“He says she’ll not be here long.” (1) This phrase, uttered in my hearing yesterday, would have only conveyed the notion that she was about to be removed to Northumberland, to her own home. I should not have suspected that it meant she was dying; but I knew instantly now: it opened clear on my comprehension that Helen Burns was numbering her last days in this world, and that she was going to be taken to the region of spirits, if such region there were. I experienced a shock of horror, then a strong thrill of grief, then a desire—a necessity to see her; and I asked in what room she lay. “She is in Miss Temple’s room,” said the nurse. . . .

I was not free to resume the interrupted chain of my reflections till bedtime; even then a teacher who occupied the same room with me kept me from the subject to which I longed to recur, by a prolonged effusion of small talk. How I wished sleep would silence her! It seemed as if, (2) could I but go back to the idea which had last entered my mind as I stood at the window, some inventive suggestion would rise for my relief. (Jane Eyre)

Is the point of view for this work omniscient-director point of view?
If yes, is the writer and the heroine seeing the past in the present of view, in the sentence (1)?
Is the writer and the heroine thinking as if she were thinking in the present, in the sentence (2)?

*This is not for literature criticism, but for improving my understanding for English tenses.

  • 1
    If the narrator is interacting with the characters: "She asked a nurse what room she was in." then it can't be an omniscient director doing the narration. 1. because being omniscient they'd already know what room she was in, and 2. because omniscient directors don't typically interact with the characters, they stand apart and, well, direct. – Jim Mar 7 '13 at 1:56

The omniscient author point of view (not director—that would be the equivalent in film criticism) implies that the author is telling the story, with complete knowledge of all the circumstances and events, including the ‘interior’ mental and emotional states of the characters. Ordinarily the author is not also a character in the action.

Jane Eyre, however, maintains a first-person point of view. The entire story is told by Jane herself, who tells only what she herself experiences and feels, or what is told her by another character. The convention is that she writes to you, the reader, in the present about events in the past.

Tenses, then, are almost entirely to be understood as if the Reference time is a point in the past, relative to the Utterance time in the present when Jane writes. That point (this is the fundamental convention of narrative) itself moves forward in time as the events unfold. Simple past tenses refer to events at the current reference point; perfect tenses refer to events before the current reference point; events after the current reference point (but before the Utterance time) are referred to mostly using the past tense of will, that is would. Note in particular that other temporal references, like yesterday in the second sentence and now in the third, are likewise ‘anchored’ to the past Reference point: yesterday means the day before the Reference point, now means at the Reference point.

All of the tenses in this passage are of this sort.

Every now and then, however, Jane drops into a present tense or present perfect, usually in order to address her reader directly. In Chapter II, for instance, she writes:

What a consternation of soul was mine that dreary afternoon! How all my brain was in tumult, and all my heart in insurrection! Yet in what darkness, what dense ignorance, was the mental battle fought! I could not answer the ceaseless inward question—why I thus suffered; now, at the distance of—I will not say how many years, I see it clearly.

In part, this device serves to maintain the fiction that a ‘real’, present person is telling the story. In part, it creates an intimacy between the character/writer and the reader: you feel Jane is writing to you. And in part it keeps in your mind the sense that this is a narrative which will turn out to last into the present day: that it is a sort of ‘past perfect” history, with present relevance.

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