The role of the reader

Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy in the 1939 film of ‘Wuthering Heights’

i) Introductory

In this final chapter I wish to focus entirely on the reader and the reader’s role in relation to the various levels of discourse existing in a text.  The factors affecting the reader’s understanding of the text can be roughly organised into three categories as follows.  Firstly, the organisation of the text or its physical form, that is, the words and sentences on the page and the way in which these sentences are punctuated and arranged.  I took a brief look at punctuation in chapter two and syntactic arrangement in chapter three; in this chapter I take a closer look at lexical choice.  The second factor affecting a reader’s understanding is that of her empirical knowledge of the world.  The reader brings to the text a vast store of background knowledge which enables her to give shape and meaning to the words on the page.  The final factor is that of education: readers are distinguished by their varying levels of literary competence.  In order to answer the question of how a reader makes sense of a text, I shall be exploring the following four areas in turn: a) individual word meaning, in which I hope to demonstrate that a reader’s understanding of lexical items constitutes far more than a simple dictionary definition; b) schemata, frames and scripts show how a reader applies her knowledge of the world to the texts she reads; c) literary competence adds the more specific dimension of the reader’s knowledge of other texts, of which d) literary allusion is an even more specialised instance.  Categories c) and d) carry important implications for the questions proposed in this thesis.  The extent to which linguistics can be of service to the literary critic is compromised by the necessity of a high degree of literary competence in order to fully appreciate and understand a literary text; but it was never my intention to assert that linguistics alone is sufficient to achieve such an understanding.  The specialised knowledge of the critic comes into play where it is vital, for instance, to be able to accurately identify a literary allusion or to be able to situate a text within a particular genre; I will be investigating these questions in more detail, pertaining to problematic allusions in Brontë’s Wuthering Heights – allusions which arguably contain the key to a fuller understanding of the text.  As for the question of form and content, I stand by my conviction that they are inseparable but I concede that once the reader is taken into account the definition of ‘content’ becomes more complicated; however, I feel that the arguments presented here add weight to the assertion that literary language functions differently rather than detracting from the proposition that form and content are one and the same.

Before addressing the question of how a reader makes sense of a text, I intend to take a brief overview of the development of reader-response criticism and to comment further on the roles of author and reader as respective producer and consumer of texts.

In 1959 Michael Riffaterre wrote a paper entitled ‘Criteria for Style Analysis’ in which he suggests that since we cannot know the author’s intentions, it is better to focus on the response of the reader.[1]  Riffaterre recognised early on the displaced interaction that distinguishes the literary text from other types of text, and he writes that the author has a more difficult task than the speaker due to the absence of extra-linguistic means of expression: the author has limited graphological means at his disposal – for instance, the examples from Pratchett’s work in chapter two – but these means are a poor substitute for the expressive capabilities of tone, gesture, volume, pitch, et cetera.  The author, writes Riffaterre, is therefore more conscious of the message, and he introduces unpredictable elements, or stylistic devices, into his work in order to ensure that the message is decoded as he intended.  These stylistic devices, according to Riffaterre, can be identified by the average reader (AR); however, Riffaterre reserves the right to correct that which the AR finds and he classifies typical AR errors as faults of omission or addition.

Stanley Fish also deplores the exclusion of the reader in literary history, but he parts company with Riffaterre in that he does not believe it possible to divide a text up into utterances that may or may not have a literary effect.  Fish has made several important contributions to reader-response criticism through the formulation of his ‘affective stylistics’.  He argues that meaning cannot be extracted from a literary work, but is to be found in the reader’s experience of reading it: he writes that the experience of an utterance is its meaning.[2]  Fish’s method involves ‘an analysis of the developing responses of the reader in relation to the words as they succeed one another in time’,[3] and this basic premise means that at times his arguments come dangerously close to the idea of form enacting content; nevertheless, the value of Fish’s work should not be underestimated.  Fish’s method compels the critic to ask what a certain text or part of a text does, rather than what it means, a question that reflects Fish’s focus on experience rather than extraction; in addition, Fish draws attention to the temporality of the reading experience, in that the reader responds to a temporal flow in a left to right direction, at least in texts written in English.[4]  The effect of this reading experience is lost in the activity of criticism, writes Fish, and he states that it is criticism, not reading, that loses sight of the text.  The temporal model posited by Fish among others has at least one ramification for the form/content argument: if content is produced by the reader’s experience of reading in a temporal framework, then some content is inevitably lost if the reader does decide what the text ‘is about’; the clues, false trails and red herrings, are, for Fish, part of the meaning of the text in that they constitute part of the reading experience.  Carole Berger writes in support of this argument in her paper on Jane Austen’s villains:

although the spatial metaphor of recent decades has produced much useful criticism, it has obscured the fact that form also has a temporal dimension, manifest in the reader’s sequential experience of a work.  My analysis depends on the assumption that meaning is generated not only by the interpretation of a character’s qualities and development in relation to the work as a whole, but also through the process of apprehending a character as we read.[5]

Berger adds a useful footnote: ‘to the extent that the effects described depend on the reader’s ignorance of future developments, they obviously apply only to a first reading.  Subsequent readings yield different pleasures’.[6]  One is only fooled by Willoughby and Frank Churchill once!

Another critic interested in reader response is Steven Mailloux, who provides a useful overview of reader-response criticism in his paper ‘Learning to Read: Interpretation and Reader-Response Criticism’.  Mailloux summarises the work of various critics including Wolfgang Iser and Stephen Booth, and he adds to their arguments his own premise that

every critical approach embodies a set of interpretive conventions used to make sense of literary texts.  Such interpretive conventions are shared procedures for creating meaning, and they consist of interpretive assumptions manifested in specific critical moves.[7]

Indeed, in a separate paper Mailloux demonstrates how critics have made sense of a ‘maimed’ text; the fact that they were able to do so at all indicates how powerful these interpretive conventions can be.[8]  According to Mailloux’s reasoning, the reader/critic is a member of an interpretive community, and the ‘history of literary criticism is a chronicle of the changes in…shared interpretive strategies’.[9]  Furthermore, Mailloux neatly summarises the different roles assigned to the reader: she is in the text as narratee, or she dominates over the text as the creator of meaning, or she produces meaning by interacting with the text.  The reader has also collected an assortment of epithets: she is implied, educated, ideal, informed, et cetera.  The implied reader is a product of the displaced interaction between addresser and addressee, and she is defined by Leech and Short as follows:

because the author can assume knowledge which any particular reader might not necessarily have, we have to conclude that the addressee in literary communication is not the reader, but…the IMPLIED READER; a hypothetical personage who shares with the author not just background knowledge but also a set of presuppositions, sympathies and standards of what is pleasant and unpleasant, good and bad, right and wrong.[10]

Authorial correspondence, drafts, and so on, reveal some authors’ concern that the reader should resemble the implied reader as closely as possible.  One authorial strategy with this aim in mind is to refer directly to the reader – Fielding’s guiding hand in Tom Jones is an oft-quoted example.  The reader shares a relationship not only with the author, but also with the narrator and/or the characters; often the reader is called upon to judge the characters, and by extension, herself.  The technique of encouraging self-judgment is an authorial means for educating the reader, assuming that the role of literature is to edify.  Mailloux’s reader is an active participant, not a passive observer, and Mailloux parts company from Fish and Riffaterre in his refusal to separate reader from critic:

it is true that reader-response criticism claims to approximate closely the content of reading experiences that are always assumed to pre-exist the critical performance.  But what in fact takes place is quite different: the critical performance fills those reading experiences with its own interpretive moves.[11]

Mailloux asserts that it is impossible to separate the two activities of reading and criticism and that one activity necessarily entails the other.

