‘Strangers on a Train’: The Hitchcock/Highsmith Smack-Down!


*Please note: spoilers below*

Before I begin, I should point out that I’m not the sort of person who usually succumbs to apoplectic rage over the perceived imperfections of a film adaptation of a book. I was, in fact, immensely irritated by those Harry Potter fans who squawked ‘That’s not in the book!’ and then insisted on listing every single detail that the latest film had left out in order to fit an 800-page book into two-and-a-half onscreen hours. No, I don’t get worked up about this sort of thing because books and films are two different media, and if you really want The Film Of The Book, well, why not just read the book? The idea behind an adaptation is to create something based on the original, but it should be something that explores the text in a different format and perhaps ends up saying something new about it, encouraging the audience to go back to the book and read it again with new eyes. In short, there is NO POINT in simply filming the book. Faithful adaptations are all well and good, but I always think of them as a missed opportunity to say something new.

Having said all that, I HATED Hitchcock’s adaptation of Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, and I hated it so much that I have to write a post about it in order to get it off my chest. I know Hitchcock was an innovative and inspired director, and that he contributed a great deal to the art of filmmaking, but on the evidence of this film I’d have to say that as a reader of narratives, he was a bit of a duffer.


Highsmith’s novel is a brilliant piece of exceptionally accomplished writing, made all the more astonishing by the fact that this was her first novel, published originally in 1950 when Highsmith was still only 29 years of age. Hitchcock’s film appeared the following year, and the film’s Wikipedia page notes that Hitchcock purchased the rights for only $7,500 after having been careful to keep his name out of the proceedings. Highsmith was understandably annoyed about having been cheated like this. Raymond Chandler produced a screenplay for Hitchcock based on the novel, but almost none of Chandler’s work made it into the final script: you can read his marvellously rude letter to Hitchcock here. (Chandler’s name remains on the credits, though, at the insistence of Warner Bros.)

Highsmith’s novel is based on a very simple premise: two strangers, Charles Anthony Bruno and Guy Haines, meet on a train. Bruno has an idea for the perfect murder: he will murder Guy’s wife Miriam, who is causing trouble over their divorce, and Guy will murder Bruno’s father, who is keeping Bruno on a too-tight rein. If both men are absent with alibis at the time of each murder, there is nothing to link them and their chances of getting away with it are therefore greatly increased. Guy is horrified by the idea, but Bruno goes ahead and murders Miriam while Guy is elsewhere, and Guy is eventually coerced into fulfilling his part of the bargain. Among the many themes of Highsmith’s novel is that of the double, or doppelgänger – the Hyde to one’s Jekyll, a darker side who enacts one’s secret desires, a theme that is brought out through liberal use of free indirect discourse and the ceaseless and seamless interweaving of voices. Hitchcock introduces the double idea at the beginning of his film by showing us Guy’s feet and Bruno’s feet in parallel scenes as they make for the train, but the idea is never pursued as thoroughly as it is in Highsmith’s novel – essentially because Guy has to be a Hollywood hero and isn’t allowed a dark side.


Guy’s status as hero proves detrimental to the entire film, the biggest single problem being that a hero cannot be a murderer, so Guy does not gun down Bruno’s father as he does in the novel – he tries to warn him instead*. But the most terrifying thing about Highsmith’s novel is Bruno’s relentless pursuit of Guy, so in the end Guy is left with no choice but to carry out the deed.

Highsmith’s Guy Haines is an architect at the beginning of what promises to be a brilliant career, but Hitchcock’s Haines is a tennis player, already well-known and riding a tide of success. This switch of profession is an inexplicable decision on Hitchcock’s part, because Guy’s status as an architect is crucial to an understanding of his character as a sensitive and creative soul whose buildings are inspired by his faith. Highsmith underlines this by ‘quoting’ an article about Guy taken from an English architectural magazine, part of which is reproduced below:

Haines [has] set forth principles of grace and function to which he has steadfastly held, and through which his art has grown to its present stature. If we seek to define Haines’ peculiar genius, we must depend chiefly upon that elusive and aery term, ‘grace’, which until Haines has never distinguished modern architecture. It is Haines’ achievement to have made classic in our age his own concept of grace…

Note that the word ‘grace’ features three times in this very short paragraph, and this is surely important. The novel begins with a temptation scene – Bruno, bearing the mark of the first murderer Cain in the form of a boil in the middle of his forehead, outlines his idea for the double murder – and Highsmith’s story ends with a confession, in which Guy blurts out the truth to Miriam’s ex-lover, Owen Markman. Now, I’m not a religious person and I don’t pretend to understand these things, but my reading is that Guy is tempted and falls, but his confession, and the beautiful buildings he creates, lead him finally to a state of grace. With Guy as tennis player, all this is lost, and we’re left with Farley Granger’s knobbly knees in tennis shorts and some rather dodgy shooting of a match that Guy is trying to win as quickly as possible for reasons that are not in the least bit clear. There is one superb, and very famous, shot which comes out of this tangle, however: all heads are turning to watch the ball except for that of Bruno, whose eyes are fixed on Guy…


And now for Bruno. Robert Walker puts in a marvellous turn as Hitchcock’s bad guy, but he is a cut-price two-dimensional version of Highsmith’s Charles Anthony Bruno. Hitchcock’s Bruno is a murderer who is inept enough to display his name for all to see in the form of a tasteless tie-pin:


Bruno as Highsmith wrote him is young, rich, bored, an avid reader of detective novels (hence his fascination with the perfect murder), and he is terrifying. He is both stupid and an alcoholic and this combination means that he is extremely dangerous because he is unpredictable. His wealthy, cushioned life has made him arrogant. He thinks nothing of murdering Miriam – indeed, it is only a game to him – and he plots the killing of his own father so that he can have full and immediate access to the allowance his father metes out so carefully. The detective Gerard notes that Bruno hates women, and indeed, his latent homosexuality is as clear to the reader as is his Oedipus-like status: the only woman Bruno will tolerate is Elsie, his mother, who in Highsmith’s novel is an attractive, still fairly youthful woman. Hitchcock turns Elsie into a senile old baggage, thus depriving us yet again of an area of potential intellectual interest.


However, I did find something that I liked about Hitchcock’s handling of the Bruno character. Bruno’s ‘bed-trick’, in which he pretends to be his father so he can confront Guy, was a point which sparked my interest, namely because I wondered when I was reading the novel whether it would turn out to be Bruno underneath the bedclothes. Given Bruno’s implied death wish and his adulation of Guy, I entertained the possibility that Bruno would consider it a great adventure to be shot dead by the man he clearly adores. But far more likely that Hitchcock wanted Bruno to call Guy’s bluff at this point so Bruno could direct his attention instead to trying to frame Guy for Miriam’s murder, because from this point onwards, the film departs completely from the narrative as set out in Highsmith’s novel and instead we get a lot of farting about with a lighter which Bruno is desperately trying to deposit as evidence of Guy’s presence at the scene of the crime. As if that would prove anything.

Hitchcock’s plot is ludicrous and scarcely credible. The events of Highsmith’s novel have been twisted beyond recognition simply so that the director of the film can stage set-pieces such as the fast and noisy destruction of the carousel at the end. And I hate the way Hitchcock directs women, how he reduces them. The Anne of Highsmith’s novel is an independent woman with her own successful career: Hitchcock turns Guy’s fiancée into the simpering daughter of a rich Senator, all ready to be passed from one man to another…


…and the film introduces the character of Barbara, Anne’s sister, who plays Scooby Doo’s Thelma to Anne’s Daphne. Of course, the other important thing about Barbara is that she wears spectacles and Bruno’s reaction to the sight of her (because Miriam too, wore spectacles) miraculously informs Anne that he is the murderer:


What utter, utter tosh. But here we come to the only other thing I liked about the film, and that was the way in which Miriam’s murder was filmed, reflected in the lenses of her spectacles which have fallen to the ground:


This shot is really rather good, especially because it leads one to ask exactly who is doing the seeing. We watch the scene through the eyes of the spectacles, as it were: ironically, the spectacles are seeing something that Miriam can no longer see. The spectacles are an inanimate witness to Bruno’s crime.

While I’m on the subject of Hitchcock and women, I feel I have to say something about Miriam as victim. Most notable here is that while Highsmith’s Miriam suffers a miscarriage before she is murdered, Hitchcock’s Miriam is still pregnant when Bruno strangles her. So, for Hitchcock, a pregnant woman and the old man working the carousel are fair game, but Bruno’s rich father is out of bounds in order to protect Guy’s status as hero. That stinks. It just stinks.

Annex - Granger, Farley (Strangers on a Train)_02

I’m reading Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley now. I hope Clément (1960) and Minghella (1999) did a better job of adapting this one for film, otherwise I really am in danger of turning into someone who says things like ‘That’s not in the book!’


*Compare this with Hitchcock’s Rebecca – Maxim de Winter, played by Laurence Olivier, does not murder Rebecca as he does in du Maurier’s novel. If memory serves, Rebecca falls and fatally hits her head, so our hero can remain blameless.

