Abstract

This essay focuses on the “witness-protagonist”: a recessive but still identifiably major character who observes the developments of the main plot from a position on its margins. Such characters are familiar from modernist novels, but this essay turns back to a formative stage in their history to recover their forgotten political significance. Working across four central cases (Samuel Richardson’s “man of feeling” Sir Charles Grandison, Charlotte Smith’s self-effacing protagonist Lionel Desmond, Walter Scott’s “mediocre heroes,” and Jane Austen’s “creepmouse” heroine Fanny Price), the essay describes witness-protagonists as characters with an uncertain relation to the novel as a whole. Straddling the functions of narrator and character, witness and agent, they pose at once a formal problem (of where to place the character in relation to the story) and a political one (of who can participate in the life of the collective) that had particular salience in the era of emergent mass politics.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.