Meaning is created from an elaborate network of integration and cooperation between author, reader, and text.  To ignore the reader would be to place the creation of meaning squarely at the point of production, that is, at the feet of the author.  Alternatively, one could remove both author and reader from the equation as the American New Critics did,[12] and argue instead that meaning is inherent in the text itself.  But to treat the text as aesthetic object instead of discourse is a viewpoint that is currently unfashionable amongst practitioners of stylistics.  Fowler notes that if a text is treated as discourse, this represents a ‘corrective to the…traditional claim in literary criticism that texts are objects rather than interactions…. But ‘literary’ texts…do speak: they participate in society’s world-view and social structure’.[13]  In stylistic analysis, the text has come to be regarded as a message, a communication which passes between author and reader, and bearing in mind the emphasis this kind of analysis places on the text as discourse in both its production and reception, it would seem to be an unpardonable omission to ignore the recipient of the ‘text as message’, the reader himself.  As Wimsatt and Beardsley have noted, the production of a literary work may be private, but its consumption is public: ‘the poem belongs to the public.  It is embodied in language, the peculiar possession of the public’.[14]

The history of the author has been a chequered one: she has been put on a pedestal, only to be later declared irrelevant and finally proclaimed dead.  In a paper entitled ‘Against Theory’, Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels have reinstated –or resuscitated! – the author, but only by simultaneously removing the need to consider authorial intention: ‘once it is seen that the meaning of a text is simply identical to the author’s intended meaning, the project of grounding meaning in intention becomes incoherent’.[15]  Knapp and Michaels suggest that we should believe that the author meant what she wrote – a reasonable enough approach that brings us back to the guiding or manipulative author who steers the reader towards an intended meaning.  Iser bases his theory of reader-response criticism on the premise that the reader fills in the textual gaps left deliberately by this author-guide: the text (or the author through the text) provides instructions for the production of meaning but these instructions are not exhaustively explicit, thus allowing the reader some interpretive freedom – indeed, the plurality of a text, its openness to a number of readings, is one of the possible hallmarks of a literary text – but the reader is not given carte blanche to create meaning at will.  According to Iser, what the text contains is not meaning, but a set of directions for assembling that meaning;[16] my contention in proposing that form and content are inseparable is that a different set of directions leads to a different meaning.

ii) How Does a Reader Make Sense of a Text?

a) Individual Word Meaning: an investigation into the perceived meaning of the words tourist and traveller.

touristn. a person making a visit or tour as a holiday; a traveller, esp. abroad…

travellern. 1 a person who travels or is travelling. 2 a travelling salesman. 3 a Gypsy…[17]

Leech and Short invite their reader to compare two alternative translations of the opening passages of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.[18]  In the first translation by Willa and Edwin Muir, the man who has come to inform Joseph K. of his arrest is likened to, or linked with, a tourist, and in the second translation by Douglas Scott and Chris Waller, he has become a traveller.  A small difference, perhaps, but I decided to conduct a small-scale survey, in order to discover for myself the possible associations of each of these words in the minds of various readers.  The results were quite surprising, and from the data collected I was able to conclude that word meaning is exceptionally fragile, and can alter considerably according to factors such as the age of the respondent, or even the time of year.[19]

A total of 37 people were surveyed from two different age groups, as follows:

Age group of respondents (in years): Number of responses:
13 – 19 24
20 – 60 13


Each respondent was asked to write down the first words or phrases which came to mind on hearing the word tourist; the same exercise was performed with the word traveller.  The responses were anonymous.  To begin with I have summarised the most frequent responses to each word in turn before adding a few words of caution with regard to the overall interpretation of the survey’s results; finally, I have written a general overview of the similarities and differences between the two words as recorded by the respondents surveyed.  Words appearing in italics are those written by the respondents.

The word tourist produced surprisingly few references to holiday: only four were found.  By far the greatest number of references – a total of 16 – were to vehicles in which a tourist might travel, and the increased volume of traffic as a result.  Thirteen references were made to items a tourist might wear or carry, including five references to camera.  Twelve references, 11 of which came from the 13 – 19 age group, were to people of Asian descent; 11 references were made to activities a tourist might undertake, such as bungee jumping; eight references were made to geographical features (for example, waterfall); six references were made to travel or travelling and six references were made to specific places tourists might visit (for example, Germany, Amsterdam, Rotorua); finally, there were four references apiece for holiday and Barmy Army.

The most frequent responses to the word traveller were as follows: a total of 21 respondents wrote the words hitch-hiker, biker or backpacker; 19 references were made to vehicles in which a traveller might travel; 12 references were made to journeys and eight references, seven of which came from the older age group, made mention of the traveller’s occupation, for example salesperson or business suit.

In analysing these results, I found it important to bear in mind the following points.

1)  The respondents were all either staff members or students at Cheviot Area School and they were all native speakers of English with the exception of two, one from each age group: one student from year 12 was bilingual and his first language was Maori; one staff member was a fluent English speaker but her first language was German.

2)  An English woman – myself – asking a group of mostly New Zealanders for a response to these two words in particular inevitably drew some references to Poms!

3)  The survey took place during the Lions’ tour of New Zealand, hence the proliferation of references to the Barmy Army, campervans, slow traffic, et cetera; in addition to this, a recent news report had detailed the death of one woman in a road accident caused by a Lions supporter, which perhaps explains the references to death and accidents.

4)  Some of those surveyed wrote paragraphs instead of individual words and phrases – possibly I had not issued clear instructions – and I may have misrepresented these responses.

5)  I cannot judge the effect of asking for a response to these words in succession; possibly the results would have differed if I had left more time in between each request for a response.  Having been asked for a response to the word tourist, the respondent would already be thinking within and around this particular topic, and the response to traveller may therefore be coloured by the previous response.[20]  The respondents were always given the word tourist first, and there was some overlap of ideas with traveller, particularly among the 13 – 19 age group, who seemed to experience some difficulty in distinguishing between the two.  There were frequent instances of repetition, which were duly noted.

6)  Of particular note was the frequent number of references to the word Asian among the 13 – 19 age group in response to tourist; one respondent even wrote lousy Asians.  Such unabashed racism is difficult to account for, especially in a community with very few Asian residents.  A similar attitude was not in evidence from the responses assembled from the staff of the school.

7)  In collating the results, I was aware that the responses would have been different had I surveyed a group of people from the UK, like myself, instead of from New Zealand.  There would perhaps have been references to ‘Germans’ and ‘towels’ in response to tourist, and the response to traveller would almost certainly have included some very negative comments about nomadic groups previously referred to as gypsies, but now more commonly referred to as travellers.

I would like to begin this overview of perceived similarities and differences by noting those references which appeared in response to both words.  Both lists contained many references to vehicles, so clearly the idea of travelling, or of making a journey (travelling in other countries, overseas or travelling the world), is connected to both words, although as we shall see later on, there were differences perceived in the type of travel undertaken and the method of journeying.  Responses to tourist and traveller both incorporated ideas of equipment needed, notably camera for tourist and water bottle for traveller.  Tourists and travellers alike were referred to as visitors, but only the responses to traveller allowed of visitors being either foreign or fellow countrymen.  Both sets of responses made reference to lots of people and lots of money; references to fun and excitement, Poms and the Barmy Army, carrying a backpack and accidents also appeared frequently in response to both words.  The words tourist and traveller themselves cropped up in definition of each other, as did the idea of holidays, but travellers were seen to travel for reasons other than being on holiday, an idea which was absent from the responses to tourist.