Speech and Thought Representation in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Going Postal’

Charles Dance as Lord Vetinari and Steve Pemberton as Drumknott in Sky’s adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Going Postal’

The Speech and Thought Continuum

Examples of the fictional representation of speech and thought from Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal:

PN (Pure Narrative of Narrative Report of Action): Vetinari looked down at the table again, and seemed to lose interest in Moist for a moment (p. 27).

NRS (Narrative Report of Speech): He nodded at Commander Vimes of the Watch, who whispered to another watchman, who pushed his way though [sic] the crowd and towards the door (p. 335)

NRSA (Narrative Report of a Speech Act): In a silence punctuated by chuckles from the crowd, Pony tried to explain, in so far as he now had any grip of what was going on (p. 320).

IS (Indirect Speech): Lord Vetinari told Mr. Pump to break one of Moist’s fingers.*

FID (Free Indirect Discourse): And what would you have done against a banshee? Moist had thought. You suspect Gilt. Well done. But people like Gilt don’t bother with the law. They never break it, they just use people who do. And you’ll never find anything written down, anywhere (p. 244).

DS (Direct Speech): ‘Oh dear.’ The Patrician sighed. ‘Mr. Pump, just break one of Mr. Lipwig’s fingers, will you? Neatly, if you please.’ (p. 27)

FDT (Free Direct Thought): Welcome to fear, said Moist to himself. It’s hope, turned inside out. You know it can’t go wrong, you’re sure it can’t go wrong… But it might. I’ve got you. (p. 331)

*There are, to my knowledge, no examples of indirect speech in this novel. I have therefore rewritten the example of DS above as an utterance in IS.

i) Introductory

In this chapter I have explored how linguistic theories concerning spoken discourse have proved useful to the critic.  I have focused in particular on the linguistic categorisations of the methods of representing speech and thought in fiction and how these categorisations can be usefully applied to various passages from a novel.  Not only is the topic of fictional discourse an area where linguistic analysis has proved particularly useful, but it also provides several arguments in support of my hypothesis that form and content are inseparable in literary writing.  These arguments relate to the subtle effects associated with each method on the speech and thought continuum, especially that of Free Indirect Discourse (FID); the lack of an ‘original’ utterance to which its written representation can be traced; and finally the important role punctuation has to play in the writer’s attempts to represent spoken language.

The methods of representing speech and thought in written language have been carefully categorised following linguistic criteria, most notably by Leech and Short.[1]  I have reproduced these categories in Appendix D, placing the options available to the author on a continuum with Pure Narrative (PN) on the far left and Free Direct Discourse (FDD) on the far right.  In the fictional representation of speech, Free Direct Speech (FDS) represents the voice of the character without any interference from the narrator whatsoever – not even the inclusion of quotation marks and the reporting clause which characterise Direct Speech (DS); any movement toward the left on the continuum therefore represents an increasing degree of narratorial control.  When we reach the Narrative Report of a Speech Act (NRSA), the character’s actual words are lost altogether and the narrator provides only a summary of the sentiments expressed.  Free Indirect Thought (FIT) is most commonly used to represent a character’s thoughts; any movement to the right on the continuum takes the reader closer inside the character’s head.

The fictional representation of speech and thought can serve many purposes in a prose work.  Fictional dialogue, be it speech or thought, can advance plot or it can delineate and develop character; dialogue can also serve to ‘describe setting or atmosphere, to present a moral argument or a discussion on cabbages and kings, or to perform any combination of these purposes.’[2]  In addition, the dialogue of a novel can add to the illusion of reality created in fictional prose: ‘language can copy reality.  This is the case of fictional speech: here, the events being described as part of the mock reality are themselves linguistic, and so language is used to simulate, rather than simply to report, what is going on in the fictional world’.[3]  It is important from the outset, however, to recognise that fictional speech does not resemble or imitate life: a glance at any transcript of real speech will reveal why this is so.  Real speech is full of hesitations and pauses, stopgap noises, false starts, syntactic anomalies, interruptions, overlaps, and frequent transitions, all of which, if presented in written form, would render a text intolerable and unreadable.[4]  In the past, critics have made the mistake of praising a novel’s dialogue for its resemblance to real-life speech, but readers have since been alerted to the idealised nature of fictional dialogue.

Despite the differences between real and fictional discourse, there is no doubt that linguistic research has proved useful to critics in the analysis of fictional speech.  Ronald Tanaka wrote an illuminating discussion on Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?[5] based on the speech act theory of J. Austin as later refined by J. Searle.[6]  Richard Ohmann, making use of the same theory in his article ‘Literature as Act’,[7] demonstrates how one character has to buy into the ideology of another in order to fulfil the felicity conditions[8] required for the successful completion of a speech act; viewed in this way, it becomes possible to identify and understand the assumptions and prevailing ideology behind a work of literature.  Linguistic theories relating to discourse have obviously proved especially useful to the critic writing about plays, as in the previous two examples; Short points out that ‘drama is the literary genre which is most like naturally occurring conversation’.[9]  But speech act theory is not the only linguistic theory to have proved itself useful and drama is not the only genre to benefit from the application of these theories.  Critics have made use of Grice’s maxims and his work on conversational implicature[10] in the analysis of prose texts.[11]  Linguistic research relating to conversational management can be used to assess the balance of power between fictional conversational participants.  The nature of a relationship between characters can be conveyed through forms of address and other linguistic indicators of politeness or formality.  Linguistic categorisations of non-verbal communication can also usefully be applied to prose texts.[12]  The main body of this chapter consists of a reading of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal based on some of the above theories and I hope to have demonstrated how useful they can be.

As mentioned previously, the topic of fictional discourse raises at least three arguments in support of the claim that form = content.  The first of these arguments relates to the individual effects associated with each method of representing fictional discourse.  It is important to bear in mind that here, as in all other areas of literary production, nothing is arbitrary:

for no novelist can avoid continually exercising a choice between different modes of presentation…he must choose between dialogue and narrative or descriptive prose, or a combination of these in proportions which must be settled.  If he decides to make use of dialogue, a further selection has to be made among the various ways of presenting speech.[13]

The critic must first recognise the decisions the author has made, and from there she can examine the author’s choices – why this way and not that way?  How does the representation of speech and thought function in the text as a whole?  The author has, after all, deliberately chosen a certain position on the continuum because of its related effects; for example, DS lends a dramatic quality to the scene but often at the expense of narrative pace.  The effects associated with each method of discourse representation are subtle and these overtones are inevitably lost in paraphrase.  Of all the methods of speech representation, Free Indirect Discourse (FID) has attracted the most critical attention.  This can possibly be attributed to the modern-day critic’s preoccupation with point of view, in that FID can feasibly represent the voice of both the narrator and the character concerned at one and the same time.  To digress just briefly, it is interesting to note the problems posed by the reading aloud of passages of FID from a novel.  Does the performer read in his neutral narrator’s voice, or in the voice of the character?  Terry Pratchett’s Thud! contains passages of FID in which the performer, Stephen Briggs, is forced to read in the voice of the character, a troll called Brick, because the text contains idiolectal elements that belong to Brick, but much of the text can also be attributed to the narrator.[14]  This mingling of voices makes FID the perfect vehicle for irony, as any reader of Jane Austen can testify!  In any case, the point remains that to alter the form of discourse representation is to change something of the content.  Even the rendering of an utterance in Indirect Speech (IS) instead of DS necessitates several changes: the tense is back-shifted, proximal deictics are neutralised, and because the movement to the left on the continuum takes the reader further away from the character’s voice, emotion markers are usually expunged.[15]

The relationship between DS and IS on the continuum brings me to the second argument in support of the claim that form = content.  Ann Banfield, in an essay entitled ‘Narrative Style and the Grammar of Direct and Indirect Speech’, convincingly argues that DS and IS are not transformationally related as Richard Ohmann had earlier claimed.[16]  This is helpful in that it removes the onus on the reader to see one form of speech as derived from, or prior to, another.  Brian McHale upholds Banfield’s assertion, although he does not support her argument in its entirety.[17]  McHale directs our attention to another important difference between real-life speech and fictional speech:

the principle [sic] drawback of the traditional account…is the assumption built into it that the three types of represented/reported discourse are derived from one another, FID from ID, ID from DD….  Admittedly, this account does capture the average speaker’s sense of how these types are related to each other, and his ability to convert one version into another; but in fiction this intuition is falsified, or, more to the point, it is fostered as part of novelistic illusionism.  In the everyday production and use of represented/reported discourse, it is theoretically always possible to recover the ‘original’ direct utterance from the derived non-direct versions, or at least to think of it as being recoverable, ‘basic’ to the non-direct transforms.  This is obviously not so in fiction, in which there is no direct ‘original’ prior to or behind an instance of ID or FID; the supposedly ‘derived’ utterances are not versions of anything, but themselves the ‘originals’ in that they give as much as the reader will ever learn of ‘what was really said’.[18]

The relevance of this line of reasoning to the form/content debate is the idea that there is no unobserved content lurking behind the text in the form of an original utterance that has undergone a transformation.  As McHale says, the form to which the reader has access – the words on the page – is the only form that has ever existed, and as such is the unique source of content.

