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

By Bronwen Thomas | Go to book overview

Introduction

While considerable critical attention has been paid to the representation of speech and thought in narrative, the emphasis of late has swung much more in favor of thought than speech. The thorny issue of how to define and categorize various modes of representation continues to dominate discussions, and the emerging fields of cognitive narratology and cognitive stylistics only seem to further endorse a focus on character consciousness and “fictional minds” (Palmer 2004). Yet Genette (1980, 173) has hailed experimentation with the speech of characters as “one of the main paths of emancipation in the modern novel,” while the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have arguably seen the consolidation of dialogue as an ethical ideal or aspiration in many aspects of social and political life.

A major concern of this study is to demonstrate the richness and versatility of dialogue as a narrative technique, by focusing on extended extracts and sequences of utterances rather than plucking lines or snippets of conversation out of context. However, attention will also be paid to the ways in which the versions of dialogue that we are offered may help to normalize or idealize certain patterns and practices, and thereby to exclude alternative possibilities, or to elide “unevenness” and differences.

In his essay on fictional dialogue, Ryan Bishop (1991, 58) expresses frustration with Western culture’s tendency to “confuse the map for the territory,” and I share his concern that “our judgements regarding ‘natural’ dialogue are determined by our literacy and literary tradition, not by the event of actual conversation we engage in every day” (58). Bishop is sensitive to the difficulties facing writers in the “making of a thing (a text, in this case) from a process (conversation, or speech)” (59) and suspicious of the consequences of “freezing the flux” and making it manageable (76). But while he accepts the limitations, Bishop also acknowledges the “tremendous rewards” (70) dialogue affords the reader, particularly in offering the sensation of being in the midst of an event, a performance,

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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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