The differences between the responses to these two words can be briefly summarised as follows.  Those surveyed did not consider themselves to be tourists if they were in New Zealand; the prevalent idea was that a traveller can travel abroad or at home, but a New Zealander is not a tourist in New Zealand (and perhaps we can assume that people from other nations would think similarly; I would find it difficult to think of myself as a tourist in England, even if I were doing the things tourists do, such as visiting the Tower of London, and so on).  A tourist, therefore, is someone who has come to your country from abroad; a traveller is usually someone who ventures forth to foreign parts.  The overwhelming feeling gained from reading the resulting lists was that tourists invade, but travellers explore.  The idea of long-distance travel was more prevalent in those responses to traveller than to tourist, and it was interesting to note that while both lists contained references to geographical features, there was a distinct difference between the kinds of features mentioned: tourist elicited the words waterfall and countryside, but traveller elicited desert: the traveller therefore, is connected with a harsh and adventurous terrain, whereas the tourist is placed in comfortable, easy surroundings.  One response worth mentioning – although it is perhaps of limited significance, being only one response – is that the traveller seeks, while the tourist just sees.  It was interesting to discover also that the traveller is defined by age where the tourist is defined by race; there were numerous references to young person for traveller, but nothing similar for tourist; the tourist was identified by where he had come from, for example, Chinese, Pom, Asian and American.  It would not be misleading to say that respondents seemed to have a much clearer idea of what a tourist should look like – race, costume, objects carried, et cetera – but the traveller was not so clearly identifiable.  Where the tourists were seen to come from specific places, the travellers were more generic – anybody could be a traveller.  Travellers were seen to go camping, or to do it on the cheap; in comparison, tourists spent a lot of money.  As previously mentioned, the traveller often had an occupation, such as salesperson, gypsy, or fruit-picker, but the tourist did not.  The tourists undertook many activities (sightseeing, bungee jumping) but the travellers just travelled.  The travellers got to know the country at grass-roots level, compared to the tourists who were just passing through.  Finally, although this summary is by no means exhaustive, the idea of tourist incorporated the idea of planning – the tourist was an idiot with a map who carried a suitcase instead of a rucksack – and the traveller was linked with notions of spontaneity and exploration.  The tourist had an agenda, a plan, whereas the travellers just upped and went whenever the urge took them.

It is quite clear then, even from this very inconclusive survey, that these two words are not interchangeable, and that they each carry a certain set of associations in the mind of the reader.  To link Kafka’s warder with a tourist is to set up a comparison which differs from linking him with a traveller.  To cite a different example, one might respond to Shelley’s famous poem very differently if the first line read ‘I met a tourist from an antique land…’![21]

In conclusion, what has become clear is that readers do not store words in isolation, and that in discussing the meaning of a word it is probably more useful to take the holistic over the localist view.[22]  Words are not stored in the mind in the same way they are stored in a dictionary: words are mentally linked to other words, and one word is capable of invoking a whole host of associations.  Jean Aitchison discusses the importance of the quality of the links that form between words in Words in the Mind.  She notes that ‘the quality of the links in each case is probably more important than the exact location of the various pieces of information’.[23]  Indeed, one of the words currently under discussion provides a very neat example of this point: the word backpack has become so closely linked with the word traveller that when the suffix –er is added to the word backpack, the new word formed – backpacker – is a synonym of traveller.

To all of the above must be added the important factor of context.  It is quite probable that a reader will respond differently to the same word in different contexts, and of course, literary writing is arguably a context in itself.  A word appearing in a poem derives its meaning from many sources other than its dictionary definition: it will gather associations from those words with which it is linked phonologically and syntactically within the poem itself; it will perhaps spark recollections in the reader’s mind of its appearance in other poems which will add yet another meaning dimension.[24]  Within the confines of a single text, a word can gather associations and resonances that do not apply when that word appears elsewhere: for example, in Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat, we learn at the beginning of chapter three that Lise ‘will be found tomorrow morning dead from multiple stab-wounds, her wrists bound with a silk scarf and her ankles bound with a man’s necktie, in the grounds of an empty villa’.[25]  From this point onwards, the reader is exceptionally sensitive to the words ‘silk scarf’ and ‘necktie’ since these items have been implicated in Lise’s murder, and the word ‘villa’ now takes on the additional meaning of ‘scene of the crime’.  The word ‘villa’ appearing in a holiday brochure is unlikely to have the same resonance: it would simply indicate a form of available accommodation.

b) Schemata: Frames and Scripts

Leech and Short provide a clear statement about the shared knowledge between author and reader:

although the author of a novel is in the dark about his reader from many points of view, he can of course assume that he shares with his readers a common fund of knowledge and experience…quite a lot of general background knowledge of the world about us is needed to interpret even the simplest of sentences in a novel.[26]

Every day people are bombarded with vast quantities of information, and the way in which we cope with our experience of the world about us is to organise our observations into little packages, referred to as schemata.  Fowler notes that schemata are mechanisms by which memory is facilitated and ordered: ‘we store our ideas and experiences in terms of what is typical, what we take to be the usual attributes of an event or an idea’.[27]  Schemata are organised into frames and scripts.  Frames are clusters of typical features.  Fowler gives the example of a child’s birthday party: the features of this particular frame include jelly and ice cream, and blowing out the candles on a cake.  Scripts are stories: they have a sequential ordering, either temporal or logical.  When at a wedding, the groom should be in the church before the bride arrives, and the best man has to make an embarrassing speech at the reception that follows, and so on.  Schemata are packages of knowledge shared by members of a community, and this knowledge is acquired through a process of socialisation that begins at birth.  Schemata help us to organise mentally our experience of living in the world, and they also help us to make sense of written texts.  When faced with a text, ‘readers will recognize, through cues, what kind of text it is, and deploy appropriate conventional schemata’.[28]  In the case of literary texts, schemata consist of knowledge of typical story-lines, frames for typical narrative situations and settings, and so on.  Jean Aitchison provides a very nice example from literature:

consider the conversation between Ackroyd and Boothroyd, two characters who visit a ruined abbey in Alan Bennett’s play A Day Out:

Ackroyd:          They were Cistercian monks here…

Boothroyd:      It’s an unnatural life, separating yourself off like that…There wouldn’t be any kids, would there?  And allus getting down on their knees.  It’s no sort of life…

Here, the word monk…has triggered a whole situation, in which Boothroyd imagines silent corridors and monks praying.[29]

It is easy to see how a reader can apply her world knowledge to fictional texts in such instances, but how does the reader cope when the fictional world bears little or no resemblance to the world she inhabits?  Distance between reader and text can manifest itself in various forms: texts can be difficult for the reader to access because they were written hundreds of years ago, or because they depict an alien culture.  Stories written within the fantasy and science fiction genres are often set in a world other than the reader’s own:

most fictional texts create their fictional worlds through a relatively standard use of presupposition, schematic assumption and the like.  But some texts…create special effects by assuming ‘facts’ that are so at odds with our normal assumptions that we cannot ‘take them on’, in the normal way.[30]

Leech and Short make the observation that readers can and do cope with such texts, provided they are consistent: ‘CONSISTENCY is an important aid to credibility: an unfamiliar reality which obeys its own set of laws is more credible than one which does not’.[31]  The world of Peake’s Gormenghast is at first glance bewildering and disorientating, but the reader soon learns how to construct a version of this alternate reality.  Our first glimpse into this strange world lights upon the curator Rottcodd in the Hall of the Bright Carvings, endlessly dusting the beautiful carvings that no one ever sees.  We learn that while he knows it is ‘the eighth day of the eighth month’, he is ‘uncertain about the year’.[32]  The apparent futility of Rottcodd’s existence and his peculiar indifference to the passage of time soon make perfect sense to us once we have immersed ourselves more fully in the eccentric world of Peake’s enormous castle and the lives of its curious inhabitants.