The third and final point regarding form and content in the fictional representation of discourse is that concerning the use of punctuation.  It is generally agreed that the English writing system is badly equipped to represent spoken language, and that writers must do the best they can with the tools available to them.  Textual layout helps the reader understand who said what, the convention being that a new line is used when a different character begins speaking.  Words heavily stressed by a speaker are italicised: ‘ “Have you gone completely mad?” said Miss Dearheart.’[19]  A dash might lead the reader to infer an interruption:

‘That was for essential maintenance – ’ Mr Slant began.

‘No, it was for repairs,’ snapped Vetinari.[20]

An ellipsis might represent a momentary hesitation: ‘ “There’s…hints, here and there, but really we need something more solid…” ’.[21]  Punctuation, always important, plays an even greater role in discourse representation.  It is here, perhaps as nowhere else in written texts, that the author’s choice of punctuation can guide the reader toward one particular interpretation.

The section that follows is the result of the application of some of the above theories to certain passages from Terry Pratchett’s 2004 novel, Going Postal.

  1. ii) Speech and Thought Representation in Going Postal

Terry Pratchett, the author of the hugely popular Discworld series, is a writer who, like many modern authors, makes extensive use of dialogue.  Pratchett’s dialogue serves both to advance plot and to delineate character, but there is more to it than this: through his use of FID, Pratchett is able to pass comment on both the characters he creates and the world they – and by allegorical extension, we – inhabit.  Pratchett’s use of FID enables the characters to comment both on themselves and on other characters, and the narrator can do the same.  The allegorical nature of the text means that there is frequently a real-world counterpart to which the comments of the narrator/character also apply.  For modern-day readers, comments of a moral nature are generally more palatable when they come from the mouths of fictional characters rather than that of the narrator.  The idea that literature exists to edify and instruct the reader is now old-fashioned, but this is what Pratchett manages to do nevertheless.  The didactic purpose of the text is achieved through FID without alienating the reader: because his voice is inextricably intertwined with that of his characters, the narrator can moralise without appearing to do so.

Going Postal is the twenty-ninth title in the Discworld series.  One of the themes of this novel is freedom: the character of Moist von Lipwig allows Pratchett to explore the nature and true extent of individual freedom when that individual is a member of a larger community.  Moist is an extremely gifted con-man who has spent his life swindling for personal gain, and he is forced to come to terms with the effect his actions have had on others; his parole officer, a golem called Mr. Pump, acts as Moist’s conscience, but the access the reader is granted to Moist’s thoughts through numerous passages of DT and FID reveals a man capable of sympathizing with the plight of others and one who eventually shuns his old ways.  Mr. Reacher Gilt,[22] an unscrupulous businessman and the real villain of the piece, represents in one sense the tyranny of the free market when it is not subject to government intervention, and in a more moralistic sense, the sin of avarice.  Moist, despite his initial introduction to us as a fraud and a cheat, is the romantic hero who triumphs over the black-hearted malefactor: Gilt does not survive the events of the story, choosing instead to end his own life rather than to make amends as Moist did.

In this section of the chapter, I intend to discuss Pratchett’s chosen methods of discourse presentation, the fictional depiction of the power-balance between characters in terms of conversational management and the use of speech adverbials, and finally, Pratchett’s use of orthological and graphological deviation.  The passages I have chosen to look at are as follows: Moist’s first conversation with Miss Dearheart and Lord Vetinari’s meeting with the financiers (pp. 66-78); Moist’s conversation with Captain Carrot following the fire in the Post Office (pp. 242-244); the beginning of the race and Moist’s conversation with Reacher Gilt (pp. 320-323); and the scene in the Great Hall at Unseen University in which the miscreants are publicly accused (pp. 331-342).[23]

A close examination of the passages in question reveals that the narrative is mostly a mixture of Direct Speech (DS), Pure Narrative (PN) or Narrative Report of Action (NRA),[24] Free Indirect Discourse (FID), and Direct Thought (DT).[25]  There are some rare examples of Narrative Report of a Speech Act (NRSA):

  1. In a silence punctuated by chuckles from the crowd, Pony tried to explain, in so far as he now had any grip of what was going on. (p. 320)[26]

Rarer still are instances of Indirect Speech (IS): there are no examples in the passages studied.[27]  DS is by far the most common representation of speech used in these passages, and in Pratchett’s novels in general – as a result, it is relatively easy to rewrite many pages of any Pratchett narrative as a playscript – but there is another construction which appears with almost as much regularity as DS, and that is DT with an inversion of the reporting clause leading into a passage that could be a continuation of DT or could equally be classified as FID.  For example,

  1. (1) And what would you have done against a banshee? Moist had thought. (2) You suspect Gilt.  (3) Well done.  (4) But people like Gilt don’t bother with the law.  (5) They never break it, they just use people who do.  (6) And you’ll never find anything written down, anywhere.  (p. 244)

The second person pronoun ‘you’ of (2) and the evaluative phrase in (3) attribute these sentences to Moist, whose words are addressed silently to Captain Carrot, but it is arguable that (4) to (6) could be classified as either a moralistic narratorial comment on ‘people like Gilt’ as part of the text’s allegorical function, or these words could represent a continuation of Moist’s DT – or perhaps both.  Similarly, the ‘you’ll’ of (6) could equally be addressed specifically to Captain Carrot, or, more generally, to the reader, a device which arguably has the effect of animating the reader by directly involving him in the text.  A related technique is the considered placing of the reporting clause in (1), ‘Moist had thought’, which is placed after the reported clause; the effect of this delay is to plunge the reader into momentary uncertainty about whether the words are those of the narrator or of the character – the longer the reported clause, the greater the effect – although in the example quoted above it is reasonable to conclude that the words belong to Moist.  The uncertainty is more marked in passages like the following:

  1. There’s no stink more sorrowful than the stink of wet, burnt paper, Moist thought. It means: the end.  (p. 242)

In examples 2 and 3, the narrative arguably slips into FID following the reporting clause.  Other examples are more easily classifiable:

  1. (1) All they wanted to do was be delivered, he thought. (2) At a time like this, sitting on the sea bed for nine thousand years seemed quite attractive.  (p. 242)

Even without the temporal deictic ‘like this’, the sentiments expressed and the contextual evidence[28] make it relatively easy to identify (2) as representing the voice of the character alone: there is no bivocality between character and narrator here, and note the ease with which (2) can be represented in DT: it is necessary only to alter the verb-form from the narratorial past tense to the present tense of the character (‘seemed’ to ‘seems’), and to add a reporting clause:[29]

  1. At a time like this, sitting on the sea bed for nine thousand years seems quite attractive, he thought.

This is FID sourced in character, meaning that the reader can attribute the utterance entirely to Moist.  The specificity of the fictional situation, unlike example 2, renders pointless any attempt at an allegorical interpretation.  An ironic narratorial voice is not needed here.

The amalgam of narrator/character voice in Pratchett’s text is pervasive; some instances are difficult to spot and may be overlooked on a first reading:

  1. ‘We do a pamphlet,’ said almost-certainly-Miss Dearheart, pulling open a drawer and flipping a thin booklet on to the desk. (p. 66)

This time, the voice of the character has invaded the reporting clause: Moist has just noticed that Miss Dearheart wears no rings on her fingers,[30] prompting him to conclude that she is not married, and therefore ‘almost-certainly-Miss’.  The reporting clause itself is embedded in what is clearly a PN clause, thus further burying the intrusion of Moist’s voice.  The phrase in question could not belong to the narrator, because an omniscient narrator would presumably know whether or not one of his characters was married.

This technique of ‘slipping’ between the various voices of the text can be noted elsewhere:

  1. (1) They had a werewolf with them. (2) Oh, probably most people would have thought it was just a handsome dog, but grow up in Uberwald with a grandfather who bred dogs and you learned to spot the signs.  (p. 243) [31]

In (2), the use of the exclamatory ‘Oh’ more usually associated with spoken language, the second person pronoun and the reference to Moist’s childhood places the utterance in the realm of FID: (2) could represent Moist’s thoughts or the narrator’s voice.  An omniscient narrator would know about Moist’s upbringing, just as he knows whether or not Miss Dearheart is married.  Another example of slipping can be found on page 67:

  1. On the Tump…the big tower…glittered with semaphore.It was good to see the lifeblood of trade and commerce and diplomacy pumping so steadily, especially when you employed clerks who were exceptionally good at decryption.

Although the sentiments expressed and the use of the second person pronoun suggests that we are looking at the scene through the eyes of Lord Vetinari, the surface narrative purports to be PN, just as in example 7.

Pratchett combines FID with an interesting use of punctuation to produce a curious effect on page 68, in which Lord Vetinari is in conversation with his secretary, Drumknott:

  1. ‘There will be an opportunity,’ said Vetinari. Being an absolute ruler today was not as simple…[a lengthy passage of what is arguably FID follows]…A thinking tyrant, it seemed to Vetinari, had a much harder job than a ruler raised to power by some idiot vote-yourself-rich system like democracy.  At least they could tell the people he was their fault.‘…we would not normally have started individual folders at this time,’ Drumknott was agonizing.

