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

By Bronwen Thomas | Go to book overview

where boundaries of all kinds are eroded and outcomes uncertain. In the chapters that follow, my analysis focuses on dialogue as process, and on combining skepticism about some of the claims that may be made for the technique, with enthusiasm and joy for the possibilities that it allows.

This study brings together theories and models of fictional dialogue from a wide range of disciplines and intellectual traditions. As we will see, the subject provokes intense debate and often raises profound questions concerning our understanding of narrative and of human communication more broadly. However, to date there has been insufficient cross-fertilization of these issues and debates, or they have taken the form of brief asides on the subject. My study will be informed by existing debates about the nature and functioning of dialogue, but it will also critically reflect on the very terms within which those debates are grounded.


Key Studies of Speech and Dialogue in the Novel

Literary-Historical Accounts

Studies of speech in the novel (e.g., Page 1988; Chapman 1984; Fludernik, 1993, 1996) have contributed greatly to our understanding of the varieties of representation available to novelists and to the historical development of specific forms and techniques. Norman Page’s groundbreaking Speech in the English Novel provides an invaluable account of how early novelists developed and consolidated their techniques. Moreover, in his discussion of the specific practices of novelists such as Austen and Dickens, Page develops a terminology for the analysis of the wide variety of forms available and offers some interesting insights into the implications of these devices in terms of their perceived relationship with “real speech.”

Like Page’s, Raymond Chapman’s study (1984) mainly focuses on Victorian and early-twentieth-century fiction, though he does interestingly include some discussion of the Tintin and Asterix series of comic books and also makes some reference to advertising. Chapman’s approach is similarly grounded in linguistic theory, although Chapman focuses much more on the sounds and prosodic elements related to the representation of speech. As well as providing detailed analysis of the specific methods used to represent speech in the novel, both Page and Chapman pay particular heed to issues of class and how representations of accent and dialect may reflect prevailing attitudes and prejudices.

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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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