Lemony Snicket knows just about everything about the lives of the Baudelaires, even before the fire. I know he says that he researched their lives, but he knows things that even research is highly unlikely to tell him, such as private conversations the Baudelaires had. He also seems to always know what their feelings were, which is another thing research couldn't tell him. The only logical conclusion I can draw is that he managed to find Baudelaires and asked them about every nook and cranny of their lives. The hole in this theory is that after they leave the island the last book, Lemony Snicket says he has no idea what happened to them afterwards, and that they may have even perished in their voyage.
We know from the detailed information about the vineyard trip in TCC and from some of the notes in The Bad Beginning Rare Edition (which you can find on this site) that he tracked down and interviewed eyewitnesses when possible. As for the private conversations, an even simpler conclusion is that Lemony made them up, and based them and their feelings on what he knew of their personalities and life. If you look at the private chats, he's very careful to give plausible reasons for the memories, to make them seem either childish (you're bored on a rainy day, so you paint your toenails and spill polish), or fit what we know (Sunny opening the can of milk for Beatrice's birthday cake is cute and Sunny-ish, plus a story her parents could have told that made it's way to Lemony); the general private conversations always revolve around whatever's going on, so it just make sense to have them talk things out, even if he couldn't have always known word for word what was said. For example about the memories, Violet says in the first book that they've never cooked, which would be a logical guess based on how much Lemony knows Bertrand and Beatrice enjoyed cooking, and what kid hasn't attempted to cook for their parents, even if it's a pretend meal (I did pretend meals). Someone could have told him that Bertrand called Violet Ed or relayed what Beatrice said to Sunny because guests could have already arrived when she was preparing the salad for that "fancy luncheon" (those bits are respectively from THH and TSS)--those actually could have been passed through a lot of people--after figuring out that Klaus would have to throw his makeshift invention in TMM for it to work, Lemony decided it had to be like casting a fishing line and found a plausible way for bookish Klaus to have that muscle memory. We know from The Beatrice Letters that the Baudelaires read Lemony's work after leaving the island and have complaints, so I think it's fair to say Lemony did his best where the general public is concerned, but some things were obviously wrong. Now the fun thing is figuring out what you personally view as a true Baudelaire memory that Lemony was able to piece together, and what things you think Lemony understandably fabricated.
To expand just slightly on lorelai's answer, I think it is reasonably clear that dedicated research, in the universe where the books take place, can produce much more exhaustive and detailed results than similar processes would in the real world.
We also see that the Baudelaires tell their entire story (up to that point) to Hector in TVV, and they later recounted bits and pieces to others; Mr. Poe might also have known some of it (although whether he is a credible witness or not is up for debate). I can't remember how much of their story Quigley is told, but they certainly had the chance to tell him just about everything and there are probably other people who could have heard the Baudelaire's story from the Baudelaires.
I think it's not implausible that Klaus could have a near-perfect memory (hyperthymesia is probably the best word to use; "photographic memory" and "eidetic memory" are more common but less accurate terms), so that could explain how the exact words of every conversation the Baudelaires had could end up being recorded. Lemony describes Klaus as being able to recall almost every detail from every book he's ever read, so being able to recall almost every conversation he's ever had doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to me. Maybe Lemony found Klaus' commonplace book at some point, or someone else found it and took pictures of it or something, and he got most of the story from there. Or Klaus could have told his story to someone else with hyperthymesia (Dewey?).
Some of these explanations may not be possible if we take the word of ASOUE as exact truth, but the reliability of ASOUE is exactly what we're questioning here. So for instance, if I recall correctly, Klaus did not have enough time alone with Dewey in TPP to describe everything that had happened in the series up until then, but if TPP got even the tiniest detail about their encounter wrong then it could be possible. So ASOUE could be very nearly perfect.
But in the end, as teleram suggests, suspension of disbelief is probably the best answer, but it's also the laziest, cheapest and most boring.
Actually, I wrote a passage on this in my SRP (a large paper you have to write towards the end of the Danish equivalent of college). I wrote about the relationship between author and narrator in epic fiction, and ASOUE was one of the works I picked to use as examples. Here's the relevant passage:
Regarding the choice between the narrator's person and viewpoint, the final expression of the text directly depends on the combination of these. For example, Appendix 1 shows that A Series of Unfortunate Events makes use of an omniscient, explicit first-person narrator. On the surface, this appears a bizarre combination, since a first-person narrator, inherently being a character within the narrative's reality, cannot know other characters' inner thoughts for certain. Nevertheless, the author, Daniel Handler, allows his narrator, Snicket, to announce the protagonists' feelings in relation to many events in the series. One effect of this is the feeling of identification discussed in the previous section; another is the implicit encouragement of the reader to question Snicket's reliability. Snicket admits his own fallibility on several occasions, stating that there are things he does not know and details he cannot account for – but when presenting the inner thoughts of the protagonists, inherently impossible for him to know, no such admissions are made. As a reader, you ask yourself: ”What else is Snicket hiding from me?”. This way, Daniel Handler uses the combination of the omniscient – and explicit narrator to reinforce the unreliability of his narrator.
The reason this maneuver works in the first place is that Daniel Handler, author, and Lemony Snicket, narrator, are two completely separate entities. Within the reality of A Series of Unfortunate Events, the word of Daniel Handler is by definition always true, consequently making him omniscient – if Handler states that any given character thinks this, or is motivated by that, it is necessarily true. Snicket, on the other hand, does not control the reality of the series, only the view we as readers have of it. While the author in their god-like position creates a reality and constructs a view of it for the reader, the narrator only creates their own perception of said reality to pass on to the reader, either in a complete or modified version – this applies even in cases with an omniscient narrator, since the author is omnipotent within the created reality.
You'll have to excuse the language. It's written in my attempt at academical Danish, and translated by me just now without knowing the proper English terms for some of the technical words I used back then. The gist of it is that Snicket does know things he couldn't possibly, no matter how thorough his research, and that I read that as a suggestion from the author to the reader that the narrator is at least partially unreliable.
Post by Hermes (or Herms) on Feb 20, 2016 16:19:23 GMT -5
That's very illuminating, Comet. I can think of one other work of fiction where the author writes like an omniscient narrator, but is actually a situated character who can't know everything; The Princess Bride (which has a lot in common with Snicket in other ways, too). But there I think we are led to imagine, by the frame narrator, 'Goldman' (Morgenstern's Handler?), that Morgenstern is giving a fictionalised account of events, though something real underlies it.
DH has at least once described LS as an unreliable narrator; and Beatrice says that his account of events differs wildly in places from the Baudlelaires' own. However, eminent Snicketologists differ about just what this means.
'The difference between the two sides of the schism is that one side puts out fires, and the other starts them' - Klaus Baudelaire.
Thanks, Hermes! It sounds like I should try to get my hands on a copy of The Princess Bride. I like the movie already, and now that I have such a specific likeness to ASOUE to be aware of, not reading it would almost be (dare I say it?) inconceivable.