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The persona in literature




This short NPR interview with Dr. Wayne Flynt, retired professor of history, on whether Truman Capote wrote Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, presents as evidence a letter by Capote about the book (he was his friend of Lee’s) but also asserts ‘writers simply do not assume other literary personas’. Which is another way of saying it is possible to identify someone as the author of a set of books. To avoid muddle, this is not about a character being identified as an alter ego of the author, but what features of the text on the page makes someone say this is by a certain writer.

It’s not that they can’t, but don’t in the main, write in a way that might make you think the books were written by different people. This begs the question whether the voice of the author is just there, like a finger print, or whether it is a conscious effort to maintain consistency. Academic analyses abound. Winifred Gérin’s biography of Charlotte Bronte, illustrates how a writer develops to a mature style. This doesn’t mean to say some don’t write from the beginning as if how they write was built in.

W hat I am interested in is the authorial voice set against the narratorial voice.
A nub is in the wiki: The persona in Literature, where it writes of the mens auctoris.

There is the question of upfront parody. Most book saturated readers with above average writing skill can throw together a reasonable Jane Austin. What are they doing to make it seem pretty close if recognisably an imitation?

If it were possible to epoché the detailed knowledge of the author’s works – all the passages they know by heart which identify it – how easy would it be for the professional literary analyst to say they were the work of one author? If Jane Austin wrote a novel about the immigrant community in East London in 21 century London, would it be immediately recognisable as a Jane Austin novel?

The answer to all this might be not in any fingerprint of the author detectable in the works but that superior writers are consistently superior in their writing (when they get to it, so to speak).

When unknown score by a long dead composer appears some bright spark always pops up to say it can’t be by {insert a famous composer}.

This all reminds me of the Andre Previn Morecambe and Wise Show. This is the straight one on YouTube {1}. But in another version with commentary {2}. A certain jjo2 comments in the shorter version:

One beautifully subtle joke in the sketch – Eric is in fact playing the right notes, in the right order, but in the wrong rhythm.

Which might be the point in the business of the authorial voice in a novel.

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November 6, 2007 - Posted by | fiction, literary persona, Novel, Novelist, Writing | , ,

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