But what of those other texts mentioned previously, those that are distanced from the reader temporally?  Riffaterre argues for an analytical approach that combines synchrony and diachrony: he notes that the message survives as the author –or encoder – intended, but ‘the decoders’ linguistic frame of reference changes with the passing of time; the moment may even come when there is nothing left in common between the code to which the message refers and the code used by its readers’.[33]  Before the reader can decode the message distant from him in time, it is necessary for him to acquire some specialised knowledge.  Short writes that ‘one important aspect of the work of English departments revolves around giving students the requisite schematic knowledge-base for responding sensitively to texts distant from them historically and/or culturally’.[34]  It goes without saying that departments of linguistics can also offer a great deal of knowledge concerning the historical development of languages.

c) Literary Competence

Linguistic competence is what enables the language user both to construct and to understand an infinite number of sentences in his native language, and it is this ability that generative grammar attempts to document.  By contrast, literary competence ‘is schematized knowledge possessed by those people who have had a literary education’.[35]  Linguistic competence will undoubtedly vary from individual to individual, but the variation in literary competence will be much greater.  Those who read English at university will probably attain a far higher level of literary competence than those who leave school at sixteen, for example.  The extent of an individual’s literary competence has a great deal of bearing on what sort of reader he is.  To give a very simple example, the word raven may mean many different things to different readers.  At one end of the scale, the reader may not recognise the word at all and for him, the marks on the page will have no significance – or signified – whatsoever.  A reader a little further up the scale may know that the raven is a big, black bird; another reader may connect the word raven with stories about the Tower of London.  Further still up the scale, the reader may make the connection with Edgar Allan Poe (or at least with that episode of The Simpsons!).  The next reader might recognise the raven as a symbol or omen of death, which will colour his reading of the text.  It is a simple example, but it is plain nevertheless that the reader who recognises the raven in the text as an ill omen will continue reading in a different frame of mind to the reader who thinks of the raven as just a type of crow.

Knowledge related to genre and other texts within that genre is also a feature of literary competence.  It has already been noted that the reader of The Yellow Wall-Paper will, having read the opening paragraphs, be expecting to read a ghost story, once she has been informed of the house’s cheap rent and lack of recent tenants.  Readers of Wuthering Heights who are familiar with the novels of Sir Walter Scott will be expecting that Lockwood, a young man plunged into strange and sinister surroundings, should encounter a ghost during his enforced stay at the Heights, as indeed he does.[36]

To possess literary competence is to be familiar with literary schemata.  The reader with literary competence is knowledgeable about various literary genres, which are stored in the head as frames: ghost stories should have creaking doors, guttering candles, strange noises, and a fatally curious protagonist; westerns should have swinging saloon doors, pistol-duels at dawn, whisky and sawdust, and a drunken or dastardly sheriff.  The reader with literary competence knows what the story should have in it, and roughly how the storyline should run.  A more specialised form of literary competence is the ability in the reader to recognise literary allusion.

d) Literary Allusion

To refer in the wording of one text to the wording or storyline of another text, either directly or indirectly, is to bring to the original text all the associations connected with the other.  Thus when Lockwood refers to the brindled cat Grimalkin[37] on the morning after his tortured night spent at the Heights, the reader familiar with Macbeth will no doubt recall the witches’ chants of Act I scene (i), ‘I come, Graymalkin!’, and Act IV scene (i), ‘Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d’.[38]  Macbeth is a play with more than its fair share of murder, ghosts, witchcraft and death, and the reader alert to these references will continue her reading of Wuthering Heights with all these associations in mind.  The young Catherine has already taunted Joseph with her supposed dabbling in witchcraft; Cathy’s ghost replaces that of Banquo’s, and Heathcliff, like Macbeth, is arguably a murderer.[39]  The notion of ‘content’ is complicated by the authorial use of allusion in that the borrowed phrases carry with them the baggage of the text alluded to – provided, of course, that the reader is able to detect and identify the reference in the first place.  F. W. Bateson and B. Shakevitch write in their essay on Katherine Mansfield’s The Fly:

as flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport.  If the victim did not show some spirit, the gods would lose their sport.  (A half-consciousness of Gloucester’s dictum is no doubt expected in the reader.) [40]

The reader who does not pick up on this allusion will perhaps not form as complete a picture of the boss’ character as will a reader who does recognise this reference from Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Allusion, literary or otherwise, has an even greater role to play in allegorical texts such as Pratchett’s Discworld novels, and in this particular case the reader who misses the allusion will often miss the joke.  A reader who is also a banker explained via the monthly electronic Discworld newsletter the reference, already mentioned in chapter two, to the repeated phrase twelve and a half per cent uttered by Reacher Gilt’s parrot.  Other readers wrote in to shed light on the Discworld’s clacks system:

the Discworld’s clacks system has…origins in a system devised by Claude Chappe which spanned 17th century France.  It encountered opposition from peasants who thought that the ‘clacking’ noises were demonic and burned down the towers (think Borogravians in Monstrous Regiment).

the clacks towers were actually based on…well, clacks towers!…  From 1808-1814 during the Napoleonic war, it was used by the Admiralty as a semaphore station.  This was operated by a shutter system and could help relay a message to or from Yarmouth in five minutes.[41]

Another reader was sagacious enough to recognise the following literary reference:

I was re-reading Sourcery recently and I noticed a remarkable similarity between the poetry by Creosote and several verses from Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam….  For example, the first verse of the Rubaiyat begins, ‘Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight.’ and one of Creosote’s poems begins, ‘Get up! For morning in the cup of day, has dropped the spoon that scares the stars away.’[42]

Not being familiar with the Rubaiyat myself, this pleasant joke was completely lost on me until I read the above letter.

Much depends on the reader’s ability in the first instance to accurately identify an allusion: the danger is that an incorrectly identified allusion may lead to a redundant reading of the text.  In order to reach a full understanding of the significance of Lockwood’s first dream in Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, one has to recognise the biblical allusion in Branderham’s sermon.  In 1958, Ruth Adams published an article entitled ‘Wuthering Heights: the Land East of Eden’,[43] in which she identifies the source of the sermon as that of Genesis IV:24: ‘If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.’  The biblical text Adams supplies refers the reader to the story of Cain, who, following the murder of his brother, moves to a land east of Eden, and whose mark serves as a warning to other men not to kill the slayer of Abel.  Adams notes that the ‘mark of Cain does not identify the condemned murderer.  Rather it is protective’.[44]  Cain’s descendants likewise are not subject to retribution for their crimes and therefore, writes Adams, ‘the race dwelling east of Eden can work its evils in the assurance that no conventional consequence of punishment will follow’.[45]  This, Adams argues, is the world of Wuthering Heights and its inhabitants, and the function of Lockwood’s first dream is to introduce the reader to this world:

Wuthering Heights…is a book without conventional ethics or morality.  Emily Brontë, aware of the adjustment such a pattern demanded of her readers, undertook to assist them from the very beginning.  Thus, with Lockwood’s dream of Banderham’s [sic] sermon, she indicated that readers were to travel east of Eden, in the company of those alienated from God and paradoxically protected by him against the punishing consequences of their deeds.[46]

There is much that is enticing in this reading: Adams’ explanation of the dream’s function is coherent and persuasive.  I noted in chapter one that the two worlds of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange represent, for the reader, the entire reality of the text.  Characters come and go – Heathcliff and Hindley both enjoy an absence of three years – but the reader never leaves the moors.  The inhabitants of these two residences therefore appear to be a law unto themselves, distinct and separate from the world of law, justice and punishment which exists beyond, just as Cain lives free from retribution in the land of Nod.[47]

There are at least two problems with Adams’ reading, leaving aside the claim that Wuthering Heights is ‘a book without conventional ethics or morality’.  Firstly, Edgar Shannon argues that the allusion has been incorrectly identified, and secondly, Adams’ explication of the allusion makes no reference to the fact that Cain is kept alive as a punishment, a fact that would surely have some relevance to her reading.  I shall deal with the second of these objections first, being, as it is, the least consequential of the two.  It is not entirely true that the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights – by whom I suppose Adams to mean Heathcliff and Hindley – commit crimes happily in the knowledge that no punishment will be forthcoming.  Both men suffer cruelly following the deaths of their loved ones.  Hindley survives Frances by six years, and Heathcliff lives through eighteen years of separation from Cathy.  The suffering of these two men is in turn visited upon those around them.  Adams is wrong, I think, to compare the inhabitants of the land of Nod with those of Wuthering Heights and to subsequently neglect this aspect of Cain’s story.  The mark of Cain may be protective, but it is also what is keeping him alive to suffer:

And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.

Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.

