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What is Free Indirect Discourse in Literature?

What do the works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Jane Austen, and Virginia Woolf all have in common? Ok, ok, well *other* than being kickass female writers we still consider canon today?

They all helped develop the writing style of free indirect speech. This writing style uses third person while sprinkling in some first-person observations. It essentially allows for the author’s voice to come through in a text, while also being inside the mind of the protagonist (we essentially get two distinct ‘voices’); a delicate balance between author and character.

Here are some classic examples from each of these three writers. See if you can pick up on each voice!

‘…she dreaded that horrid place vulgarly called hell, the regions below; but whether her’s was a mounting spirit, I cannot pretend to determine; or what sort of planet would have been proper for her, when she left her material part in this world, let metaphysicians settle; I have nothing to say to her unclothed spirit”

Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary: A Fiction, 1788

“He stopped again, rose again, and seemed quite embarrassed. He was more in love with her than Emma had supposed; and who can say how it might have ended if his father had not made his appearance? Mr. Woodhouse soon followed; and the necessity of exertion made him composed."

Jane Austen, Emma, 1815

“Evelyn was a good deal out of sorts, said Hugh, intimating by a kind of pout or swell of his very well-covered, manly, extremely handsome, perfectly upholstered body (he was almost too well dressed always, but presumably had to be, with his little job at Court).”

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 1925


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