Does Austen Need Narrators? Does Anyone?


Modern literary study tends to accept both as a dogma and as a mark of critical sophistication (or at least a proof of disciplinary initiation) that all narratives must have a narrator distinct from the author. Jane Austen or Lev Tolstoy cannot tell us their stories directly but only via a narrator specific to each of their fictions. In each work, we should hold this non-authorial narrator responsible for selecting, arranging and communicating the events of the story set before us. This Necessary Narrator thesis is not only false—as has been ably shown in recent American, English, French and German literary theory and philosophy of art, disregarded by those who have sworn allegiance to the thesis as a first principle—but damages narrative theory and the criticism, teaching, reading and appreciation of fiction. The Necessary Narrator thesis obscures the inextricable link between the invention and the presentation of fiction and taints the pleasure of engaging with the minds and the art of great storytellers. Examples from Emma show the kinds of features, ubiquitous in fiction, that the Necessary Narrator thesis fails to explain.