for how far off translation can really be), but the cynical humor and penetrating observations on the nature of humanity must still be there.

Like Scott, Manzoni's not writing a novel, he's writing a portrait of an age not very well disguised with a Romeo and Juliet style plotline. His descriptions of famous men and situations of famine and disease in sixteenth century Milan go on for chapters-and I still love it. Manzoni is a forerunner of William Gold and Lemony Snicket. I hope to finish The Betrothed and have my review up by the end of the week. In the meantime, I'm thinking more Manzoni and more nineteenth century Italian lit has to go on my to-read list.

Bonus Question: How do you feel about third-person narrators that aren't really part of the story, but seem to insert their opinions fairly often, and even move away from the story to discuss topics of more interest to them?

1 comment:

litlove said...

I'm so interested in what you have to say about Manzoni, who is an author I've never heard of before. But I do know just what you mean about 19th century narrators. I read a lot of novels at one time with those intrusive narrative voices - Balzac in particular does it all the time. I don't mind, so long as what they are doing is intriguing. But I find the tighter the perspective to the protagonist, the more I like it.