The Technique of the Narrative "Annex" in Victorian Fiction

The Narrative Annex, Plot, Setting, and Characterization

Narrative annexes, as I name them, allow unexpected characters, impermissible subjects, and plot-altering events to appear, in a bounded way, within fictional worlds that might be expected to exclude them. Like other Victorian renovations, narrative annexes may appear to disfigure the structure they alter, but they at the same time reveal Victorian novelists' creative responses to the capacities and limitations of their form. Annexes are initiated by a combined shift in genre and setting that changes the fictional world of the novel, and they work by interrupting the norms of a story's world, temporarily replacing those norms, and carrying the reader, the perceiving and reporting characters, and the plot-line across a boundary and through an altered, particular, and briefly realized zone of difference. In small spaces and few pages, narrative annexes challenge both cultural and literary norms to form imaginative worlds more variously, in sometimes distracting or dissonant interludes. Yet annexes never stop the plot, but serve the story by modifying the story-world. As alternatives to the techniques of fantasy or multiplied plot lines, Victorian annexes simultaneously anticipate the fragmentation associated with modern fiction, and resemble the flexible worldmaking of prose fiction before the novel. Extending and qualifying the boundaries of representation, narrative annexes draw attention and contribute to the generic diversity of the Victorian novel, complicating the traditional opposition of realism and romance. Narrative annexes are sites of Victorian novelists' negotiation with the conventional. . . .[1]

Containing Cultural Anxieties

Victorian novelists use narrative annexes both to solve problems of plotting and characterization, and to address cultural anxieties, particularly those preoccupations kept out of the novel by the limits of generic conventions, by the prohibitions of contemporary critics, or by shared ideas about the boundaries of representation. In demarking zones in which Victorian novelists struggle to represent improbable, awkward, unsuitable, embarrassing, or downright threatening ideas, characters, actions, and social problems, narrative annexes reveal a great variety of cultural preoccupation. . . . [9]

In annexes Victorians' fears jostle with Victorians' ambitions and best hopes. While countless Victorian novels carry out their plots in the familiar territories of drawing room, pew, ballroom, and park, I attend to the exceptions. Fears of disease, of working men, of Popery, of dark-skinned others, of the poor who toil and starve in close proximity to the rectories, homes, clubs, and walled gardens of the Victorian self-image draw us down narrow alleys, through thorny hedges, across desolate heaths into narrative annexes. [41]


Suzanne Keen. Victorian Renovations of the Novel: Narrative Annexes and the Boundaries of Representation. Cambridge UP, 1998.

Victorian Web Genre and Technique