Academic journal article Style

Fictional Style and the Beginning of Great Expectations: Another View

Academic journal article Style

Fictional Style and the Beginning of Great Expectations: Another View

Article excerpt

I

In a recent special issue of this journal, commemorating a conference to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Leech and Short's Style in Fiction (1981), the inaugural paper--appropriately a paper by Geoffrey Leech, the senior author of Style in Fiction d dealt with "the analysis of a small piece of prose writing, an example of the 'practical stylistics' that was a prominent feature of Style in Fiction" (Leech, "Style in Fiction Revisited" 119). (1) The passage chosen is the opening "of Dickens's Great Expectations, focusing especially on the third paragraph" (119). Leech's paper is notable for bringing a positive and informed stance to its synoptic review of significant stages in the development of stylistically focussed analysis of fiction (a development apparently always onward and upward, and now at a point of "considerable maturity"--117) that have emerged in the years since the publication of Style in Fiction--itself now in a new celebratory and expanded second edition (Leech & Short).

Some of the developments surveyed by Leech reflect the influence of pragmatics and discourse analysis from linguistics, and of narratology and conceptual blending and mental modelling from poetics and cognitive psychology. These many (and many-sided) tendencies have seen to it that an exclusive (or close) concentration on the text itself(characteristic of the period when Style in Fiction first appeared) has been diffused, or at least qualified to some extent; but Leech, even as he acknowledges the value of, and various gains from, coalition and heterogeneity, is still rightly drawn to claim that the stylistic analysis of fictional text must "achieve a balance between what is observed on the page of text and what is represented in the mind"--so that, willy-nilly, "emphasis on the mind does not mean ... that stylistics has no need to relate the cognitive world to the formal features of texts" (118).

Clearly, Leech's survey has an important function, and one particularly appropriate to an anniversary conference--at once retrospective, summative, and laudatory; the tone of the paper is very much--and justifiably--a case of 'three cheers for 25 years of innovative work on the stylistics of fictional prose.' But it is notable that, for Leech, "One reason for attempting this piece of practical analysis is to illustrate what I hope are the strengths of a now somewhat neglected method, found in Style in Fiction, of focussing stylistic analysis first and foremost on the formal features of the text, letting these develop into a springboard for interpretation" (120). This is an important reiteration of a method and approach whose partial neglect has inevitably come about under the pressure of, and perforce as background to, the innovations whose value and liveliness Leech readily and generously acknowledges.

In addition, alongside its recollection of an approach that has to be seen as still being at the heart of stylistics, Leech's paper has another reminiscent attraction, since it brings relevantly to mind one of the two or three best short definitions of stylistics that I have seen, and one that chimes with a focus on textual analysis as the basis for interpretation--namely Leech's own almost-perfect formulation at that notorious Strathclyde conference of 1986: "... stylistics is the study of style (particularly in literary texts, and more particularly, with a view to explicating the relation between the form of the text and its potential for interpretation)" (Leech, "Stylistics and functionalism," 76, emphasis added). Indeed, to complete Leech's definition (whose only shortcoming is that it parenthesises its main point), we only have to supplement it with an observation made by his colleague and co-author, Mick Short, which from its date of publication (1994) can almost be seen to be cognitive avant la lettre: "The main aim of stylistic analysis is to try to explain how, when we read, we get from the structure of the text in front of us to the meaning 'inside our heads'" (170). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.