Friday, February 10, 2012

Narration in Russian Novels and Stuff

Except for Fathers and Children, all the books we have read so far contain a shift in narration. Each author uses a character or characters within the story to change the voice of the book for a little bit. In A Hero of Our Time, Lermontov uses a journal to allow the reader to access Pechorin's thoughts. He also has Maxim Maxymich tell the reader about Pechorin so that the reader obtains an outside view of the man. Dostoevsky uses narration differently in Crime and Punishment. When the voice shifts in C & P it is to get away from a narrator that can already tell the reader about Raskolnikov's thoughts. The story that Marmeladov tells to Raskolnikov is one that takes the reader from the woes of the main character to those of someone just introduced into the story. Marmeladov speaks in a very flowery and formal manner that is quite entertaining. On top of that, his story introduces the theme of women making sacrifices for their relatives which comes up the next time the narrator changes in the story. Raskolnikov recieves a letter from his mother; she informs him that (among other things) his sister is getting married (making a sacrifice) in order to give him a chance to make something of himself. The letter is a refreshing change from the intensity of following Raskolnikov around. The mother writes in a very peaceful and optimistic way, while the regular narrator concentrates on Raskolnikov who is consistently intense and often cynical. The style difference is drastic.

I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from all the narration changes. Perhaps it means that Russian authors had a good grasp of effective literary techniques. There is barely any narration change in The Captain's Daughter; only the editor's note at the end breaks from Pyotr's memoirs. Russian novelists on the whole did not rely on narration change to move their stories forward, but many of them did use it to make their stories more interesting. 

I included a map of Saint Petersburg c. 1860 because it is interesting. I can't find any of the places Raskolnikov mentions, but it is nice to see the shape of the city. It also makes this post look nicer...


  1. I'm also not sure how to synthesize the changes in narration, but I find it interesting that in general the change in narration is quite subtle, except in the case of Lermontov.

    Also, here is a link to the mapping of St. Petersburg in C&P. Sorry the streets are in Russian but if you click on the pins, there is a description (in english) and photos of each place.

  2. After getting farther into C&P, it is amazing how subtle the narration shifts are. The whole scene at the memorial dinner isn't told from Raskolnikov's perspective at all, yet when he talks to Porfiry we often get to see what he is thinking.

    Nice map. Some people have too much time on their hands...