And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.  And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.[48]

Cain is made to wander the earth, a ‘fugitive’ and an outcast; never again is he to be allowed in the presence in the Lord.[49]  His crops will never grow, forcing him to beg for food.[50]  Adams could have compared the suffering of Cain to the suffering of Heathcliff, forced to endure eighteen years in a world without Cathy: ‘The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!’[51]  But why should Heathcliff be made to suffer as Cain did?  At the time of Cathy’s death, his only crime is his elopement with Isabella, and she is an all-too-willing party to this act.  It makes more sense, especially given the events of Lockwood’s second dream, to equate the figure of Cain with that of Catherine Earnshaw.  In 1959, Edgar Shannon wrote a response to Adams’ article in which he pointed out that Adams had firstly mistaken the allusion, and secondly, that she had made the error of explicating the book in terms of the first nightmare alone; Shannon argues that ‘the two dreams are inextricably linked’.[52]  He considers that Genesis IV:24 has ‘no relevance whatever to Branderham’s pious discourse’,[53] and suggests that the correct source of the allusion is Matthew XVIII:21-22:

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?

Jesus said unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.

Shannon argues that this allusion is more likely to be the one Brontë had in mind for two reasons.  Firstly, Branderham’s sermon consists of four hundred and ninety parts, which is ‘the product of seventy times seven’.[54]  Secondly, Shannon notes that Lockwood specifically refers to ‘the hypothetical brother of Peter’s question’:[55] ‘it seemed necessary the brother should sin different sins on every occasion’.[56]  I mentioned in chapter one Cathy’s bemusement at being admonished for making herself comfortable when she hides in the dresser with Heathcliff.  To name four hundred and ninety separate sins, one would have to see small sins everywhere, including the sin of making oneself comfortable on a Sunday.  If, as I have suggested, Lockwood has changed places with Cathy during this first dream-sequence, then the reader sees that he, like Cathy, is bemused by both the number and nature of the sins, and, again like Cathy, he is finally punished for being bored by the ‘good book’.

Shannon writes that the correct interpretation of the sermon ‘advances the idea of an unpardonable sin beyond the ordinary scale of human wrongs’.[57]  Cathy is the one who has apparently committed such an offence, and in Lockwood’s second dream, the reader sees the consequences of her actions: Cathy is the Wandering Jew, the Cain-like figure, condemned to wander the earth for twenty years.[58]  But what is the nature of her offence?  Shannon suggests that the atmosphere of Gothic tradition in conjunction with a second biblical allusion in Lockwood’s first dream identifies the crime as adultery.  He writes that Branderham’s words to Lockwood, “Thou art the man! ”, are ‘the words of Nathan the prophet when he delivers God’s rebuke to David for appropriating Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’[59]  If Lockwood has taken Cathy’s place in this dream, then the charge of adultery is laid at Cathy’s feet: she had been given Heathcliff but she took Edgar Linton instead.  One may argue at this point that Heathcliff and Cathy do not actually commit adultery; but, says Shannon, Cathy’s ‘sin is marrying Edgar Linton, when she loves Heathcliff with a love that springs from a natural and elemental affinity between them’.[60]

To sum up: Lockwood’s dreams contain two allusions that must be considered jointly if they are to be fully understood.  The first allusion refers to a story in the New Testament in which the virtue of forgiveness for crimes committed is extolled and the second allusion identifies the crime as that of adultery.  Cathy, having changed places with Lockwood in his dream, is charged with having committed adultery in abandoning the man she truly loved to marry another.

Lockwood’s dreams are recounted at the beginning of the book but chronologically speaking the events related take place near the very end of Heathcliff’s story.  The key to understanding his story lies perhaps in the interpretation one places on the allusions in these dreams.  It seems entirely possible that Shannon has correctly identified the two allusions.  However, it is arguable that Adams’ mistake is not entirely baseless: the fact that the wording does recall the Old Testament story of Cain may have some significance.  In the text identified by Shannon, Jesus makes the point that forgiveness is better than vengeance and the reader is perhaps intended to recall the vengeance of Cain and his punishment for being unable to forgive his brother Abel.  At the end of Wuthering Heights, it is Heathcliff who finally forgives Cathy, abandoning his plans of vengeance directed at her remaining family, and his reward is to join her in death.  In this reading, both Heathcliff and Cathy are likened to the figure of Cain: both are excluded from the world or sphere they wish to inhabit until Heathcliff can learn forgiveness and abandon his plans for vengeance.

iii)     Conclusions

In my brief overview of reader-response criticism it was noted that Fish places a great deal of emphasis on the role of the reader in his affective stylistics.  Fish advocates the study of the reader’s experience of reading rather than any attempt to extract meaning from the text, and he claims that it is imperative that one take into account the temporal left to right flow of the reading experience.  Mailloux presents an argument that focuses on the reader less as an individual and more as a member of a reading community.  He differs from Fish in his assertion that one cannot be a reader without also being a critic and that textual interpretation is the product of shared meaning-producing strategies.

It was seen that the displaced interaction between the encoder of the message, the author, and its decoder, the reader, is arguably one of the hallmarks of the literary text, as is the text’s potential for supporting a plurality of interpretations.  This potential is not limitless, however; the author takes pains to ensure that her message is decoded more or less as she intended, and to this end she acts as a guide for the reader.  This argument is not incompatible with Iser’s contention that the reader fills in textual gaps: this is indeed what happens, but the reader is not allowed to fill the gaps at random and is provided instead with hints and clues.  Knapp and Michaels suggest that textual meaning and authorial meaning are one and the same and that it does not make sense to search for any additional meaning with reference to the author’s biography or personal psychology: it suffices to believe that the author wrote what she meant!  This argument can, I think, be cited in support of the claim that form and content are inseparable.

My investigation into the factors affecting reader response to individual word meaning also supports the claim that form = content in that it was demonstrated that words are not simply interchangeable.  At first glance, it may appear that there is little difference between the words ‘tourist’ and ‘traveller’, but my small survey showed otherwise.  Lexical choice is therefore as important in determining meaning as other textual factors such as syntactic arrangement and punctuation.  A paraphrase of a literary work involves changes to these factors, resulting in an undesirable loss of the original’s meaning.  Furthermore, I hope to have demonstrated that psycholinguistic study into the meaning of individual words can prove very useful to the student of literature.  I discovered that the following factors have some bearing on word meaning: the reader’s age, gender, nationality and attitudes; the time of year; current events; priming; the meaning of other, related words; the distance in time between the original encoding and the subsequent decoding – material for a diachronic study; and finally, the context in which the word appears.

The boundaries of what is understood by the ‘content’ of a literary text are stretched when it comes to a consideration of literary competence.  It has been seen that specialised literary knowledge such as knowledge of literary schemata, genre, storylines, frames, and other texts is occasionally required to bridge the distance between the reader and the text.  Linguistic research can help the student of literature in the study of the historical development of a language, which may sometimes be necessary to pinpoint the most likely meaning of a word or phrase at the time of writing, but leaving diachronic study aside, this is the area where the literary critic comes into his own.  It must be concluded therefore, that the stylistic study of literary texts has to incorporate literary as well as linguistic analysis.  For a full understanding of the text, linguistic analysis must be supported by specialised literary knowledge.

[1] Michael Riffaterre, ‘Criteria for Style Analysis’ in Word (1959), pp. 154-174.

[2] Stanley Fish, ‘Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics’ in New Literary History (1970), p. 131.

[3] Ibid., pp. 126-127.

[4] The fact that a reader responds to a left to right temporal flow has some very interesting implications for graphic novels and comic books in particular; indeed, in Tintin: The Complete Companion, Michael Farr notes that ‘when…Tintin bursts into the cabin to find Bobby Smiles already gone on page 18 of the colour edition, he logically rushes out to the right; in the black and white version he had dashed out to the left, disrupting the natural flow of left to right dictated by the reader’s eye’ (p. 36).  I also think it important that the effects of peripheral vision should not be overlooked – I remember as a child covering up the last paragraph of the ghost stories I used to read, so that I wouldn’t glimpse the spooky ending before I wanted to!

[5] Carole Berger, ‘The Rake and the Reader in Jane Austen’s Novels’ in Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 (1975), p. 544.

[6] Ibid., footnote.

