Group Project: Translating Free Indirect Speech

In his chapter on “Narrating” from How Fiction Works, James Wood asks, “Whose word is this?” That’s the key question when it comes to spotting and understanding free indirect speech.To spot the technique, look for moments when a narrator uses language that seems to belong to a character–for example, when the narrator says the following about the Martin family: “they must be coarse and unpolished, and very unfit to be the intimates of a girl who wanted only a little more knowledge and elegance to be quite perfect” (18). Readers recognize that Austen’s narrator doesn’t think this way about the Martins. These are Emma’s thoughts, expressed in the narrator’s sentence.

Wood argues that free indirect speech gives novelists flexibility in their representation of characters’ minds. He also argues that the technique “merges” readers with the fictional minds of characters. To illustrate, he translates free indirect speech into direct speech–and vice versa. Sometimes he fabricates his own examples, as on pages eight and nine. Sometimes he rewrites the sentences of well-known authors like Henry James (pages fifteen and sixteen) or Jane Austen (page twenty-one).

Now it’s your turn to translate one of Austen’s sentences. Choose a sentence in which she uses free indirect speech and rewrite is as direct speech–or vice versa. If you have time, do one of each. Be ready to explain how the translation changes the effect of the sentence.


Mike, Clémence, Sarah

Nathan, Alix, Kim, Sunjida

Ali, Katryna, Malorie, Kevin

Kelsey, Laura, Angela, David

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