Who said what?

Following on from my last post about quotations, it seems to me that quotations by famous authors fall into three categories. The first is things they say or write as themselves. The second is things they write as the authorial voice of a literary work. The third is things they put into the mouths of their characters. We presume that what they say or write as themselves is their true opinion. For example, Jane Austen said or wrote “I am going to take a heroine [Emma] whom no one but myself will much like”. What they write as the authorial voice may or may not be their own opinion. Austen wrote “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. Did she believe that, or was she satirising people like Mrs Bennett? Austen then has Mr Collins say “The death of your daughter [Lydia] would have been a blessing in comparison of this [her eloping with Wickham and now living with him unmarried]”. Did she believe that, or was she satirising people like Mr Collins?

For some authors, the line is blurred. George Orwell and Ayn Rand are famous for putting their opinions into their authorial voice and the mouths of their characters. Comedians often have a comic persona called “I” who may or may not believe the same things the comedian does – Rodney Dangerfield and Stephen Colbert spring to mind. For others, attributing the words of the character to the author is or could be seriously misleading. Charles Schulz is often quoted as saying “I’ve developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time!” But that was actually said by Charlie Brown. He is also quoted as saying “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia”. Schulz may or may not have believed that, but the actual exchange in the strip is:

Charlie Brown: I heard him [“that speaker”] say the world is coming to an end …
Peppermint Pattie: Marcie said the world can’t end today because it’s already tomorrow in Australia.

Schulz may have recycled the idea in the more familiar form later.

There are times when an author puts into the mouth of a character something she or he doesn’t believe. Oscar Wilde has the Duchess of Berwick in Lady Windermere’s Fan say “Australia … must be so pretty with all the dear little kangaroos flying about.” I am certain that Wilde did not believe that. 

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