Traditional Chinese Fiction and Fiction Commentary: Reading and Writing between the Lines

By David L. Rolston | Go to book overview

12
Commentator-Narrators: Li Yu, Ding Yaokang, and Wen Kang

In Chapter 9 above, we saw how the narrator in vernacular fiction developed in two different directions once the "storyteller's manner" reached maturity in the late Ming. In the first line of development, the narrator tended to disappear from sight. This disappearance and its relationship to extratextual commentary will be the focus of the next chapter. In the other line of development, the narrator became more personalized and prominent. In some cases "the simulated context of oral storytelling" was taken very seriously; in other cases not. How this second line of development was related to fiction criticism will be our concern in this chapter. As with the previous chapter, the basic approach will be chronological, with detailed examination of particular examples.

In traditional vernacular fiction it was common for the narrator to step out of the story and make comments directly to the reader. This mode of commentary was part of the simulated context of the oral storyteller with its pretense that the story is transmitted directly from an oral storyteller narrator to his audience (the reader) without the intervention of the written word. Storytellers were thought to be fond of passing on moral and practical wisdom to their audiences.

The addition of extratextual commentary created another level of commentary on the story besides the narratorial commentarial mode. It was only natural that these two modes should overlap in practice and areas of concern and that they should mutually interact with and influence each other, especially when extratextual commentary was an integral part of the work's conception and not just a supplement. Certain concerns and vocabulary originally restricted to extratextual commentary found their way into the intratextual commentarial mode and, to a lesser extent, vice versa.

A major difference between the extratextual and narratorial modes of commentary is that the former was not part of the oral storyteller context. This left the extratextual commentator free to make remarks about the

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