Lord Vetinari’s DS is followed by a passage of FID which slips into what is perhaps Indirect Thought (IT) with the phrase ‘it seemed to Vetinari’;[32] the most interesting point, however, is the ellipsis which introduces Drumknott’s DS and the past progressive verb tense of the reporting clause: ‘was agonizing’.  Together, these two factors suggest that Lord Vetinari had ceased to listen to Drumknott, and that the intervening passage represents his thoughts while Drumknott is still speaking.  Lord Vetinari pays attention to what Drumknott is saying only when his reverie has ended.  This technique has the additional effect of imbuing the text with an element of immediacy, as if the reader is witnessing events as they take place – events which include a momentary insight into Lord Vetinari’s thoughts.[33]

Pratchett uses FID to confuse the voices of narrator and two characters in the passage just before the beginning of the race between Post Office and Grand Trunk:

  1. (1) ‘Is this why you appear so confident?’ snarled Gilt. (2) And it was a snarl, there and then, a little sign of a crack appearing.(3) A broomstick could travel fast enough to blow your ears off.  (4) It wouldn’t need too many towers to break down, and heavens knew they broke down all the time, for a broomstick to beat the clacks to Genua, especially since it could fly direct and wouldn’t have to follow the big dog-leg the coach road and the Grand Trunk took.  (5) The Trunk would have to be really unlucky, and the person flying the broom would be really frozen and probably really dead, but a broomstick could fly from Ankh-Morpork to Genua in a day.  (6) That might just do it.(7) Gilt’s face was a mask of glee.  (8) Now he knew what Moist intended.(9) Round and round she goes, and where she stops, nobody knows…(10) It was the heart of any scam or fiddle.  (11) Keep the punter uncertain or, if he is certain, make him certain of the wrong thing.  (p. 321)

The changes in this passage are rapid.  Over eleven sentences, the narrative voice shifts between the narrator, Moist and Gilt.  Sentences (3) to (6) are arguably FID, a mixture of an informative narrator’s voice, and Gilt’s anxious assessment of the change in his situation now that Moist has a broomstick.  The PN of (7) is followed by a trickier utterance in (8): this is not Moist’s voice, and although it looks like another instance of PN, this is unlikely on reflection.  Gilt does not know what Moist intends, but nor does the reader – at this point, only the narrator knows for sure.  So where to place (8) on the continuum?  If PN, the narrator is lying to us, so the utterance must reflect Gilt’s point of view.  This is FID sourced in the character, as Toolan’s test will verify.[34]  Sentence (9) is a line chanted when performing a trick with a coin under three cups: the cups are rapidly switched and the audience has to guess the whereabouts of the coin.  At this point, the narrative is still rendered in FID, but the intermingled voices are now those of the narrator and Moist.  The choice of discourse representation in this short passage neatly encapsulates the fierce rivalry between the two men at this crucial stage of the story; Pratchett’s use of FID enables the reader to witness the internal processes of both antagonists, thereby adding to the suspense and excitement of this most important scene.

The most important point which has emerged from a careful reading of the chosen passages is that Pratchett tends to favour a technique of rendering speech which subtly shifts from DS or DT into FID.  Why should this be so?  Firstly, this technique allows the narrator to stay close to chosen characters.[35]  The reader is naturally inclined to trust the narrator, and the mingling of the narratorial voice with that of Moist von Lipwig encourages us to sympathise with this character, despite the fact that he is introduced to us as a hardened criminal.  The access we are given to Gilt’s voice, however, has the opposite effect: we are made privy to Gilt’s machinations which only helps to build the reader’s antipathy towards the wealthy banker.  Secondly, and as previously stated, the reader is far more likely to tolerate any narratorial moralising which is disguised as the words of a character, especially when that character has been shown to be as fallible as the rest of us.

Having discussed FID at some length, I wish to turn now to another topic mentioned in the introduction to this chapter, that of the use of titles and other forms of address in depicting fictional power-play.  I shall begin with one of Pratchett’s most powerful characters.

Lord Vetinari is the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.  His title relates to his status as ruler of the city, and he is generally considered a despot; however, one could argue that his role is more that of benevolent dictator.  Vetinari resembles more closely one of Plato’s philosopher kings than Machiavelli’s Prince.  Lord Vetinari himself is known variously throughout the Discworld series as ‘Vetinari’, ‘Lord Vetinari’, ‘my lord’, ‘sir’, ‘his lordship’, ‘the Patrician’, ‘Havelock’, and ‘Havelock, Lord Vetinari’, amongst other forms of address and instances of elegant variation such as ‘his master’.  ‘Vetinari’ predominates in the main body of the text, the narratorial voice occasionally making use of Vetinari’s title to emphasise his social status: for example, in the reporting clause following Vetinari’s explanation concerning his lack of attendance at Reacher Gilt’s infamous parties: ‘ “Affairs of state take up so much of my time,” said Lord Vetinari brusquely.’  The sudden, and therefore foregrounded, use of Vetinari’s correct title provides a reason for his non-attendance.  Gilt is rich, but not of the same social standing as Vetinari.  Vetinari’s title is not inherited, but is linked to his status as ruler of the city; nevertheless, Vetinari is the scion of an old and immensely wealthy aristocratic family, and his lineage is therefore impeccable.  The adverb ‘brusquely’ indicates a desire on the part of the speaker to change the subject; it is also an indication that Vetinari considers Gilt’s remark to be both inappropriate and somewhat impertinent.  Vetinari himself addresses the other characters correctly at all times.  His secretary Rufus Drumknott is addressed by his surname, and Vetinari’s clerks are addressed as ‘Clerk’ + first name, for example, Clerk Brian, Clerk Harold, Clerk Alfred.  Vetinari addresses other members of Ankh-Morpork society always by the correct title; social distinctions are in this way rigidly preserved by the Patrician, and as protector of the status quo, it is in his interests to do so.  It is noteworthy that in a scene from an earlier Discworld novel, Men at Arms, Dr. Cruces, who has something unpleasant to confess, addresses Lord Vetinari as ‘Havelock’, an indication that he is anxious to begin the exchange on an equal footing.  Lord Vetinari already knows what the man has to say, and he in his turn does not address him by his first name, but as ‘Dr. Cruces’.  Needless to say, the conversation very soon takes an unpleasant turn for Dr. Cruces and he is summarily dismissed.

On pages 66-78 of Going Postal, Lord Vetinari meets with a group of bankers and financiers, including Mr. Reacher Gilt and the lawyer, Mr. Slant.  These money-men have conspired to purchase the Grand Trunk Company at a fraction of its value from those who originally patented the technology; Vetinari also suspects Gilt and the assembled company of using illegal means to ensure that any rival company is doomed to failure, those means including the murder of John Dearheart.  Lord Vetinari’s remarks are pointedly directed to or away from the conversational participants: for example, ‘ignoring that face’; ‘looking directly at him’; ‘said to the lawyer’; ‘his eyes on Reacher Gilt’s face’.  In this way, Vetinari is controlling who can and cannot respond to his line of questioning.  He deliberately ignores Reacher Gilt at the outset and later implicates him in the murder of John Dearheart.  Vetinari’s gaze rests on Gilt while his spoken utterance is addressed to another man present:

‘There is no proof that we had anything to do with the boy’s murder,’ snapped Horsefry.

‘Ah, so you too have heard people saying he was murdered?’ said Vetinari, his eyes on Reacher Gilt’s face.  (p. 72)

David Graddol et al. point out in chapter six of Describing Language that ‘people are remarkably sensitive to what others are doing with their eyes – no other aspect of non-verbal behaviour, except direct physical encounters, is capable of arousing quite the same intensity and subtlety of reaction’.[36]  In commenting upon eye-contact, the authors note that ‘a…specific extension of the idea that mutual gaze can be threatening is the idea that the person who is first to break gaze is yielding dominance to the other and admitting inferiority’.[37]  An interesting fictional representation of this kind of NVC occurs between Vetinari and Gilt on page 76 of the same extract: ‘Their eyes met….  Gilt and Vetinari maintained smiles, maintained eye contact’.  In the end, neither man backs down: both turn at the same time to look at Horsefry, who, characteristically, interrupts their conversation with an idiotic remark.  The two men establish eye-contact once more, but this time their look is conspiratorial instead of confrontational: ‘Gilt and Vetinari shared a look.  It said: while I loathe you and every aspect of your personal philosophy to a depth unplumbable by any line, I’ll credit you at least with not being Crispin Horsefry’ (p. 76).  Beyond this, Vetinari is a man who deliberately gives few kinesic signals; occasionally though, he raises one or both eyebrows to show surprise, feigned or otherwise, or to indicate that he thinks the preceding remark is a stupid one.[38]

Mr. Slant is the third of the four conversational participants; his utterances account for approximately 16% of the DS in this scene.  Vetinari has the lion’s share of the DS, 49%, with Gilt on 20% and Horsefry on 15%.  Throughout his conversational exchange with Slant, Vetinari controls the turn-taking process by instigating a question-and-answer pattern.[39]  Gilt is silent for the first part of the scene, and he joins the conversation in response to a directly confrontational question from Vetinari.  Gilt’s entry into the fray is delayed this long because the reader is waiting for it; the reader has been primed earlier on to expect a battle of wills between Gilt and Vetinari, and Pratchett allows the tension to build by initially denying Gilt a voice.

