Suspense in the English novel from Jane Austen to Joseph Conrad
Because of critical neglect, there is no established terminology to describe techniques of suspense. Borrowing from Aristotle, Koestler, and others, a new body of concepts is suggested and importantly, a distinction of tense is established, between types of suspense which relate to the narrative past, present, and future. The classical world's intuition of a connection between mental uncertainty and the physical state of hanging has conditioned Western man's notion of narrative suspense until a comparatively recent date. Eighteenth-century theories of the sublime helped to create an understanding that suspense was not necessarily painful. Through an analysis of novels by Jane Austen, George Eliot, Dickens, Hardy, and Conrad, an attempt is made to identify and evaluate the most common suspense strategies in the period's popular genres, notably the Austenian romance, mystery, and tragedy. The Austenian romance is compared to the detective story in that narrative presentation is determined by the need to control the reader's expectations, and to achieve an ending which is both satisfactory and surprising. The latter requirement may have contributed to the gradual disappearance of the authorial "voice" in the course of the nineteenth century, and a consequent reduction in the pleasures of irony and comedy. During the Victorian period, many genres are combined in the long novel, but mystery gradually advances in popularity and sophistication, to the point where narrative events are often inappropriately exploited as secrets. Tragedy involves a creative conflict between the reader's hopes and expectations, so he is permitted to glimpse the overall tragic process, and suspense is generated on the levels of theme and causaliy. The problems incurred by an inability or unwillingness to conclude structures of theme suspense are considered finally.