Clockwork novel: the mechanics behind Frances Burney’s prose composition
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The paper explores the didactic potential of the novels by the eighteenth-century English writer Frances Burney. To this end, it takes up the metaphor of a life-like automaton – a symbol of human ingenuity and artistic mastery, and a popular object of entertainment in the eighteenth century – and examines its applicability to describe the act of construing a novelistic text. The analysis yields the conclusion that Burney’s experiments with narrative techniques (third-person narration, free indirect discourse, heteroglossia) were employed to ensure the narrator’s authority through the strategic withdrawal of the authorial feminine voice, and were also instrumental in achieving a text which would be both aesthetically pleasing and instructive to the readers. Burney’s didacticism, moreover, proves to be very modern, that is not prescriptively moralizing, but rather training the readers in the exercise of empathy.
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