In summary then, Vetinari is shown to be the dominant conversational participant through a variety of means.  His social standing is reinforced where necessary by the narratorial voice in order to highlight his relative importance as lord and ruler of the city, and Vetinari maintains the social status quo in his own use of forms of address.  Vetinari is a master of NVC, directing his remarks to specific conversational participants and using eye contact as a means of implication, challenge and conspiracy.  In scenes involving the Patrician, Vetinari is given the highest percentage of DS, and he controls the verbal responses of other characters through calculated use of adjacency pairs.

The power-play between Vetinari and his opponents is also evident in Pratchett’s use of speech adverbials, metaphors and similes, or in other words, the words and phrases the narrator uses to indicate how a particular utterance was spoken.  As Fowler remarks,

these comments are more than ‘stage directions’ giving indications of the speech acts and behaviour of the speakers; cumulatively, they add an emotional colouring deriving from the narrator’s analysis of the relationship between the characters.[40]

The delicate power-play between Vetinari and his opponents from the business world is depicted and carried through Pratchett’s choice of adverbial phrases accompanying the characters’ words.  Adverbs connected to Lord Vetinari’s spoken utterances in this scene are ‘calmly’, ‘quietly’, or, more simply, the verb ‘stated’ on its own.  Only one other character is allowed the use of the adverb ‘calmly’ in this particular scene, and that is Reacher Gilt; the power balance is thus nicely captured in Pratchett’s use of the same word for the two adversaries.[41]  When Vetinari later openly refers to the ‘misfortunes’ of rival companies to the Grand Trunk, Mr. Slant replies ‘stiffly’; the adverb is not only a fortunate choice for a character who is a zombie, but the forced manner of Mr. Slant’s reply indicates that he knows he is on dodgy ground.  Crispin Horsefry is the unfortunate young man whose stupidity leads him to make an utter fool of himself in this scene, dealing as he is with men whose intelligence far exceeds his own.  The following phrases are connected with Horsefry: ‘said a voice’; ‘he muttered’; ‘snapped Horsefry’; ‘yapped a voice’; ‘he burbled’; ‘said Horsefry, as if this was a source of immense pride’.  Twice Horsefry is represented as a disembodied voice, breaking an uncomfortable silence with a misguided remark.  His anxious reactions to Vetinari’s rather pointed comments are ‘muttered’ and ‘snapped’, the muttering revealing a desire to speak without quite being heard, and the snapping indicating a childish inability to control his outbursts.  Unlike Reacher Gilt, Horsefry lacks the courage of his convictions, and he quickly backs down in the face of Vetinari’s calmly delivered threat.  Horsefry yaps like a small annoying dog, and burbles like an idiot or a child.  He is directly condemned by the narratorial voice in the phrase ‘as if this was a source of immense pride’.

When accusations of wrong-doing are publicly made during a scene towards the end of the book, Vetinari maintains his equanimity while his opponents crumble.  The adverbs connected with the soon-to-be-condemned men can be arranged into four groups, as follows:

i) raised voices: ‘screamed’ (x 2); ‘shouted’

ii) difficulty speaking/breathing: ‘faltered’; ‘protested weakly’; ‘gasped’

iii) protesting/pleading: ‘was protesting’; ‘protested weakly’; ‘pleaded’

iv) involuntary exclamations: ‘moaned’; ‘burst out’[42]

Vetinari’s utterances, on the other hand, are simply ‘said’, or ‘stated’.  Even when he demands silence in the midst of the hubbub, he does not speak loudly; once silence is established he continues speaking ‘in the same calm tone’ (p. 335), while by contrast the wrongdoers falter and splutter.

The metaphors and similes used in place of adverbs are useful indications of the power relations between the characters.  Vetinari is connected with the following phrases: (1) ‘The sentence came out fast and smooth, like a snake’s tongue, and the swift flick on the end of it was…’ (p. 71); (2) ‘cold as the depths of the sea’ (p. 75); (3) ‘Lord Vetinari’s voice came out of the throng like a knife’ (p. 341).  Example (1) connects Vetinari with a snake, more specifically with a snake’s tongue.  The sea-depths of (2) remind the reader not only of the coldness of this particular character, but also of his personal hidden depths, and the depth of the extent of his knowledge.  In (3) he is linked to a weapon – a knife – a fitting image for this character: Vetinari is an accomplished assassin, trained at the city’s Assassins’ Guild, and the present Provost of Assassins.  Figurative language connected with the miscreants conveys appropriately their predicament: ‘Greenyham tried, aware once more of the creaking of ice’ (p. 336); ‘The cracks were spreading, the ice was breaking up on every side’ (p. 336); ‘Not only had the ice broken up, but he was on the floe with the big hungry walrus’ (p. 337).  Greenyham is eventually reduced to silence by the threat of imprisonment.  The extended metaphor depicting his unenviable situation is a new take on the cliché, itself a dead metaphor, ‘to be on thin ice’; the breaking up of the ice also indicates the increasing isolation of Greenyham and his associates from Ankh-Morpork’s more law-abiding citizenry.

It has, I think, been demonstrated how linguistic theories of conversational management can contribute to an examination of the power-balance between various fictional characters.  It has also been shown how literature imitates the real world in the importance attached to forms of address and forms of NVC such as eye contact.  Speech adverbials are of course specific to the written word; these words and phrases represent an attempt on the writer’s part to convey the tone of an utterance.  Linguists do have the tools necessary for representing on paper the exact manner in which an utterance was rendered – pitch, volume, pronunciation, et cetera – but highly specialised knowledge is required to read such scripts.  The novelist simply hints at the manner of an utterance and leaves the rest to the imagination of the reader.

There are ways, however, in which the novelist can provide more than just a hint of the way in which the characters’ lines are delivered.  Pratchett makes extensive use of orthological and graphological deviation to represent his characters’ idiolects, speech mannerisms, accents and even voices.  Deviant pronunciations are rendered by the imaginative use of an alphabet numbering only twenty-six letters.  The upper-class accent of the curator of Ankh-Morpork’s museum and art gallery is represented by orthological deviations such as the addition of an h before almost every word beginning with w: ‘hwere’ and ‘hwho’ for example.  Word-endings ly and y are rendered as ‘eah’, so ‘mystery’ becomes ‘mystereah’ on page 50 of Thud!; watchman Nobby Nobbs cannot understand a word the curator says, and mistakes his pronunciation of ‘mystery’ for ‘mister rear’.  A vampire who has forsworn blood in an effort to fit in with human society attempts to disguise his (stereotypical) vampiric pronunciation of w as v by overdoing his ws: ‘ “I don’t believe wwwe have had the pleasure,” he said, extending a hand.  It should not be possible to roll your double-yous, but John Smith managed it’.[43]  By way of contrast, a female human who wishes to be mistaken for a vampire affects a vampiric accent: ‘ “Vell, zat is good news!” said Mrs Winkings, leaning back’.[44]  Just as the vampires have an accent which we might associate with their popular cinematic counterparts, the subservient Igors speak, as we might expect, with a pronounced lisp: ‘ “Oh, we Igorth are no thtranger to marthterth of an enquiring mind, thur,” said Igor gloomily’.[45]

The obvious example of use of graphological deviation to represent voice is that of Death, who always speaks in capital letters; on page 263 of Interesting Times, we are told that Death has a voice like ‘a cemetery in midwinter’.  When Death comes to collect Anghammarad on page 241 of Going Postal, he tells him ‘YOU HAVE REACHED THE PLACE WHERE THERE ARE NO MORE ORDERS.’

Some other examples of graphological deviation include the headline of ‘The Times’ on page 282 of Going Postal,newspaper headline

…and the ‘mystic’ language of the golems on page 66 of the same novel.language of golems

In Thud! we see troll graffiti on page 176, designed to look as though it has been carved in rock by a troll’s forefinger,troll finger

and a magical dwarfish symbol decorates the pages with increasing regularity as the Summoning Dark catches up with Vimes. magic symbol

These latter examples represent instances of textual, rather than verbal, pragmatics but they do add a distinctive flavour to the text.  One might speculate that the fantasy/allegory genre within which Pratchett writes grants him the freedom to stray from the traditional paths, but it is possible to find examples of this kind of experimentation in the work of other authors: in Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne presents the reader with two completely black pages to represent a period of mourning – a speech act with no words.[46]

iii)     Conclusions

It was suggested in the introduction to this thesis that one of the ways in which linguistic study has an advantage over critical writing is in the rigour and specificity of its terminology.  The linguistic categorisations of the rendering of fictional speech and thought have certainly proved useful to the critic, as has been stated.  Even so, in 1988 Norman Page wrote in reference to these categorisations that ‘there would seem to be a number of constructions, by no means rare in works of literature, for which a precise and generally-accepted terminology is lacking’.[47]  The first edition of Page’s book appeared in 1973, but the sentence quoted still appears in the second edition of 1988.  Leech and Short divided the various representations of fictional speech and thought into useful categories in their 1981 text, Style in Fiction, and these categorisations seem to have been widely accepted – bar one or two minor modifications – so it is interesting to note that Page chose not to expunge this sentence from the second edition of his book.  The Leech and Short text does appear in Page’s bibliography; perhaps he felt that the categories offered could not be described as definitive, or were not ‘generally accepted’.  Nevertheless, the speech and thought continuum described by Leech and Short does seem to be in general use, and I myself found it very helpful in writing this chapter.

