Fictional Minds

Fictional Minds

Fictional Minds

Fictional Minds


Fictional Minds suggests that readers understand novels primarily by following the functioning of the minds of characters in the novel storyworlds. Despite the importance of this aspect of the reading process, traditional narrative theory does not include a complete and coherent theory of fictional minds.

Readers create a continuing consciousness out of scattered references to a particular character and read this consciousness as an "embedded narrative" within the whole narrative of the novel. The combination of these embedded narratives forms the plot. This perspective on narrative enables us to explore hitherto neglected aspects of fictional minds such as dispositions, emotions, and action. It also highlights the social, public, and dialogic mind and the "mind beyond the skin." For example, much of our thought is "intermental," or joint, group, or shared; even our identity is, to an extent, socially distributed.

Written in a clear and accessible style, Fictional Minds analyzes constructions of characters' minds in the fictional texts of a wide range of authors, from Aphra Behn and Henry Fielding to Evelyn Waugh and Thomas Pynchon. In its innovative and groundbreaking explorations, this interdisciplinary project also makes substantial use of "real-mind" disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, psycholinguistics, and cognitive science.


“We never know them well, do we?” “Who?” “Real people.” “What do you mean, 'real people'?” “As opposed to people in books, ” Paola explained. “They're the only ones we ever really know well, or know truly.... Maybe that's because they're the only ones about whom we get reliable information.... Narrators never lie.” — Donna Leon, a Sea of Troubles

1. Background

Fictional Minds is about “people in books.” in particular, it is about the amount, range, variety, and reliability of the information on the fictional minds of people in books that we are able to obtain from those books.

A little personal history may be helpful here in order to explain the purpose of this book. I began studying fictional minds in 1995. I did this by looking at the Box Hill chapter in Jane Austen's Emma and the Waterloo ball chapter in William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair to see how the minds of the characters in those chapters were constructed. I chose those two texts because I thought that it would be interesting to examine the consciousnesses of characters interacting in groups. At that time, I am ashamed to say now, I was not even aware of the existence of narrative theory, or narratology, although as it happened this direct approach to primary texts turned out to be an absolutely inspired idea. Then once I had discovered that there was such a thing as narrative theory, I thought that it would be interesting to find out what it said about my chosen area of study. After all what could be more central to the theoretical analysis of fiction than the workings of characters' minds? My first encounter with narrative theory was with what I will call the speech category approach, and I was immediately struck by the fact that it did not provide a convincing explanation or even description of how the whole minds of characters in action were constructed. It seemed to . . .

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