[7] Steven Mailloux, ‘Learning to Read: Interpretation and Reader-Response Criticism’ in Studies in the Literary Imagination (1979), p. 93.

[8] Steven Mailloux, ‘ “The Red Badge of Courage” and Interpretive Conventions: Critical Response to a Maimed Text’ in Studies in the Novel (1978), pp. 48-63.  A bowdlerised version of Stephen Crane’s book was published by Appleton & Co. in 1895, and its critics fell into three camps: those who used existing interpretive conventions relating to that particular genre at that particular time and who arrived at a misreading; those who dismissed the text as incoherent; and finally those who, because of a greater sensitivity to those conventions, arrived at a reading which reflected more accurately the text in its completed state.  Mailloux concludes that this critical activity demonstrates ‘how traditional literary conventions function as interpretive conventions – shared strategies for making sense of texts’ (p. 49).  It is noteworthy that most critics fell into the first camp, and that they were those who simply ignored the conflicting evidence of the expurgated text, while the more sensitive critics in the third camp did not.

[9] Steven Mailloux, ‘Learning to Read: Interpretation and Reader-Response Criticism’ in Studies in the Literary Imagination (1979), p. 93.  Mailloux’s paper, written in 1979, reflects the contemporary reaction against the intentional and affective fallacies of Wimsatt and Beardsley.

[10] G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), p. 259.

[11] Steven Mailloux, ‘Learning to Read: Interpretation and Reader-Response Criticism’ in Studies in the Literary Imagination (1979), p. 107.

[12] In their influential essay, ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ (1954), Wimsatt and Beardsley argue that authorial intention should not be the standard by which a literary work is measured, and that even if the author can and does give a straight answer as to her intended meaning, this answer still has little to do with the actual work.  Wimsatt and Beardsley do not go so far as to place the reader at the forefront of critical attention, however – indeed, their companion essay to the essay mentioned above, ‘The Affective Fallacy’ (1954), hotly denies such a position in its firm assertion of the supremacy of the text.  Wimsatt and Beardsley appear anxious to prove that the exegesis of a poem cannot be arrived at via an examination of emotions evoked in the reader of that poem: ‘the report of some readers…that a poem or story induces in them vivid images, intense feelings, or heightened consciousness, is neither anything which can be refuted nor anything which it is possible for the objective critic to take into account’ (ibid., p. 32).  This is true, but does not, I think, adequately address or explore the suggestion that the reader gives meaning to the text: the reader’s emotional response to a literary work is only a small part of the equation.  The authors are keen to argue that meaning resides solely in the text, concluding as they do that ‘though cultures have changed and will change, poems remain and explain’ (ibid., p. 39).  This last conclusion seems to me to be overly-optimistic: it is hardly difficult to find instances of texts – certain passages in Shakespeare, for example – which make little sense to modern readers owing to changes in the code itself over the passage of time, and it is in these instances that a diachronic knowledge of the code is invaluable.

[13] R. Fowler, Linguistic Criticism (1996), p. 130.

[14] W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe C. Beardsley, The Intentional Fallacy in The Verbal Icon (1954), p. 5.

[15] S. Knapp and W. B. Michaels, ‘Against Theory’ in Critical Inquiry (1982), p. 724.

[16] Iser’s arguments are summarised and discussed in Stanley Fish, ‘Who’s Afraid of Wolfgang Iser?’ in Diacritics (1981), pp. 2-13.

[17] The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 8th edition (1990).

[18] G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), pp. 352-354.

[19] Undoubtedly the gender of the reader also creates differences in the perceived meaning of words, but I cannot comment on this particular issue in relation to my survey because the respondents were not asked to identify themselves as male or female.  I can, however, quote a personal instance in which I disagreed with a male reader over the interpretation of the phrase ‘well-developed’.  Angua from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is described as such, and while I, a female reader, imagined the character to have large breasts, my male friend insisted that the phrase meant she was muscular.  I have to say there is a great deal of other textual evidence to support my own interpretation!

[20] This constitutes an instance of priming: ‘preactivating a listener’s attention…is known as “priming”, the assumption being that if a word “primes” another (facilitates the processing of another), the two are likely to be closely connected.’  J. Aitchison, Words in the Mind (2003), p. 25.

[21] P. B. Shelley, Ozymandias (1818).

[22] In chapter five of Meaning in Language (2000), Alan Cruse describes the localist and holistic views of word meaning as follows: the localist view is that the meaning of a word can be finitely specified, in isolation from the meanings of other words in the language, whereas the holistic approach holds that the meaning of a word cannot be known without taking into account the meanings of all the other words in a language.

[23] J. Aitchison, Words in the Mind (2003), p. 245.

[24] In addition, literary texts are rife with invented words – the many and various neologisms of Gerard Manley Hopkins, for instance – and yet the reader can still make sense of these words simply by drawing on what he knows of other words, and how the separate components of lexical items function in the grammar of his native language.  The creation of new words is the subject of chapter 15 of Jean Aitchison’s book, in which she discusses ‘four types of word-formation process which are common in English: compounding, conversion, affixation and re-analysis.’  Words in the Mind (2003), p. 186.

[25] Muriel Spark, The Driver’s Seat (1970), Penguin Modern Classics edition, p. 25.

[26] G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), p. 259.

[27] R. Fowler, Linguistic Criticism (1996), p. 239.

[28] Ibid., p. 241.

[29] J. Aitchison, Words in the Mind (2003), p. 72.

[30] M. Short, Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose (1996), p. 234.

[31] G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), p. 158.

[32] M. Peake, Titus Groan (1946) in The Gormenghast Novels (1995), p. 14.

[33] M. Riffaterre, ‘Criteria for Style Analysis’ (1959), p. 159.

[34] M. Short, Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose (1996), p. 234.

[35] R. Fowler, Linguistic Criticism (1996), p. 241.

[36] I am indebted to Rose Lovell-Smith for this point.

[37] E. Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847), Penguin Classics edition (1995), p. 29.

[38] W. Shakespeare, Macbeth, The Arden Shakespeare, ed. Kenneth Muir, pp. 4 and 105 respectively.

[39] John Sutherland argues that Heathcliff is Hindley’s murderer in an essay entitled ‘Is Heathcliff a Murderer?’ (1996) published in his book of the same name, pp. 53-58.

[40] F. W. Bateson and B. Shakevitch, ‘Katherine Mansfield’s “The Fly”: A Critical Exercise’ in Essays in Criticism (1962), pp. 50-51.

[41] Readers’ letters posted in Discworld Monthly, Issue 109, May 2006.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ruth M. Adams, ‘Wuthering Heights: the Land East of Eden’ in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1958), pp. 58-62.

[44] Ibid., p. 59.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid., p. 62.

[47] Although this outer world does occasionally show its face from time to time: Heathcliff prevents Edgar from changing his will, and the lawyers can do nothing to help Hareton following Hindley’s death, to cite just two examples.

[48] Genesis IV:13-15.

[49] To be excluded forever from the presence of God having once been welcomed into His presence is Mephostophilis’ definition of hell in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus: ‘Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it./Think’st thou that I that saw the face of God/And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,/Am not tormented with ten thousand hells/In being deprived of everlasting bliss?’ Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, Act I, scene (iii), Penguin Classics edition (1969), p. 275.

[50] Genesis IV:12: ‘When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength’.

[51] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847), Penguin Classics edition (1995), p. 324.

[52] Edgar F. Shannon, ‘Lockwood’s Dreams and the Exegesis of “Wuthering Heights”’ (1959), p. 95.

[53] Ibid., p. 96.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847), Penguin Classics edition (1995), p. 23.

[57] Edgar F. Shannon, ‘Lockwood’s Dreams and the Exegesis of “Wuthering Heights”’ (1959), p. 99.

[58] In Volume I, chapter 9, Cathy tells Nelly of her dream in which the angels, angry because Cathy is unhappy in heaven, fling her back to earth.  It seems here that Cathy chooses to be an outcast, and in view of later events her dream can perhaps be read as a premonition: Cathy wishes to be back on earth because Heathcliff is there.

