Responding to Ansgar F. Nünning’s oft-neglected call to locate the “clues” indicating unreliable narration, this essay offers a theory of what I call “narrative noise,” a sonic signal of unreliable narration (“Reconceptualizing Unreliable Narration” 105). I propose that authors sometimes deploy noise to mark a narrative disturbance, a fracture in a narrator’s seemingly harmonious and coherent story, and I support this claim with a case study of Jane Eyre. I suggest that Bertha Mason’s repeated sound, what Jane calls Bertha’s “eccentric murmurs,” highlights not Bertha’s speechlessness (as critics have almost unanimously suggested) but Jane’s narrative distortions— her transformations of Bertha’s legible speech into noise (93). By attending to Bertha’s noise, I uncover the strategic narrative evasions and obfuscations that have helped Jane conceal Bertha’s voice, degrade her speech, and compromise her humanity. Yet I also show that this same noise retaliates against Jane, destabilizing her authorial identity as a writer of the “plain truth,” for Jane proves far more calculating than her humble self-proclamation suggests (93). Narrative noise thus enables Jane to debase Bertha and contain her voice, yet it also empowers Bertha, a character largely deprived of speech, to articulate a sonic counter-narrative to Jane’s. In sum, this essay highlights how noise can signal crucial fissures in an unreliable narrator’s story and more broadly exemplifies the profits of further merging sound studies with narratology.


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pp. 201-220
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