Does the novelist, like the philosopher, need her “poor”? In this essay, Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton is the test case for the idea that narrators (and, by extension, novelists) need their characters to be poor—intellectually, physically, spiritually—that narrators might remain rich. Certain formal aspects of the novel, including free indirect discourse and omniscience (which is regarded as a ubiquitous discourse outside the novel as well), are held responsible for this state of affairs, which may extend well into postmodern forms of fiction.

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