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

By Bronwen Thomas | Go to book overview

3
Speech, Character, and Intention

The speech of fictional characters is often perceived as offering the reader direct, unmediated access to that individual’s emotions, desires, habits, and predilections. If a novel does not offer us direct access to a character’s thoughts, then speech is the next best thing, providing a “linguistic fingerprint” in the form of an idiolect (Page 1988) that is distinctive and unique to that individual. From this, it is claimed, “our practised eyes will make up the larger patterns of which such indications can be read as parts,” so that “it takes very little to make a character” (Kermode 1976, 18).

Such a view presupposes not only that what characters say can be taken to reveal what they are feeling or thinking but also that characters must always mean what they say if we are to be able to trust and place our faith in their speech as somehow an indicator of who they “really” are. In Jerzy Kosinsky’s satire Being There ([1970] 1997), the gullibility of the political elite is demonstrated when they assume that Chauncey Gardiner is some kind of visionary, when in fact all he is doing is mimicking phrases and expressions he has heard on television. In the case of Chauncey there is no intent to deceive, but elsewhere fictional dialogue often reminds us that “human speech conceals far more than it reveals; it blurs much more than it defines; it distances more than it connects” (Steiner 1975, 229). In particular, Modernist and Postmodernist fictions have disrupted faith in the transparency of character speech, and as new techniques for representing characters’ consciousnesses have developed, the boundaries between speech and thought have become ever more blurred. Indeed, Modernist and Postmodernist writing have provoked many debates about the usefulness of the notion of a fictional “character” understood as some kind of stable textual coordinate. Instead, many critics and theorists prefer to talk of “subjectivities” that are fluid, contradictory, and much more clearly subject to social and historical forces.

Bakhtin’s dialogic theory has raised important questions pertaining to

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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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