Fictional Dialogue: Speech and Conversation in the Modern and Postmodern Novel

Fictional Dialogue: Speech and Conversation in the Modern and Postmodern Novel

Fictional Dialogue: Speech and Conversation in the Modern and Postmodern Novel

Fictional Dialogue: Speech and Conversation in the Modern and Postmodern Novel

Synopsis

Experimentation with the speech of characters has been hailed by Gérard Genette as "one of the main paths of emancipation in the modern novel." Dialogue as a stylistic and narrative device is a key feature in the development of the novel as a genre, yet it is also a phenomenon little acknowledged or explored in the critical literature. Fictional Dialogue demonstrates the richness and versatility of dialogue as a narrative technique in twentieth- and twenty-first-century novels by focusing on extended extracts and sequences of utterances. It also examines how different versions of dialogue may help to normalize or idealize certain patterns and practices, thereby excluding alternative possibilities or eliding "unevenness" and differences.
Bronwen Thomas, by bringing together theories and models of fictional dialogue from a wide range of disciplines and intellectual traditions, shows how the subject raises profound questions concerning our understanding of narrative and human communication. The first study of its kind to combine literary and narratological analysis with reference to linguistic terms and models, Bakhtinian theory, cultural history, media theory, and cognitive approaches, this book is also the first to focus in depth on the dialogue novel in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and to bring together examples of dialogue from literature, popular fiction, and nonlinear narratives. Beyond critiquing existing methods of analysis, it outlines a promising new method for analyzing fictional dialogue.

Excerpt

This study is a direct response to novelist and critic David Lodge’s complaint that dialogue novelists “have been somewhat undervalued by academic criticism because their foregrounding of dialogue made them resistant to a method of analysis biased in favour of lyric expressiveness” (1990, 83). Although it has to be allowed that the dialogue novel’s chief proponents, including Henry Green, Ivy Compton-Burnett, William Gaddis, and Nicholson Baker, have only attracted a cultish or niche following, the dialogue novel has been and continues to be an important influence on the twentieth- and twenty-first-century novel. Moreover, while studies of some of the individual novelists specializing in dialogue might exist, to date there has been no attempt to contextualize this work as part of a wider movement or shift in the novel form or to analyze the techniques for representing dialogue other than in the most superficial of terms. In this volume I will attempt to provide a new “method of analysis” for fictional dialogue, as well as critiquing existing methods.

I was first attracted to the study of fictional dialogue because I saw in the writing of English comic novelists from the early decades of the twentieth century an infectious enthusiasm for the exhilarating chaos that ensues from giving center stage to the free play of character voices. Scenes of unmediated dialogue seemed to me to provide the reader with precisely that sense of excitement which comes from knowing that “something unforeseen results, something that would not otherwise have appeared” (Morson and Emerson 1989, 4). Of course, this is not to say that scenes of dialogue are not highly stylized and contrived affairs, but the openness and playfulness that characterizes them offers something quite different from novels where a narrative voice or presence guides the reader and provides a sort of lodestar from which events and exchanges may be charted and navigated.

My interest in fictional dialogue also stemmed from a curiosity about . . .

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