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of the reader to hold the attention from one stage to another until the end, without the adventitious assistance of complicated structure, such as characterizes a story like James Lane Allen's Flute and Violin or a novel like Henry Esmond, where the natural order is frequently interrupted by forward casts and subsequent resumptions of the narrative thread.
Another method of ordering the narrative details - a modification of that already explained
appears in the newspaper item following:
Russell H. Davidson and his wife and infant child had a narrow escape from a most serious accident at Harrison Saturday afternoon, their horse being attacked with blind staggers and falling over a 20-foot embankment into the river near the junction of Main and Park streets. Mr. Davidson was driving his bay mare through the narrow street from Water to Park street, and at the narrowest part the horse was suddenly attacked with a rush of blood to the head, reared, and then fell against the railing protecting the roadway from the embankment by the side of the river. The animal, instantly uncontrollable, fell against the rail, broke it, and then plunged twenty feet down into the stream, which at this point was not very deep. A part of the harness broke, and the runner struck against a stone pier holding up the rail, which prevented the sleigh from plunging with the occupants after the horse.
Harry Templeton, driver for the American Express Company, with the team that he was driving, was just about to pass Mr. Davidson's sleigh. He saw the accident, and, instantly realizing the danger, sprang from his own sleigh, and threw his weight on the cutter, which was toppling on the edge of the embankment. The horse was afterward rescued by John Dennis, who was lowered down to the river by a rope, and led the animal, apparently uninjured, up the bed of the river to a point where the bank sloped sufficiently to afford a firm footing. No bones were broken, and the horse, to all outward appearances, was uninjured.
Here the writer has begun with a bird's-eye view of the complete transaction, and has followed it up by presenting the constituent details in their due order. This method of securing coherence by placing at the very beginning an epitome of the entire action serves the same purpose as do the headlines in a telegraphic column. It gives the hasty reader an opportunity of testing the contents of the paragraph in question, that he may continue or stray elsewhere as his taste dictates. Of course, it is apparent that in this method of ordering the details there must be a momentary break in the coherence of the narrative at the point where the writer completes the epitome and passes on to the individual elements of the account in their chronological order. But, the entire transaction in miniature before him, the chasm is not a wide one, and the effect of coherence is not lost. This device is better adapted to the item than to longer narrative forms, because in these the question of suspense and the various devices for sustaining the reader's interest become increasingly important, and to begin by presenting the issue would be fatal. If one will try to imagine Aldrich's Marjorie Daw or Maupassant's Necklace so rearranged that the substance of the closing paragraph is summed up at the outset, he will at once appreciate the futility of this method in a long narrative where the interest is to be sustained.
Finally, the writer of simple narrative may vary the natural method, not by epitomizing at the outset, but by plunging in medias res, as Virgil does in the story of Æneas or Thackeray in the adventures of Henry Esmond, picking up later the omitted antecedent strands, and working down to the starting point, there to resume the broken narrative. A crude example of the method may be found in the following extract from a daily paper:
“Now, would n't that destroy your confidence in human nature?” exclaimed William Bourne, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen, when a jury rendered a verdict against him in the Municipal Court at Wakefield. “To go to the trouble and expense of defending a perfectly clear case and then to get this sort of treatment!”
Mr. Bourne, who owns a fine estate at Clarksburg, was sued by Duncan Williams, a Clarksburg grain-dealer, for $195, the value of corn, hay, and oats delivered at Mr. Bourne's residence, and there fed to the horses, chickens, and pigeons. Mr. Bourne declined to pay the bill, contending that he had not ordered the goods.
“I'll sue you,” warned Williams.
“Go on and sue,” advised Mr. Bourne. “I think my property is worth the face of the bill if you get a judgment.”
Williams thought so too, and decided to take the risk. The trial, several times deferred, was held yesterday before Justice Hart, and a jury of six men. Williams won his case.
This device, like the preceding, has the advantage over the prosaic chronological method in that it catches the attention at the outset. The problem is then to carry the reader over the gap
that necessarily occurs at the point of reversion to the antecedent particulars. If
momentum can be gained, the reader will fol
backward cast to what may be a prosaic set of initiative details, and will then trace the successive events to the final issue. The method is evidently adapted to those narratives in which the introductory details are not of sufficient dramatic power or interest to catch the attention. In longer composition than the item this same device is effective when the writer wishes to weave into the account minute or numerous data which, if placed at the beginning, would fail to hold the reader, whose interest is as yet unstirred. Flute and Violin or Henry Esmond, already cited, are instances of the ef
fective use of this variation from the conventional narrative order. It is apparent that in this, as in the second method, the thread of uninterrupted coherence is distinctly broken, but here, too, success is dependent upon so arousing the reader's curiosity that he will take unconsciously the leap from the intermediate to the initial details of the transaction.
B. EPISODIC NARRATION
The rhetorical considerations that underlie episodic narration are but an enlargement of those already discussed in relation to the item, because of the broader external relations that enter into the question. To the writer of episodic narration the immediate subject in hand is not sufficient; he must keep constantly before him the larger theme of which his episode forms but a part. Each event must be chronicled with constant thought of its relations to the whole. Delicate matters like "central theme," "consistent point of view," "con
' sistency of treatment," "unity of general effect," enter
‘ materially into the problem. This is a broader unity than that of the item, in which perhaps the most important consideration is that there shall be no digression from the item-topic.
The writer of history, - which is, of course, highly episodic narration,-in order to secure unity of impression, must select some central, dominant theme to which all parts shall contribute. The logical relations of cause and effect (see p. 4) will be important elements and will show, it may be, how the various episodes result in great historical events or produce eminent historical characters. The French Revolution, for example, will
not stand out in the midst of embracing narrative environment, complete in itself, but the account of that great convulsion will be presented with constant contemplation of the events that contributed to it, and of those that resulted from it. The account of a great life will be constructed in the constant light of early influences, of environment, of growing character. In each case all the episodes will combine to form one consistent, homogeneous whole. Clearly, it is easier and more practicable to accomplish this in a biography or in a limited field than in a complete history of a people. Hence, writers of history, feeling the unity of individual episodes, often elect to write upon “periods” rather than to attempt the broader themes. Thus we have Macaulay's History of England from the Accession of James II. to William III., Carlyle's French Revolution, Freeman's History of the Norman Conquest, Froude's History of England from the Fall of Wolsey to the Defeat of the Armada. Nor is it surprising that in those greater histories that cover the entire field, like Green's Short History of the English People or Hume's History of England or Grote's History of Greece, one feels to some extent the unity of the various episodes. They seem indeed "a collection of the histories of the several epochs in one aggregation rather than a separate history by itself." Yet even in these more extended "aggregations," as well as in the more restricted themes first mentioned, we are aware of a distinct unity of treatment resulting from the attitude of the writer to his subject. Throughout the historic work of Gibbon, for instance, the critic detects what Saintsbury has termed "an attitude of belittlement towards Christianity in particular, though not much more to Christianity than to all forms of ‘enthusiastic religion.
1 Short History of English Literature: Saintsbury.