[59] Edgar F. Shannon, ‘Lockwood’s Dreams and the Exegesis of “Wuthering Heights”’ (1959), p. 100.

[60] Ibid.

What is literature?

Literature, s. learning, skill in letters.

Dr Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary

This definition of ‘literature’ provided by Dr Johnson was penned in the middle of the eighteenth century. Here he is as played by Robbie Coltrane in the third Blackadder series:

This is such a clever episode, and it’s one of my favourites. The line which makes me laugh every time is Prince George’s response to Dr Johnson’s explanation of the purpose of his famous dictionary:

DR JOHNSON: It is a book, sir, that tells you what English words mean!

PRINCE GEORGE: I know what English words mean! You must be a bit of a thickie.

Dr Johnson was not, of course, thick, and his definition of ‘literature’ was perfectly adequate for the middle of the eighteenth century, when the novel was in its infancy. As Jonathan Culler notes in his Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, ‘[p]rior to 1800, literature and analogous terms in other European languages meant “writings” or “book knowledge”‘ (1997:21). But the literary world has grown exponentially since then in terms of production, reception, criticism and theory, and Johnson’s definition now looks to be sadly lacking. So, if we were going to define ‘literature’ for the twenty-first century, where would we start?

What is literature?

Some of my initial thoughts were as follows.

  1. Literature can be anything written down, or any kind of text consisting of words and/or images.
  2. Literature is a crafted piece of work, such as a novel, play or poem etc., consisting of words and/or images in which the form and the content of the work are arguably inseparable, or alternatively, a text in which the aesthetic function is privileged over the communicative.
  3. Literature is both a response to and a product of its socio-historical and cultural context.

These ideas are perhaps drawing a little closer to a more contemporary definition of ‘literature’,  but to my mind, they still do not provide a clear picture of what ‘literature’ really is. I had a look at how literature is defined in a couple of modern dictionaries, and this is what I found:

Chambers Dictionary

literature n.

1 The art of composition in prose and verse

2 The whole body of literary composition universally, or in any language, or on a given subject, etc.

3 Literary matter

4 Printed matter

5 Humane learning

6 Literary culture or knowledge

…and here’s the second definition:

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

literature, n.

[(French littérature from) Latin lit(t)ratura, from lit(t)era LETTER noun: see -URE.]

1 Acquaintance with books; polite or humane learning; literary culture. Now arch. rare. LME

2 Literary work or production; the realm of letters. L18

3a Literary productions as a whole; the body of writings produced in a particular country or period. Now also spec., that kind of written composition valued on account of its qualities of form or emotional effect. E19

-b The body of books and writings that treat of a particular subject. M19

-c Printed matter of any kind. colloq. L19.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (hereafter SOED) is of course a much larger work than the Chambers Dictionary (hereafter CD), and its entries include etymological details and examples of usage, which the CD doesn’t. Hence we have in the SOED a history of the word ‘literature’, including the sense used by Dr Johnson (number 1) marked here as ‘arch. rare. LME’. By the late eighteenth century (number 2), the sense of ‘literature’ has expanded to acknowledge the works themselves, rather than serving as some kind of pseudo-adjective to describe a particular attribute of those who read books and letters. Sense 2 is less centred on the human reader of texts and more focused on literary output, although this output is still very much connected with ‘the realm of letters’. (This makes sense, of course, when put into historical context.) Sense 3 seems to be a more current definition of ‘literature’ accepted by the SOED, and this sense is divided into three parts which reflect the expansion of the term’s usage over the nineteenth century. It’s worth noting, however, that sense 3c, ‘Printed matter of any kind’ is still labelled colloq., as if it is in some way inferior to the other senses.

The CD entry for ‘literature’ is set out differently. There is no etymological or historical information, and no concrete examples are provided. The entry is split into six senses, which seem to be listed in order of decreasing relevance, with 1 being the most commonly used sense and 6 being the least. We can see then, that CD senses 5 and 6 more or less reflect the SOED’s sense 1 in that they are historical meanings no longer or rarely used. ‘Printed matter’ appears at CD sense 4, because it is used more often than 5 or 6, but less often than 1, 2 or 3 (and note there is no ‘colloq.’ value judgement here!). CD sense 3 is too vague for me – I honestly don’t really know what might be meant by ‘literary matter’. Sense 2 describes the existing body of work and the top sense – CD sense 1 – refers to its production.

I’d like to note two things of interest in the comparison of these two definitions. First, the SOED attempts to define why a work might be considered ‘literature’ in sense 3a: literature is ‘that kind of written composition valued on account of its qualities of form or emotional effect’. This, of course, raises heaps of questions: what sort of qualities are valued? Who decides what qualities are valuable? How does a reader recognise these qualities? What sort of emotional effect are we talking about here? – and so on – but it is not a dictionary’s job to answer these questions. The CD, however, perhaps wisely makes no attempt at all to comment on form or effect and sticks to a definition that is unquestionably true, but limited in scope: ‘literature’ is ‘[t]he art of composition in prose and verse’. The other point I wish to mention is the use of the word ‘humane’, which appears in both entries. Dictionary definitions inevitably lead to the search for other definitions, and CD lists the following as one of the senses of ‘humane’: ‘humanising as humane letters, classical, elegant, polite’. I think, then, that this sense is a reflection of the eighteenth century zeitgeist and its obsessive love affair with classical form, rather than any attempt to suggest that reading makes us all better human beings.

Well, dictionary definitions are all well and good, but they are designed for a very specific purpose and are perhaps not the best way to explore this question. Moreover, dictionaries do not define usage, they merely reflect it. A dictionary definition is not timeless or fixed, nor does it represent some kind of untouchable truth. So let’s set about this a different way, and try to provide answers to some fairly open questions.

1. If we want to think about literature as writing, then does the term apply to all written texts, or only to a specific kind?

I’m always very keen to include comics (graphic novels if you must) under the heading of ‘literature’, which I’m aware others are not. For me, they are dense and rewarding texts: the words and images are read in conjunction and work together to create meaning, even when one is apparently undermining the other. But no doubt different people would include all sorts of different works when asked what they would classify as ‘literature’: for example, there have been many voices in favour of the inclusion of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld oeuvre. The fantasy genre, whose readers do tend to put the ‘fan’ in fanatical, throws up an interesting question. If we classify The Lord of the Rings as literature – and we do – why not Game of Thrones (for example)? Is it because the author of the former was a much-lauded Anglo-Saxon scholar and a professor of English? Or does Tolkien’s novel genuinely present properties that are lacking in Martin’s work? (And if so, what are these properties?)

Some texts will not be acceptable as ‘literature’ because the quality of writing is considered too low in standard. But who sets these standards, and what are they? To return to the example of Pratchett’s extremely popular Discworld series, many of these books are formulaic, over-long, and consequently dull – but Monstrous Regiment, Night Watch and Going Postal are really very good. On the other hand again, someone once tried to tell me that Pratchett is on a par with P G Wodehouse, to which my response was a thumping NO HE IS NOT. Pratchett’s comic timing is good, but Wodehouse’s is impeccable: he writes highly sophisticated sentences which turn exquisitely on numerous subordinate clauses to deliver the funny at exactly the right moment. Perhaps in the end it all comes down to a sense of grammar and an excellent ear. I don’t know. But I do know that Wodehouse is better than Pratchett.

I think, in fact, the question is asking for a distinction to be made between texts that are clearly communicative and functional, and texts that are ‘art’. But even here, the line has to be drawn somewhere, and while it is easy to make a distinction between a novel and a shopping list, what do you do if that shopping list has a kind of poetic coherence, or if it makes a poignant comment on the human condition that makes reading it an emotional experience? What then?

2. When does ‘literature’ become ‘Literature’?

I’ve taken the capital L to mean that a work is sanctioned or ratified and can henceforth be considered ‘good’ and ‘worthy of study’.

