Chapter 6. The first person in fiction of the 1790s

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This article will examine the complexities of first-person narrative in lateeighteenth and early nineteenth-century fiction. Taking as its starting-pointSylvia Adamson’s ground-breaking work on shifts of point of view in Puritannarratives (see Adamson 1995), it shows that the Romantic period novel is alsoconcerned with exploring the potential complications of first-person perspective,frequently with a view to exposing political changes or contradictions.The authors focused on will be Mary Hays and Elizabeth Hamilton. Thefirst-person perspective in this period has often been identified as an unequivocaloutlet for Jacobin sympathies; this essay will use detailed stylistic analysis tosuggest that the picture may be more complicated. Building on recent work onfirst-person narrative from a narratological standpoint (see for example Phelan(2005)), I will show that an examination of texts from the 1790s and beyondcalls into question the traditional distinction between the ‘narrating’ and‘experiencing’ selves of first-person narrative. The novels and memoirs underdiscussion demonstrate instead the ability of the first person to contain within ita complex, ever-shifting range of deictic and ideological positions.


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