24 Pages

Prospero meets Adam Smith: narrative exchange and control in The Prelude

The notion that narrative ‘represents a succession of events’1 has not seemed axiomatic to everyone. In Wordsworth’s view, the distinctive thing about all narrative forms is that ‘the Narrator, however liberally his speaking agents be introduced, is himself the source from which everything primarily flows’.2

Sensibly ignoring any ‘action sequence’, which neo-Aristotelian analysts regard as the sine qua non of storyness, this more Platonic definition focuses on the quintessential act of telling, dispersed though it is through ‘speaking agents’.3 That none of these agents, nor the narrator, need be a character in the ordinary structuralist sense (an amalgam of ‘relatively stable’ person-like traits that intersect with a ‘chain of events’4) should become clear from a reading of parts of The Prelude, for its story does not so much concatenate actions involving separate individuals as trace the irresolute interaction of discursive figuresfigures of motion, figures of governance-which carry the marks of a particular sociocultural situation.