We have seen that there are many linguistic theories useful to the critic in the analysis of speech representation: speech act theory, Grice’s maxims, theories relating to conversational management, to name but a few.  Fictional utterances make up an important part of the fictional world.  However, it is important to remember that the fictional representation of speech is merely a representation, and an idealised representation at that.  The way in which we communicate is complex and not entirely understood: Graddol et al. cite the research of Stier and Hall, who ‘make the interesting observation that people’s beliefs and perceptions may run contrary to observed facts’.[48]  It might be worth bearing this in mind, especially when one considers that those people include writers and readers.

I have argued for the usefulness of linguistic theories, but I feel I should note that it is not the case that one needs to be aware of the existence of these theories in order to respond ‘appropriately’ to a text – for example, it is obvious that Vetinari is in control throughout his meeting with the financiers without the critic being aware of theories relating to conversational management – but linguistic theory could help the critic to explain exactly why she responds as she does.  The precise way in which Vetinari controls the direction of the conversation can be partly explained by even a sketchy knowledge of adjacency pairs, for example, and the simple statistics relating to DS can support a critical intuition regarding who speaks most.  As always with the use of statistics, though, it pays to be cautious: a garrulous character is not necessarily the one in control.  Other factors must be weighed in the balance.  Pragmatic analysis of utterances, that is, language use in context, must take into account contextual factors such as addresser-addressee relationship.  This still holds in the fictional world, but such details will have been established as part of that world: Lord Vetinari’s social and political status compared to that of Reacher Gilt, for example.

In this chapter I put forward three arguments relating to the form/content debate.  I mentioned the differences in effect that exist between the various points on the speech/thought continuum, the lack of an original utterance to which any fictional discourse can be traced, and the effects associated with the use of various punctuation marks.  In this final summary, I wish to add just a few more observations to these arguments.  The subtlety of the effect associated with the use of FID is, I think, the strongest argument in support of the inseparability of form and content.  Austen’s Emma would be a very much inferior novel if the passages of FID prevalent throughout were to be neutralised by a different rendering in Indirect Thought, for example.  FID, as well as being the perfect vehicle for irony, and, as we have seen here, moralising, is also an extremely useful concept for the study of point of view, in that the reader is led to question whose voice it is that she is hearing.  In the case of speech adverbials, we saw how a simple trick such as using the same adverb for two evenly-matched adversaries can be enormously effective in contributing to a picture of the power-balance between characters.  Finally, Pratchett’s orthological experiments can give the reader a clearer idea of how an utterance is delivered, and his graphological decorations help the reader to form a mental image of his extraordinary Discworld.  All of the above, I think, can be cited in support of the hypothesis that form and content are inseparable.


[1] See G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), chapter 10.

[2] N. Page, Speech in the English Novel (1988), p. 55.

[3] G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), p. 160.

[4] Leech and Short comment on the differences between real speech and fictional speech in ibid., pp. 159-166.

[5] R. Tanaka, ‘Action and Meaning in Literary Theory’ in Journal of Literary Semantics (1972).

[6] Speech act theory is the theory that people do things when they speak: promise, request, threaten, and so on; an extreme example is Ridcully’s utterance, ‘And I so rule’, on page 322 of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal.  Ridcully is the impartial adjudicator in the race to Genua, and his speech act makes the new ruling – no horses, no broomsticks – concrete and inviolable.  These words are differentiated from Ridcully’s other utterances by a marked formality of lexis and syntax.  Much of the dialogue in Peake’s Gormenghast novels is based on ritual, and each utterance is therefore a speech act similar to Ridcully’s judicious ruling.  Consider Sourdust’s greeting to his master, Lord Groan: ‘I, Sourdust, lord of the library, personal adviser to your lordship, nonagenarian, and student of the Groan lore, proffer to your lordship the salutations of a dark morning, robed as I am in rags, student as I am of the tomes, and nonagenarian as I happen to be in the matter of years’ (M. Peake, Titus Groan, p. 48).  All this just to say good morning!  Sourdust can barely communicate outside of the wording pertaining to the Gormenghast lore, and the irony is of course that the significance of many of the daily rituals has been lost over the course of time, rendering the speech acts meaningless; the utterances of Sourdust and Lord Groan are empty – they no longer do anything.

[7] R. Ohmann, ‘Literature as Act’ in Approaches to Poetics (1972).

[8] Katie Wales writes that ‘in speech act theory felicity conditions refer to particular kinds of appropriateness valid for the successful functioning of speech acts, e.g. promising, ordering, threatening, requesting, etc.  Utterances which do not satisfy various conditions are regarded as infelicitous, and, in a sense, as invalid speech acts’.  (A Dictionary of Stylistics, 2nd edition, 2001.)

[9] M. Short, Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose (1996), p. 168.

[10] Extra meanings are created when Grice’s maxims are deliberately flouted, and Grice refers to these meanings as conversational implicatures.  Cf. footnote xx, but it should be noted that Grice insisted upon the difference between violating the maxims and flouting them.  Violating a maxim may not necessarily yield an extra meaning; the creation of conversational implicatures is more likely if one simply flouts a maxim.

[11] See, for example, G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), chapter 9, pp. 294-304, in which the authors use Grice’s maxims to investigate a passage from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

[12] David Graddol et al., identify the following as functions of NVC (non-verbal communication): gesture, proxemics, body contact, posture and body orientation, facial expression and gaze (Describing Language (1994), chapter 6).

[13] N. Page, Speech in the English Novel (1988), p. 23.

[14] For example, the passages on pp. 152-153 and 186-187 of the same novel.

[15] Compare, for example, the following.  IS rendering of a DS original: ‘Miss Dearheart asked Moist what he wanted.’  DS original: ‘Well, what do you want, Mr. Clever?’  (T. Pratchett, Going Postal, p. 313.)

[16] Ohmann presents this argument in his paper ‘Generative Grammars and the Concept of Literary Style’ (1964).

[17] B. McHale, ‘Free Indirect Discourse: A Survey of Recent Accounts’ in Poetics and Theory of Literature (1978).

[18] Ibid., p. 256.

[19] T. Pratchett, Going Postal (2004), p. 245.

[20] Ibid., p. 73.

[21] Ibid., p. 68.

[22] The name is a pun on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver; Mr. Reacher Gilt has an eyepatch and a talkative parrot, like his piratical counterpart.  The piracy as far as Gilt is concerned is not robbery on the open seas, but embezzlement on a grand scale.  His parrot, instead of repeating ‘pieces of eight’, habitually cries ‘twelve and a half per cent’, an allusion to the percentage of people who would actually receive their money if everyone simultaneously decided to withdraw their savings from their bank accounts.  The word ‘gilt’, with its reference to what is only a superficial covering of gold, is also a clue to the real nature of this particular character.

[23] Going Postal is, of course, just one novel of an entire series set on the Discworld, and it should be borne in mind that Lord Vetinari, Captain Carrot and Mr. Slant are firmly established characters in the minds of Pratchett’s readers through their appearances in earlier novels.  The other characters featuring in these extracts, Moist von Lipwig and Reacher Gilt included, are new inventions.  I have chosen these extracts in particular largely because they provide ample material for the effective illustration of the points I wish to make.

[24] PN is the terminology of M. Toolan, Narrative: a critical linguistic introduction (2001), p. 119, and NRA that of G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), p. 324.  I have decided to use Toolan’s PN, to avoid any possible confusion between NRA and NRSA.  (Toolan also retains NRSA; see p. 139 of his book.)

[25] The absence of quotation marks means that the latter could be described as a form of Free Direct Thought (FDT), but the presence of reporting clauses suggests that these passages are in fact somewhere between DT and FDT on the speech/thought continuum.  It is, in fact, fairly common practice amongst modern authors to omit the quotation marks around the representation of a character’s thoughts in order to differentiate between this and the representation of a character’s speech.

[26] T. Pratchett, Going Postal (2004).  Subsequent page references to this novel are marked in the main body of the text.  Examples and sentences are numbered for ease of reference.

[27] In fact, I have been so far unsuccessful in my search for an example of IS in Pratchett’s novel as a whole; it would appear that Pratchett does not make use of this form of speech representation at all.

[28] The golem Anghammarad, who perishes in the Post Office fire, actually spends nine thousand years sitting on the sea bed (see pp. 153-155 of Going Postal).

[29] This new rendering of 4 into DT passes Toolan’s ‘framing or commutation test’ on p. 132 of Narrative: a critical linguistic introduction (2001).  See footnote xx below for more details.

[30] This fact is once again reported via DT with inversion: ‘No rings on her fingers, Moist noted.’  The inversion is necessitated in this case by the verb ‘noted’; if the reporting clause were to precede the reported clause, a subordinating conjunction ‘that’ would have to be added:

*Moist noted no rings on her fingers. (* indicates an unacceptable sentence)

Moist noted that there were no rings on her fingers.

