Different tenses in the same novel: Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Yong Jo

Member
"South Korea - Korean"
Hello, everyone

Dickens used two different tenses in that novel; past and present.
Most of chapters are written in the past tense as like other novels.
But in Chapter VII.MR WEGG LOOKS AFTER HIMSELF, he suddenly uses
the present tense for almost all of texts by all characters.
Is it his intention or mistake?
If intentional, for what Dickens do so?

Here are short texts of it:
- Mr Venus dives, and produces another muffin, yet untoasted;
- Silas Wegg, being on his road to the Roman Empire, approaches it by way of Clerkenwell. The time is early in the evening; the weather moist and raw.
- Mr Wegg nods to the face, ‘Good evening.
 
  • dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Dickens used two different tenses in that novel; past and present.
    Most of chapters are written in the past tense as like other novels.
    But in Chapter VII.MR WEGG LOOKS AFTER HIMSELF, he suddenly uses
    the present tense for almost all of texts by all characters.
    Is it his intention or mistake?
    It cannot be a mistake. How could he accidentally (by mistake) use the wrong tense for a whole chapter? That chapter probably took months to write.

    If intentional, for what Dickens do so?
    I have not read the book, so cannot make any guesses about his reason. And the book is 150 years old. But in modern English, when you are telling a story, two ways of telling it are normal: all past tense, and all present tense.
     

    Yong Jo

    Member
    "South Korea - Korean"
    It cannot be a mistake. How could he accidentally (by mistake) use the wrong tense for a whole chapter? That chapter probably took months to write.



    I have not read the book, so cannot make any guesses about his reason. And the book is 150 years old. But in modern English, when you are telling a story, two ways of telling it are normal: all past tense, and all present tense.
    Thank you for your kindness. But I have no solution for this matter yet because I want to translate the novel. I should use the same tense in my language in all chapters or if one different tense only in Chapert VII, I should know the correct intention of Dickens.
     

    waltern

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    I have not read it, but of course agree with dojibear that it is impossible that it was a mistake!

    My guess is that the switch of tense was intended to bring the reader "into" the novel, and make the characters and action seem more immediate - was that your response as a reader?

    Chapter 1 - John went to the store (this happened in the past)
    Chapter 2 - Mary went to work (this happened in the past)
    Chapter 3 - Bob is going to school (this is happening now!)
     
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    Yong Jo

    Member
    "South Korea - Korean"
    I have not read it, but of course agree with dojibear that it is impossible that it was a mistake!

    My guess is that the switch of tense was intended to bring the reader "into" the novel, and make the characters and action seem more immediate - was that your response as a reader?

    Chapter 1 - John went to the store (this happened in the past)
    Chapter 2 - Mary went to work (this happened in the past)
    Chapter 3 - Bob is going to school (this is happening now!)
    Thank you for your kind comment. One possibility of mistake is the fact that this novel is the last one of Dickens when he was so old and it is not completed as well. But I wish it is not mistake, because Dickens is such a great writer.
     

    srk

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Do you use what is called the "narrative present" or "historical present" in Korean, Yong Jo?

    The title of Chapter VII is "MR. WEGG LOOKS AFTER HIMSELF," which is in the present tense, so Dickens has already switched to narrative present in the title. Narrative present gives the reader a sense that he is witnessing the events as they happen.
     
    Yong Jo, Charles Dickens was a professional writer, and a great one as you note. Many of his chapters were first serialized in chapters submitted to newspapers, who of course have editors, before they were finally published together in book form.

    His present-tense chapter, I assure you, was not a mistake. It was a deliberate choice to focus on just one character, and causes us to feel we are witnessing the events as srk suggests.

    I've read other books that have done the same thing. Most chapters written in the past, and then all of sudden one in the present. It makes you wake up and sharpen your focus.
     
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    Yong Jo

    Member
    "South Korea - Korean"
    Do you use what is called the "narrative present" or "historical present" in Korean, Yong Jo?

    The title of Chapter VII is "MR. WEGG LOOKS AFTER HIMSELF," which is in the present tense, so Dickens has already switched to narrative present in the title. Narrative present gives the reader a sense that he is witnessing the events as they happen.
    Thank you for your comment.
     

    Yong Jo

    Member
    "South Korea - Korean"
    Yong Jo, Charles Dickens was a professional writer, and a great one as you note. Many of his chapters were first serialized in chapters submitted to newspapers, who of course have editors, before they were finally published together in book form.

    His present-tense chapter, I assure you, was not a mistake. It was a deliberate choice to focus on just one character, and causes us to feel we are witnessing the events as srk suggests.

    I've read other books that have done the same thing. Most chapters written in the past, and then all of sudden one in the present. It make you wake up and sharpen your focus.
    Thank you for your kind and expert advice.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I happened to have read the novel because Our Mutual Friend was a set text for our A level exam when I was at school all those years ago!

    Two things. First of all, if you are looking at chapter titles, those would normally be written in the present tense (if any tense is used). The present tense is often used in summaries and when you are analysing the text. The idea is to treat it as if everything is unfolding in front of you.

    In narratives, you can make it more vivid by switching to the present tense. This often happens in oral narratives. You start off using the past tense, and at the exciting part you switch to the present tense. The idea again is that you're pretending it's all happening in front of it. This convention is also used by novelists for effect.
     

    Yong Jo

    Member
    "South Korea - Korean"
    I happened to have read the novel because Our Mutual Friend was a set text for our A level exam when I was at school all those years ago!

    Two things. First of all, if you are looking at chapter titles, those would normally be written in the present tense (if any tense is used). The present tense is often used in summaries and when you are analysing the text. The idea is to treat it as if everything is unfolding in front of you.

    In narratives, you can make it more vivid by switching to the present tense. This often happens in oral narratives. You start off using the past tense, and at the exciting part you switch to the present tense. The idea again is that you're pretending it's all happening in front of it. This convention is also used by novelists for effect.
    Thank you for your expert comment. I've read this novel for about 10 years because it is very difficult in such old English dialects and expressions. I've read from Chapter I to VI till now. I want to read all chapters while I am alive.
     
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