Literary historians have long made an issue of the extent to which the modernist novel broke with conventions established in the nineteenth century. One of the most debated questions is the occurrence, or dating, of an “inward turn,” a rupture with the external orientation of the realist and the naturalist novels, in favor of greater psychological depth and complexity. Such a turn has been located in the early years of modernism by critics like Robert Humphrey (1954), Malcolm Bradbury (1995 [1976]), and Stanley Sultan (1987) and in the late nineteenth century by scholars like Morton Levitt (2006) and Pericles Lewis (2007). One of the most common but seldom tested presuppositions about the alleged “inward turn” is that the linguistic innovations of the modernist period helped portray the mental states of characters in a more advanced manner. This article reviews the debates on the differences between realist and modernist forms of thought representation and uses quantitative techniques to determine whether, and to what extent, there was linguistic and stylistic innovation in how the French novel represented thought before and during the “inward turn” of the 1910s and 1920s. By tracing the use of reporting clauses and mental verbs (e.g., “she thought” and “he said to himself”) in a large sample of nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century French fiction, I measure the frequency of several key markers of represented thought in a range of novels, authors, and decades between 1800 and 1929. I conclude that these common reporting clauses and mental verbs appeared in a wide variety of texts, particularly in the French novels of the 1830s, 1910s, and 1920s, alongside other, “free” techniques, which are more often studied. There is, thus, very little evidence that such “free” forms (notably free indirect thought) displaced their marked counterparts (e.g., plain indirect thought). Indeed, the modernist “inward turn” in France, on which this article concentrates, included a continued recourse to the supposedly more “primitive” (i.e., marked) forms of thought representation associated with the realist novel: the 1910s and 1920s even saw an increase in markers of represented thought that were frequently used in the nineteenth-century French novel.

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