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Whether it is "Redefining literary techniques and devices", "Justifying Papua New Guinea Literature", or "Translating the Bible into Anuki", these offer valuable reading for the paperless student of literature, and indeed the best sort of literary entertainment you can get out of Papua New Guinea. Check them out either on Soaba's Storyboard or The Anuki Country Press.

Monday, 19 July 2010

A story within a story

 The rationale behind storyboard’s decision to prescribe Pride and Prejudice as a major text in the course Modern World Literature (UPNG) lies in the potential the novel has as the best model to follow when it comes to the idea of successfully utilizing literary techniques in fiction and drama.

Miss Austen’s novel is not entirely about romance in the vein of Mills and Boon as many readers mislead themselves into believing. Nor is it merely about five young women going out dancing at the prompting of a middle class mother who wants them to meet a rich Mister Right quickly in order to bail the family out of its incessant financial woes, both at domestic and real estate levels. Nor again is it a novel about successive debunks of certain themes in popular literature such as family sagas, dinner time soap operas and the like.

It is rather a novel about breaking away from past traditions of Elizabethan to 18th and 19th Century narrative modes in British (or Commonwealth) literature and having those substituted by a greater sense of modernity in creative energy and enterprise. Miss Austen’s technique of foreshowing in story-telling is unsurpassable. Her technique of a novel within a novel in the manner of that Shakespearean craftsmanship of Hamlet within Hamlet or drama within drama is also noted to be uncanny as much as original. Above all, her ability as a novelist to explain her intentions in setting out to write a story well in advance is noted to be trustworthy. With this last point most authors would rather leave suspense itself hanging in the air rather than tell the truth that they themselves are such poor writers after all. Who can understand James Joyce’s “stream of consciousness” in Ulysses much more easily than Miss Austen’s frankness in narrative found in Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice?

On the technique of foreshadowing this is what Miss Austen, writing the novel in 1812-13, has done. We know that the protagonist Mr. Darcy will appear unpopular, despite his good looks and the enormous amount of wealth he has. We know as well that Elizabeth will become vulnerable as far as the demands of social etiquettes go, so much so that her mere presence will provoke some utterances of male arrogance from Mr. Darcy. For the rest of the novel we won’t be sure who will deserve our pity and with whom our sentiments of identification can be shared – identification in the search of certain characters that fit our descriptions of a hero or heroine. Of course, Darcy becomes so unpopular that he is reported missing, and mysteriously so, for the best part of the novel. And what we see of Elizabeth is the sort of stubbornness in character of those that are hard to win over.

But there is your art of foreshadowing. In ordinary, straightforward modes of narrative structure you have your story, your characters and of course the change of mood and development in character that determines the progress of plot, and so on. Miss Austen’s art of foreshadowing lies in the area of introducing characters we know will become our heroes, but not before we are thoroughly familiar with the definitions of the words “pride” and “prejudice”. In essence, what she has done is simply treat those two words as far more significant than the characters Elizabeth and Darcy. These two individuals who we regard as protagonists are in fact the very entities that pose as necessary elements of foreshadowing (the smoke screens) of the two words of significance that are to come, namely “pride” and “prejudice”. Thenceforth, Miss Austen proceeds to define the two words for us through a character out of the five sisters called Mary Bennet.

A great number of novelists before Austen – and they were predominantly men – did not bother to offer that to the reader. What is my novel about, Miss Austen seems to have been asking in 1812? It’s about pride and prejudice. And that’s that.

On the technique of story within a story, we see all that unfold when poor Fitzwilliam Darcy’s unpopularity intensifies to such an extent that even we, the readers, are doubtful if he will ever succeed in winning Elizabeth over. For the moment we see some happy liaisons developing between Jane (one of the five sisters) and Mr. Bingley and well, Lydia has eloped successfully with a Mr. Wickham, and that Elizabeth, well, doesn’t seem to look as if she will ever want to see Darcy again. But, lo and behold, what do we have here? Here’s Mr. Darcy writing a long, soul-searching type of an explanation on how much he feels and cares about Elizabeth! Now that’s something. The letter is so long it virtually becomes a novel itself within a novel!

Finally, on the novelist’s techniques of explaining his/her intentions, this has been explained above. Miss Austen’s main intention in writing this novel was to simply define the terms “pride” and “prejudice”, the former meaning how much we elevate ourselves without realizing we could be stepping on others’ toes and the latter meaning how much destruction that self-elevation can cause us if we are not careful.

But storyboard believes that the most important thing to realize when reading her work is that Miss Jane Austen herself and speaking in terms of formal education went as far as Grade 5 by Papua Guinean standards. Or at best Sunday School. It was because her father served as an Anglican chaplain at Trinity College, Oxford, that she was able to gain access to the library and books in order to learn herself become the great writer that we know her as today. Her influence in the build up of plot, character development, suspense, dramatic experience and denouement has pervaded the minds of many a film director, literary critic, scholar, playwright and novelist for just about 200 years this year.

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