Watson’s narration encompasses the collective stories of the three main male characters and their characterization of Irene Adler. Therefore, his failure is equally theirs and points to a larger failure of the masculine discourse to properly identify and codify the Woman. With the theory of optics in mind as well as the narrative structural patterns in secrete histories as a guide, we can conclude that Watson, and therefore the masculine discourse, fails as an accurate observer because the information he obtains not only is unreliable, but stems from the misperceptions of the masculine discourse.
Although varied, a majority of secret histories have an active narrator, which provides a running commentary throughout. Hattige provides a perfect example of such commentary with an extensive preface from the translator. The text as it is framed for the English reader has a preface which presents questions as to the validity. As the initial comment on the story, the translator describes one glaring problems with narrator reliability. The first is the assertion made that the editor merely translated a novel he had read. In this way, the actual author is once removed from the narration and is therefore shielded from attack and censor. What this also accomplishes is the room for error credited between the author and the translator. The preface even admits that the translator might not have completely translated the story successfully. He states “how well I have done it, let the Reader judg.” This statement suggests the possibility of mistranslation which can have immense ramifications as words and phrases mistranslated significant changes to the meaning.
The narrator in Hattige transitions from the preface’s “translator” to the third person narrator and thus begins a layering of narration within the story. The Knight of Malta learns of the main character, Hattige, through her handmaid. Once again, the narrator argues for her ability to tell the story accurately or to provide the proper interpretations of the text. Part of the argument includes her proximity to her mistress which would enable her to convey a first person account where the narrator was also part in the action. The unreliability of the maid becomes apparent through the descriptions of her admiration of The Knight of Malta which might further suggest the possible biases in her discussion of the desirable Hattige. She provides various commentary on the vices of women asserting that “No Passion, but that of extraordinary love, can fix a Woman’s heart; Ambition alone is too weak a gage for their Fidelity”(25). The narrator provides more than just an assessment of Hattige; she takes great liberties to explain what her mistress was thinking and how she felt. Furthermore the narrator expands and attempts to interpret the actions of the main character.
This narrative style, both of layering and introduction, occurs in Watson’s opening explanation of the story at hand. Watson,...