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

By Bronwen Thomas | Go to book overview

Preface

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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Fictional Dialogue: Speech and Conversation in the Modern and Postmodern Novel
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Theory 13
  • 1 - Debates about Realism 15
  • 2 - The “Idea of Dialogue” 36
  • Part II - Narrative Cornerstones 55
  • 3 - Speech, Character, and Intention 57
  • 4 - Dialogue in Action 74
  • 5 - Framing 95
  • Part III - Genre and Medium 111
  • 6 - Dialogue and Genre 113
  • 7 - The Alibi of Interaction Dialogue and New Technologies 129
  • 8 - Stuck in a Loop? Dialogue in Hypertext Fiction 152
  • Conclusion 170
  • Appendix - Last Orders- An Analysis of a Chapter from Graham Swift’s Novel 175
  • Notes 183
  • Bibliography 187
  • Index 201
  • In the Frontiers of Narrative Series 213
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