[31] This passage raises another interesting point.  If Moist grew up in Uberwald, he would presumably have an Uberwaldian accent, yet in Stephen Briggs’ reading of the novel for the audiobook version, Moist’s accent is neutral, the same voice as that of the narrator.  The reason for this is presumably that an audiobook version of a novel read for the most part in a feigned foreign accent would be as wearisome for the listener as it would be for the performer.  The principal is the same as that which dictates that narrators should not generally ‘speak’ in a dialect other than Standard English.  Norman Page in Speech in the English Novel (1988) cites the example of Joseph from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights: ‘Joseph remains…a minor character: one could hardly imagine him charged with the narration of any part of the story.  [Brontë] seems to have been aware that small helpings of dialect are likely to satisfy the keenest appetite, and it is revealing that Ellen Dean…is a very superior kind of servant…a well-spoken woman with…little sign in her speech of her regional origins’ (p. 71).

[32] The use of the verb ‘seemed’ certainly indicates that the text is written from Vetinari’s point of view.

[33] There are similar instances of this technique to be found elsewhere in Pratchett’s work.  For example, a passage of FID sourced mainly in the character of Ronnie Carney from The Truth is also interrupted in a similar fashion when Sacharissa enters Carney’s office, as follows: ‘Dibbler had the knack.  He’d make up some story about some huge monster being seen in the lake in Hide Park and five readers would turn up swearing that they’d seen it, too.  Ordinary, everyday people, such as you might buy a loaf off.  How did he do it?  Carney’s desk was covered with his own failed attempts.  You needed a special kind of imagi-

“Why, Sacharissa,” he said, standing up as she crept into the room.’

The fractured word ending in a dash just before Sacharissa’s arrival suggests the breaking-off of a train of thought, similar to the termination of Lord Vetinari’s reverie in the above example.

[34] As mentioned in footnote xx above, Toolan’s test is useful when the reader wishes to identify a passage of FID as sourced in the character or the ‘abstract narrator’.  The following is the test for passages of FID sourced in the character: ‘[insert text to be probed, with any pronouns referring to the putatively discoursing character converted to first person, and with tenses converted to the present tense of thinking/speaking], the character remarks, to themselves or other characters’ (p. 132).  So: ‘Now I know what Moist intends,’ Gilt remarked to himself.

[35] Those characters kept at a distance are treated so for a reason.  The reader is not allowed to witness the internal monologues of Miss Dearheart, for example; as the object of Moist’s affections, she must remain inscrutable to the reader.  We must be kept guessing as to whether or not she will accept Moist’s proposal; in this way, our interest in the budding romance is sustained.

[36] D. Graddol et al., Describing Language (1994), p. 159.

[37] Ibid., p. 160.

[38] Cf.  Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p.19.  The protagonist and narrator, Christopher, is an autistic boy who cannot read body language and has many basic everyday signals explained to him by his teacher, Siobhan: ‘I find people confusing.  This is for two main reasons.  The first main reason is that people do a lot of talking without using any words.  Siobhan says that if you raise one eyebrow it can mean lots of different things.  It can mean “I want to do sex with you” and it can also mean “I think that what you just said was very stupid.” ’

[39] Cf. the work of E. A. Schlegoff and H. Sacks on adjacency pairs (1973).  This work is referred to in Describing Language (1994), p. 204.  ‘Adjacency pair’ is a term used ‘to refer to conversational sequences in which an utterance by one speaker depends upon an utterance made by another’ (Katie Wales, A Dictionary of Stylistics, 2nd edition, 2001).

[40] R. Fowler, Linguistic Criticism (1996), p. 152.

[41] It is evident here and elsewhere that the reader is being encouraged to compare these two men and their respective philosophies on the concept of freedom.  Pratchett even supplies the reader with two similar scenes in which we see the master speaking to a servant: Lord Vetinari and Drumknott, and Reacher Gilt and his Igor.  The Patrician’s question – ‘Who will tell the tyrant he is a tyrant?’ (p. 78) – is mirrored in the second of these scenes by Gilt’s question, ‘Igor, would you say that I’m insane?’ (p. 273).  Perhaps the reader is being invited to question whether Reacher Gilt is Pratchett’s idea of Lord Vetinari ‘gone bad’.  The parallels between the two men are clear, but the difference is that Igor eventually abandons Reacher Gilt, whereas Drumknott only replies to his master’s line of questioning with the irrelevant observation that ‘what the world really needs are filing boxes which are not so flimsy’ (p. 78).  Here, Drumknott breaches Grice’s maxim of relation; presumably he wishes to avoid the question!  These maxims are discussed in various texts, including Graddol et al., pp. 124-125, and in Leech and Short, pp. 294-5.  Drumknott violates, rather than flouts, Grice’s maxim of relation in providing a totally irrelevant answer to Vetinari’s question.  The implication is that Drumknott breaches one maxim in order to avoid breaching another, the maxim of quality, which dictates that one should not lie.  Presumably there is a sense in which Drumknott does indeed consider Vetinari to be a tyrant.  It is worth mentioning that Pratchett also encourages the reader to compare the conduct of Gilt with that of Moist: Vetinari gives both men the opportunity for salvation, but Gilt refuses to take it.  Grice’s maxims can also be useful in examining the passage following the fire in the Post Office in which Moist is interviewed by Captain Carrot (pp. 242-244).  Moist is lying, and both the reader and the Captain know it.  As one would expect, many of Carrot’s speech acts are questions, or requests for information.  Moist hedges these questions by repeatedly breaking Grice’s maxims of either quality or quantity, that is, his replies are either untruthful or scanty, in all except one instance.  When Carrot asks Moist if he has received any threats, Moist replies, ‘None at all’ (p. 244).  This is true – but of course, Gilt is far too clever to openly threaten his adversary.

[42] Examples taken from chapter 14 of Going Postal, pp. 331-350.

[43] T. Pratchett, Thud! (2005), p. 19.

[44] Ibid., p. 21.

[45] T. Pratchett, Going Postal (2004), p. 273.

[46] K. H. Basso has written an interesting essay on the function of silence in Western Apache culture, where to remain silent actually represents a conversational turn: ‘ “To Give up on Words”: Silence in Western Apache Culture’ (1970), reproduced in P. P. Giglioli, Language and Social Context (1972), pp. 67-86.

[47] N. Page, Speech in the English Novel (1988), p. 40.

[48] D. Graddol et al., Describing Language (1994), p. 152.  Stier and Hall are commenting upon human behaviour in relation to body contact, or haptics, but it is possible that their conclusion may have relevance to other areas of face-to-face interaction.


Who’s pulling the strings?


At the beginning of Muriel Spark’s Loitering With Intent, Fleur Talbot sits in a graveyard writing a poem. Critics have leapt on this with glee, crying out that that’s probably what Muriel Spark herself did! Well, possibly. Big deal. I mean, who hasn’t sat in a graveyard writing a tortured poem? That’s just what every teenager does, isn’t it? And twenty-odd years ago I’m afraid I did exactly this (although thankfully the poem is now lost) and I was listening to Toyah Willcox’s Anthem album as I did so.

I’ve had the idea for this post bubbling on the hob for a couple of weeks now, ever since I re-discovered that particular album on Spotify. I last saw Toyah on the telly lisping her way through a deodorant ad and I’d forgotten all about her, but having been reminded of that purple cassette tape I cherished all those years ago, I can see now, from a distance of more than two decades, exactly why it was that her music was so captivating to me as a moody Don’t-Know-Who-I-Want-To-Be teenager. Before going any further, I should point out that I’m writing as someone who knows very little about punk rock – if that is indeed what Toyah wrote – but I was very good at being a gauche and maladroit teenager and I think I might be onto something here.


Leaving aside the more obvious appeal of sentiments such as ‘So what if I dye my hair? I’ve still got a brain, I’m there and I’m gonna be me’ from I Want To Be Free, Toyah’s lyrics often conjure up a nightmarish landscape of hostile bleakness, peopled with fantastic, monstrous creatures. And of course, this sort of landscape is exactly the kind of godforsaken place you inhabit in your mind as a teenager, for year after year after yet-another-wretched year. My favourite song was always Marionette, which tells of a land in which a marionette pulls the strings, rather than it being the other way around.


Marionettes are creepy enough, frankly.


See what I mean? And this particular marionette delights in the misery of her war-torn subjects. The lyrics couple images of subjection and pain with…well, images of coupling. The marionette is a queen bee, serviced by her knaves and pawns so she can bring forth hordes of offspring who sing in the cathedral beneath a swinging pendulum – most likely incense, but in context, I can’t help but think of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and The Pendulum. Of course, it’s probably all metaphorical anyway, but as a teenager, you’re far more likely to take everything literally and to imagine that the land really is ruled by a power-crazed, sex-obsessed puppet, bent on destroying your will and taking control of your life. Power and control are major themes in many of Toyah’s songs, and I enacted my own personal feeble rebellion at the injunction to be home in time for dinner by sitting in graveyards, writing rubbish poetry and listening to Marionette – the one who was once controlled is now the controller. Well, far better I suppose, to be the marionette than the reaper, who laughs before choking and crying.


