For me, one of the most interesting features of the novel are the ambiguous slides between text that can clearly be read as a character’s interiority, text that can clearly be read as a narrator’s commentary, and nebulous sentences where possession is muddled. As we’ve encountered in class, muddling appears to almost approach (if it isn’t exactly used as such) a kind of jargon, or invented technical language in this novel. In light of the narrator’s and the characters’ concern with the concept of a certainly muddled India, and perhaps a muddled world-at-large, and this narrative weirdness, I’d like start considering each through the other in a scene between Fielding and Adela after the trial has ended.
In this scene, Fielding and Adela appear to come to a similar position about the strangeness of the preceeding events (what occurred at the caves, why she recanted, what the echoes to begin with, how she’ll deal with her engagement to Ronny), and the narrator takes over and describes their shared interior experience: “She was at the end of her spiritual tether, and so was he. Were there worlds beyond which they could never touch, or did all that is possible enter their consciousness? They could not tell. They only realized that their outlook was more or less similar, and found in this a satisfaction. Perhaps life is a mystery, not a muddle; they could not tell. Perhaps the hundred Indias which fuss and squabble so tiresomely are one, and the universe they mirror is one. They had not the apparatus for judging” (293).
If we start by just looking at the range through which these sentences pass, we begin to slowly see how unclear the gap between narrative speech and character interiority becomes, especially if stress is placed on the reading. We begin seemingly clearly, with a description of both Adela and Fielding at the “end of [their] spiritual tether[s],” here we can imagine that this statement works similarly to the previous sentence, wherein Adela chastises herself internally for suggesting that the two of them may remain in contact telepathically. In this case, being at the end of a spiritual tether can be read as a recognition of Adela’s of herself, and a recognition of Fielding’s of his own length down that line. However, it is equally possible to read this as a statement by the narrator, seeing the effect of this conversation on both characters, rather than a description of their own internal realization. While the stakes for this first sentence may be rather low, the ambiguities soon become much more important.
In the next sentence, this same tension suddenly becomes much more powerful. Depending on which reading of the previous sentence, the following sentence can be alternatively read: “Were there worlds beyond which…wondered Fielding and Adela simultaneously? They could not tell.” or as an aside to the reader from our narrator–who is constantly asking similar questions, or making similar statements to the readers elsewhere–ending the aside with the statement that regardless of which (worlds beyond, or not) Fielding and Adela are none the wiser.
The same tension is at play in, “Perhaps life is a mystery…” but by the last two sentences, “Perhaps the hundred Indias which fuss and squabble so tiresomely are one, and the universe they mirror is one. They had not…” we seem to have left Adela and Fielding far behind somehow. By the time we read the hundred Indias sentence the text far more resembles the speech of the narrator, contemplating their experience as the narrator does with Mrs. Moore on page 230: “She had come to that state where the horror of the universe and its smallness are both visible at the same time…If this world is not to our taste, well, at all events there is Heaven, Hell, Annihilation–one or other of those large things, that huge scenic background of stars, fires, blue of black air”. Somehow, as the text seems to shift between the actual thoughts of Fielding and Adela, and a narrative gloss of those thoughts, we find ourselves back into the voice of the narrator himself. This slip-sliding through the barrier between character interiority and narrative aside, blurs the lines of demarcation we might try to establish in order to give a solid reading of the narrator. Especially because this sliding occurs not only between the Anglo-Indians and the narrator, but also between the Indian characters and the narrator’s speech. Unfortunately, for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to have to leave that for another time. Maybe someone else can take this up in this format.