Interior monologue

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Interior monologue

Interior monologue: A literary technique for rendering stream of consciousness by reproducing a character’s mental flow. Interior monologue presents thoughts, emotions, and sensations as experienced by the character, revealing the operation of the psyche at a pre- or sublinguistic level, where images and the connotations they evoke may supplant the literal denotative meanings of words. French writer Édouard Dujardin is usually credited with the first sustained use of the technique, which he relied upon heavily in his pioneering novel Les lauriers sont coupés (We’ll to the Woods No More) (1888).

While interior monologue and stream of consciousness are often used interchangeably, the latter is more general, encompassing a variety of techniques including interior monologue, which may be direct or indirect. In the direct, or “quoted,” form, the author approximates or mimics the character’s mental flow, plugging the reader straight into the character’s mind. Direct interior monologue entails presentation of consciousness in a seemingly transparent, uninterrupted way, from the first-person point of view, without apparent guidance. By contrast, in the indirect form — which some critics call narrated monologue rather than interior monologue — the author combines direct interior monologue with third-person narration, providing some context for the character’s mental flow through commentary and description. The character’s consciousness still comes through directly, but it is framed by the narrator and often presented through free indirect discourse.

FURTHER EXAMPLES: William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930), which consists of direct interior monologues by fifteen different characters. James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) ends with a direct interior monologue representing the consciousness of Molly Bloom, who is lying awake in bed with her husband asleep beside her; the monologue begins:

Yes because he never did a thing like that before as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs since the City Arms hotel when he used to be pretending to be laid up with a sick voice doing his highness to make himself interesting for that old faggot Mrs Riordan that he thought he had a great leg of and she never left us a farthing all for masses for herself and her soul greatest miser ever… .

Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927) relies heavily on indirect interior monologue, as in the following, final paragraph, when Lily Briscoe, an artist who has struggled to finish a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay, turns to her canvas:

… There it was — her picture. Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.

More recently, in her novella Rapture (2002), Susan Minot used alternating indirect interior monologues to tell the story of two former lovers who hook up again one afternoon a year later.