The Anthem album cover (below) depicts the teenage-psyche-nightmare-place with the central figure, Toyah herself, striding fearlessly across this inhospitable wasteland. She is distant, powerful, beautiful, and it looks as if she’s holding the head of someone who got on her nerves once too often:


And of course, this is the figure you want to be. Toyah was wildly creative. She had massive hair. She used naughty words: ‘whore’ crops up quite a lot, and I can remember the thrill of hearing Toyah shout ‘Silence little bitch!’ in Elocution Lesson (you have to bear in mind that this was in the days when every other word in The Guardian wasn’t ‘fuck’ or ‘onanism’). And she’s only 11 years younger than my parents! – but I would never have believed that when I was 16. Toyah was everything I wanted to be and wasn’t. She’s even got wings in this picture here. But according to the extensive Wikipedia entry, Toyah was born something of a monster herself, ‘with a twisted spine, clawed feet, a clubbed right foot, one leg two inches shorter than the other and no hip sockets’, and of course, that lisp as well. Toyah went through a great deal of real physical suffering to become the astonishingly attractive person that she still is. She has never been particularly interested in either men or women as sexual partners, but she is married to a man whom she describes as her soulmate. She has been sterilised – pregnancy and childbirth would have been dangerous for her, given her past medical history. So Toyah has always been ‘outside’, in a sense, alien to everything, accountable to nothing, including her own biology. She really did cut all those strings.


Toyah Willcox’s official website can be found here.

A Sad Tale’s Best for Waugh-ton


Long time no blog post, and the reason for my recent silence is that when I’m not writing about Muriel Spark, I work in university administration, and we’ve just been through our Undergraduate Examinations Boards. If I had access to a font that could render the words ‘Examinations Boards’ in a typeface that looked as if it were made up of blood, sweat and tears, believe me, I would have used it right there. There was certainly a lot of sweat; quite a few tears dribbled out before I could stop them; and given the number of papercuts I inflicted on myself whilst sifting through piles of undergraduate essays, marksheets, moderation reports, and so on and so on, I can truthfully say there was also a certain amount of blood.



However, it’s all over bar the shouting now, so I’ve been catching up with a few old friends this weekend: my laundry basket, for example; my long-neglected oboe; and, as you can see, my blog. Today I’d like to write about a couple of books I’ve read recently, The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton and A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. Now, I’ve lumped these books together because they contain scenes of a similar nature: a married couple seeking a divorce organise a ‘clandestine’ meeting between the male partner and another woman, who is paid for her services. This meeting, however, is witnessed by paid detectives and documented accordingly. Arrangements of this kind were made prior to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937. Before this legislation, it was possible for a man to divorce a woman on the basis that she had committed adultery, but women were required to provide proof of the man’s adultery, hence the need for a make-believe assignation. In Wharton’s novel, Nick and Susy’s marriage appears initially to have broken down because Priggish Nick can’t get off his sanctimonious high horse; Lady Brenda is the adulterous party in Waugh’s novel, but an aristocratic divorce would almost certainly have made it into the papers in the early 1930s, so an assignation would have been staged to salvage whatever was left of Brenda’s reputation thereby allowing her to continue to move in the higher social circles.

Nick Lansing in the Wharton novel never does meet with his mystery woman at Fontainebleau: he comes back for Susy instead. And once again, I find myself wanting to rewrite the ending of a novel. Wharton does sad endings so well, you see. I blubbed at The House of Mirth and howled over The Age of Innocence. I am still devastated by Ethan Frome, which has to be The Saddest Book I Have Ever Read Ever. And I think Glimpses would have been a much better book if Susy had married Streffy and Nick had come to his senses too late. There’s a lovely little tragic ending for you, right there. But oh no – Susy deserts Streffy and then comes over all Won’t Someone Think Of The Children, and it’s just nauseating, frankly. I preferred her when she was an unscrupulous scrounger. She was more fun.

The picture below shows a scene from the musical of Glimpses(!!), although I can’t tell what’s going on. It looks like Nick and (I’m guessing) Cora warbling excitedly over a shard of some sort of pot.


I’m afraid A Handful of Dust also proved to be unsatisfactory. It was all going really well until Waugh sent Tony off to Brazil, and then I wondered whether I’d picked up the wrong book by mistake – what’s this? Where’s everyone gone? Why is Tony in Brazil? What the chuff is going on? Waugh apparently finished his novel by Sellotaping one of his short stories on to the end, so it really is a book of two halves and the first half is infinitely superior. The novel’s ending was rewritten for publication in the States (because the short story had already appeared there), and while the alternative ending is a better fit, I just don’t believe in Tony’s implied affair with Viola Chasm. The whole thing is a great shame, because I was really enjoying the novel up until the Brazil bit, and I even got all emotional about the death of poor little John Andrew. Immediately once I’d read that part, I texted a friend to tell him that I would never forgive Brenda Last for that ‘oh thank God’. I don’t care what happens to her now, I said. She can die in the gutter for caring more about her feckless namby-pamby lover than her own little boy, I said.

The picture below shows the divine and effortlessly beautiful Kristen Scott-Thomas as Brenda Last.


Well, there you have it. The lessons here, my friends, are: (1) stick to what you’re good at (sad endings); and (2) don’t pack your hero off to die in Brazil just as things are getting really interesting at home.

It Could Have Been So Good: Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’


I was bowled over recently when Roy confessed to never having read Rebecca. ‘What?’ I spluttered. ‘But I’m always going on about it! Do you mean you’ve just been pretending to understand what I was talking about?’ Shocking, yes, I know. I immediately put aside my glass of red and hoofed it upstairs to grab my copy from the shelf. Roy is now in the process of filling this unacceptable gap in his knowledge.

Du Maurier’s novel has been the subject of at least two sumptuous adaptations for film and one very dodgy amateur stage production that I saw a few years ago in Plymouth, in which the actor playing the second Mrs de Winter had failed to button her dress properly so when she sat down on the centre-stage sofa, every member of the audience could see her rather dull knickers. No knickers, but plenty of cleavage in the image above which is, of course, a still from the celebrated Hitchcock screen adaptation, depicting the moment when evil old Mrs Danvers is trying to persuade the new Mrs de Winter (whose own name is never revealed) to chuck herself out of the window. The same moment is shown in the image below, from the screen version starring Emilia Fox as Mrs Deedoubleyoo and Diana Rigg as Mrs Danvers. I particularly like the effect of the reflection – it makes the second wife look as if she’s a ghost already:


Forget knickers and cleavage, this latter version goes straight to the full-frontal both-breasts shot and Emilia Fox’s nipples are staring you in the face before you can say ‘Goodness, I don’t remember this bit, is it in the book?’ All a bit unnecessary, I think, especially as the debate still rages over the actual extent of the sexual activity between Maxim and his second wife. It’s even been suggested that the newly-weds don’t enjoy any kind of physical intimacy until the night of Maxim’s confession. Charles Dance and Emilia Fox certainly do get it on in this adaptation, however, which to me looks a bit like interpreting the text liberally enough to allow for an ‘artistically justified’ booby shot.

Anyway, jarring as it is, this isn’t really what I want to write about. The point I’d like to make is that Rebecca could have been a much better book if Maxim really had loved Rebecca and if she really had been everything we believe her to be until we learn the ‘truth’*. As a study of jealousy, the first half of this novel is an absolute masterpiece. The second-best second wife, dowdy, timid and self-effacing, believes herself to be in the unenviable position of trying to take the place of a woman who will always be young and beautiful, who will never grow old, and who didn’t live long enough for her husband to tire of her. Du Maurier’s writing here is absolutely superb. The second wife becomes gradually more and more obsessed with Rebecca, recreating her image and bringing her to life again in many and various situations such as unpacking the valuable china cupid which is later broken. Aided by Mrs Danvers in particular, she constantly compares herself to the beautiful and much-beloved first wife and finds her own self wanting.

But the narrative goes downhill once Maxim spills the beans, and then the story turns into a thriller in which it becomes imperative to demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction that Rebecca committed suicide rather than being murdered – which she did, in a way. How much better the book would have been if Rebecca had died in a freak boating accident after all, leaving Maxim alone and lovelorn, only to marry again quickly in an attempt to find happiness with another. The second wife would have been driven insane by the knowledge that she could never be another Rebecca, that her husband had been lost to her from the start. The only ending that book could have had would be the second not-good-enough wife chucking herself out of the window after all. Much better. In fact, if I fancied myself as a creative writer, I’d rewrite Rebecca along those lines and I bet the new version would be a corker. The trick, of course, which was adopted in both screen adaptations discussed here, is never to show Rebecca. Her myth mustn’t be punctured. It has to be left to the reader/viewer to create their own mental image of the perfect wife for Maxim: tall, slim, elegant, staggeringly beautiful, the perfect hostess; someone who can ride a horse and who knows a lot about china. Actually, the Dance-Fox adaptation did show an actor’s back and her mouth, and even that was too much. Rebecca needs to be left out of it entirely, so the reader/viewer can experience the same mental processes as the second Mrs de Winter and is given a free hand to invent an impeccable and irreplaceable Rebecca. Pitted against that, who wouldn’t chuck themselves out the window?

*In recent years, critics have leapt to Rebecca’s defence, pointing out that Maxim’s version of events must be weighed against his own background and personality; also, Rebecca is dead and cannot speak for herself. I don’t know how far I agree with these arguments because they are written and presented within a theoretical context that has its own agenda, but they do bear some scrutiny and are certainly worth further consideration.