OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPicking through the more than a dozen stories – enough for a small collection – by Alphonse Daudet in The World’s Thousand Best Stories (Hammerton c1933) I began to realise that nearly all of them use the technique of framing the story with a narrator, who introduces it, and relays to us, a story that he says has been told to him.

This is an ancient story-telling technique, and you will find it in the stories of Boccaccio’s Decameron. In fact, those tales are introduced not only by their individual tellers, but by Boccaccio’s proxy narrator too. Those of you who have heard me read will know that I have mixed feelings about the practice of introductions, and that generally speaking, the longer the introduction the less I like it! It’s no use telling people what they’ll get out of your story, or poem, if you’re going to read it to them, because then you’ll find out what they get, and the two might not match up. In fact, your attempts to prejudice their hearing of the piece may well have damaged rather than enhanced their experience of it. There’s something arrogant, I feel, about telling people what they ought to listen for, when really, you should be listening for the evidence of what they have found.

Incorporating a framing introduction within the story, though, is a different matter. On the face of it, a similar attempt to prejudice the reader, to give authenticity to the tale that follows, the ‘a funny thing happened to me on the way to’, verification of what will come next, can add an extra layer, often of irony, to the story itself. Our narrators, by their choice of words, their tone of voice, and their overt opinions about the piece they are ostensibly introducing, can enable the author to set up an alternative interpretation to the story that is about to be told.

The difference from the misplaced introductions we add to our stories is significant. Enabling an audience to see through your narrator is an achievement. Allowing them to see through you, is an embarrassment.  The viewpoint of a narrator is not necessarily that of the author. The viewpoint of an author’s introduction, always is so.

In Daudet’s The Goat of Monsieur Seguin the author purports to be writing a letter to a poet, in Paris. The heading of the letter is a sort of subtitle to the story: ‘To M.Pierre Gringoire, Lyrical Poet at Paris’. So the satire begins. That ‘lyrical’ is to be noted, and so is the ‘at Paris,’ for rural common sense, and cosmopolitan pretension are often to be set to comparison.  With stories, it is not only who is telling them, and how, that is important, but to whom they appear to be addressed. This is a story that we see being addressed to a ‘lyrical poet at Paris,’ a beast, I suspect with which we are not expected to identify. We are reminded, several times, that we are witnessing someone being addressed:

 

‘do you remember, Gringoire?’

‘Do you laugh, Gringoire?’

‘You can imagine, Gringoire.’

 

The tale told is a moral tale, of a little goat that has demanded to be freed from the safe confines of Seguin’s paddock, to the delightful, but deadly freedoms of the mountains.  Gringoire has turned down the safe, and rewarding position of reporter on a Paris journal, but his clothes attest to the financial disaster of being ‘a lyric poet, at Paris.’ We are distanced from the recipient of the letter, and so can view him with an amused detachment, but the moral of the tale, being about a goat, might apply equally to those who are neither goats, nor poets.

Daudet tells his tale, with its predictable ending, and ends with a warning to Gringoire, and perhaps to all of us.

‘You understand, Gringoire:’ and he repeats the last line of the tale, which I shall leave to your imagination, or researches.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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