The Narrative Perspective in “Fanny and Annie” by D.H.Lawrence
The “Fanny and Annie” short story is part of D.H. Lawrence’s “England, my England” short story collection.
D.H. Lawrence is the first writer in English with a truly international reputation to have come from the working class, and this is reflected in his work both in terms of subject matter and some of his attitudes. Many of his short stories, for instance, deal with elemental conflicts between men and women, but are set amongst ordinary working people. “Fanny and Annie” is no exception from the rule, as it presents the potential marriage between Fanny, a lady’s maid and Harry, a foundry worker, all taking place in a very realistic working class community.
As in most of his short-stories, in “Fanny and Annie” too, D.H. Lawrence changes his manner of writing from one scene to the next, being sometimes plain and direct, sometimes lush and florid, while sometimes he intrudes in his narrative to deliver lectures in a style which is flagrantly rethorical and often incantatory. It is this aspect of Lawrence, the seer, the prophet that could most closely describe the type of narrator which he chooses for his writings. The narrative voice is omnipresent, closely focused on the main character, Fanny, as she progressively gets to the final decision of marrying Harry in spite of all the town gossip. In addition, the voice describes the woman’s thoughts and reveals portions of her past, as if all-knowing. It anticipates future scenes and even the reintegration of Fanny, a personality aspiring for the higher middle-class, into the working class society she once belonged to.
But the first purpose of this voice is to provide a realistic setting of the “Fanny and Annie” story.
And no reader can complain that this small town, in which people go to church every Sunday, Mrs Nixon beats her “pathetic, drunken, red- nosed second husband”, or in which Mrs. Goodall, Harry’s mother struggles to keep the family together does not create a credible tough-living world of work. Once the setting is established, the narrative voice can structure the plot. Though at first the narrative structure doesn’t seem that evident, at a closer look three episodes can be shaped up. The first one is the one in which Fanny arrives back in the town to meet Harry and her Aunt. In the second one Fanny pays a visit to Harry’s family, especially his mother. While in the third, she witnesses the incident at the Chapel and goes back to Harry’s house, where she decides to stay. These scenes are a symbol of Fanny’s re-absorption into the working class community, a process which takes place progressively: first Fanny comes back in contact with individuals, then with Harry’s family, while in the end she is exposed to the whole community. As I already mentioned, this narrative structure is too weak for the plot.
As a consequence, the narrative voice complements it with a stronger psychological structure. All throughout the story there is a constant conflict between Fanny’s conscious voice (the one that tells her she could have belonged to the higher layers of society, the one that makes her despise Harry) and her unconscious drive (that makes her feel attracted to Harry, in a carnal way). The psychological point of view could also help us explain the title of the short-story. If the conflict had been exterior, the story should have been called “Fanny and Harry”. But it is not the difference of class that makes Fanny hate her future husband, but the way in which she perceives this difference. She is the one that failed the chance to be part of middle or higher class and she cannot bear the thought that Harry has come back from her working class past to haunt her. He is a remembrance of her failure, and that’s why she cannot stand him. In the title, this refusal to accept her working class destiny is expressed through Annie, a low girl who spends her nights in pubs and who, presumably, bears Harry’s child. She is the metaphor of what Fanny could have become, the lowest avatar of this working class universe.
Because of the psychological dimension, it is quite obvious that the author uses “telling” a lot more than “showing”. According to Wayne C. Booth, “telling is the trick of going beneath the surface of the action to obtain a reliable view on a character’s mind and heart”. Or, “Fanny and Annie” begins with this very scene in which Fanny examines Harry, unchanged for so many years, from the safety of the train arriving to the train station. Telling is used to constantly remind the conflict between Fanny’s conscious and subconscious, to highlight her fear and despise of mediocrity, and mostly of the content with such mediocrity, that Harry seems to have reached. Sometimes the author even chooses to get outside the character and comment upon her life with a dramatic tone: “Poor Fanny! She was such a lady, and so straight and magnificent. And yet everything seemed to do her down. Every time she seemed to be doomed to humiliation and disappointment, this handsome, brilliantly sensitive woman, with her nervous, overwrought laugh”. A notable scene in which Lawrence chooses to show rather than tell is the climax. He prefers to let Mrs Nixon talk on behalf of her pregnant daughter, while Fanny watches the scene mesmerized. Her passiveness, along with the passiveness of the narrative voice, further deepens the gap between her noble nature and the low nature of the society she is now part of. The scene is conferred a theatrical nature.
We could say that the narrative voice also shapes a dramatic tone, with ironic nuances. The dramatism is generated by the clash between the two cultures, while the narrator takes Fanny’s predicament seriously and clearly presents the limitations in Harry as a potential husband. Yet, Harry is presented with a particular self-consciousness which is quite troubling. The climax scene on the other hand, is a mildly amusing piece of public embarrassment. Notable is the fact that the narrative voice does not take sides. It takes a morally neutral stance to the subject and lets “Fanny and Annie” to speak for itself, most of the times.