So, works of literature become ‘Literature’ when:

  • an over-privileged and overbearing white male such as Harold Bloom decides that a work should be included in the literary canon;
  • a work is added to the curriculum and taught in schools, colleges and universities;
  • a work is nominated for a literary prize;
  • a work chimes with the zeitgeist; when its theme, form or execution fits the prevailing cultural preferences.

All of which means that ‘Literature’ can go back to being ‘literature’ as soon as it falls out of favour. It’s not necessarily a one-way street we’re talking about here. Writers who were once lauded can sink into obscurity, but there is the possibility of rescue when a change in the cultural wind makes them fashionable once again.

I don’t think much of ‘Literature’, really. It’s an interesting phenomenon in its own right, especially in the contribution it can make to the study of culture, but I certainly can’t reconcile myself to the idea of a literary canon.

3. If literature possesses a quality that we recognise as ‘literariness’, then how is this recognised?

To answer this question, one would have to consider the notions of ‘foregrounding’ and ‘deviance’ put forward by the Prague School scholars at the beginning of the twentieth century. It’s about language, and when language draws attention to itself in some way, through use of rhyme, metaphor, and all the many many other literary devices. If we are using metalanguage – language about language – to describe what’s going on in the text, then that text has called attention to its FORM and therefore possesses literary qualities (even if it is not considered literature).

4. Is literature best thought of, beginning perhaps from linguistics, as a form of ‘peculiar language’?

This is Prague School territory again, and I think the New Critics could also be brought into this discussion, but essentially, the answer is no. Some literary works include remarkably non-literary language – Hemingway, for example, and see Terry Eagleton’s comments on ‘This is awfully squiggly handwriting!’ in Knut Hamsun’s novel Hunger (from Eagleton’s Literary Theory, p. 6). The context is literary, but arguably not the style – although I think this statement is problematic. For example, Hemingway’s sentences are simple, but this doesn’t mean they’re not carefully crafted to achieve a certain effect.

Perhaps literature, or literary language, is best thought of as being differentiated from other language use in terms of its function rather than its form. What’s it there for? What is it doing? Why should we read it? …which brings me to the next question.

5. What is literature for?

I came up with seven possible responses to this one.

  1. for entertainment, to tell a story;
  2. for edification and instruction;
  3. for the dissemination of an ideology, whether done knowingly or not;
  4. to provoke discussion, to enlighten, to share, to inform, to make readers think, to shock, to awaken in a mental sense;
  5. to form part of a nation’s cultural life; to create and perpetuate a way of thinking and a body of myths and legends;
  6. to bring people together;
  7. to deceive – remember Plato banned the poets!

And the final question:

6. Does literature make anything happen?

Taking point 3 above, yes. Literature can be enormously powerful, for good or for bad. Stories can become myths, and the myths can become ways of thinking and being. Literature can reveal and shatter normalised thinking patterns, but it can also create them.

In addition, if someone powerful disagrees with what you write, you lay yourself open to hostile criticism or even place yourself in physical danger – look at Salman Rushdie’s experience of the fatwa, and consider Timothy Bell’s recommendation that Hilary Mantel be investigated by the police following the publication of her short story The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: 6 August 1983. Literature can create culture and cultural revolutions. One has only to look at the historical – and contemporary – persecution of writers to realise that state governments take very seriously the written output of citizens. English PEN certainly has its work cut out.

I’m not sure I’ve got any closer to answering the question ‘What is literature?’, but there’s some food for further thought here at least.

Speech and Thought Representation in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Going Postal’

Charles Dance as Lord Vetinari and Steve Pemberton as Drumknott in Sky’s adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Going Postal’

The Speech and Thought Continuum

Examples of the fictional representation of speech and thought from Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal:

PN (Pure Narrative of Narrative Report of Action): Vetinari looked down at the table again, and seemed to lose interest in Moist for a moment (p. 27).

NRS (Narrative Report of Speech): He nodded at Commander Vimes of the Watch, who whispered to another watchman, who pushed his way though [sic] the crowd and towards the door (p. 335)

NRSA (Narrative Report of a Speech Act): In a silence punctuated by chuckles from the crowd, Pony tried to explain, in so far as he now had any grip of what was going on (p. 320).

IS (Indirect Speech): Lord Vetinari told Mr. Pump to break one of Moist’s fingers.*

FID (Free Indirect Discourse): And what would you have done against a banshee? Moist had thought. You suspect Gilt. Well done. But people like Gilt don’t bother with the law. They never break it, they just use people who do. And you’ll never find anything written down, anywhere (p. 244).

DS (Direct Speech): ‘Oh dear.’ The Patrician sighed. ‘Mr. Pump, just break one of Mr. Lipwig’s fingers, will you? Neatly, if you please.’ (p. 27)

FDT (Free Direct Thought): Welcome to fear, said Moist to himself. It’s hope, turned inside out. You know it can’t go wrong, you’re sure it can’t go wrong… But it might. I’ve got you. (p. 331)

*There are, to my knowledge, no examples of indirect speech in this novel. I have therefore rewritten the example of DS above as an utterance in IS.

i) Introductory

In this chapter I have explored how linguistic theories concerning spoken discourse have proved useful to the critic.  I have focused in particular on the linguistic categorisations of the methods of representing speech and thought in fiction and how these categorisations can be usefully applied to various passages from a novel.  Not only is the topic of fictional discourse an area where linguistic analysis has proved particularly useful, but it also provides several arguments in support of my hypothesis that form and content are inseparable in literary writing.  These arguments relate to the subtle effects associated with each method on the speech and thought continuum, especially that of Free Indirect Discourse (FID); the lack of an ‘original’ utterance to which its written representation can be traced; and finally the important role punctuation has to play in the writer’s attempts to represent spoken language.

The methods of representing speech and thought in written language have been carefully categorised following linguistic criteria, most notably by Leech and Short.[1]  I have reproduced these categories in Appendix D, placing the options available to the author on a continuum with Pure Narrative (PN) on the far left and Free Direct Discourse (FDD) on the far right.  In the fictional representation of speech, Free Direct Speech (FDS) represents the voice of the character without any interference from the narrator whatsoever – not even the inclusion of quotation marks and the reporting clause which characterise Direct Speech (DS); any movement toward the left on the continuum therefore represents an increasing degree of narratorial control.  When we reach the Narrative Report of a Speech Act (NRSA), the character’s actual words are lost altogether and the narrator provides only a summary of the sentiments expressed.  Free Indirect Thought (FIT) is most commonly used to represent a character’s thoughts; any movement to the right on the continuum takes the reader closer inside the character’s head.

The fictional representation of speech and thought can serve many purposes in a prose work.  Fictional dialogue, be it speech or thought, can advance plot or it can delineate and develop character; dialogue can also serve to ‘describe setting or atmosphere, to present a moral argument or a discussion on cabbages and kings, or to perform any combination of these purposes.’[2]  In addition, the dialogue of a novel can add to the illusion of reality created in fictional prose: ‘language can copy reality.  This is the case of fictional speech: here, the events being described as part of the mock reality are themselves linguistic, and so language is used to simulate, rather than simply to report, what is going on in the fictional world’.[3]  It is important from the outset, however, to recognise that fictional speech does not resemble or imitate life: a glance at any transcript of real speech will reveal why this is so.  Real speech is full of hesitations and pauses, stopgap noises, false starts, syntactic anomalies, interruptions, overlaps, and frequent transitions, all of which, if presented in written form, would render a text intolerable and unreadable.[4]  In the past, critics have made the mistake of praising a novel’s dialogue for its resemblance to real-life speech, but readers have since been alerted to the idealised nature of fictional dialogue.

Despite the differences between real and fictional discourse, there is no doubt that linguistic research has proved useful to critics in the analysis of fictional speech.  Ronald Tanaka wrote an illuminating discussion on Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?[5] based on the speech act theory of J. Austin as later refined by J. Searle.[6]  Richard Ohmann, making use of the same theory in his article ‘Literature as Act’,[7] demonstrates how one character has to buy into the ideology of another in order to fulfil the felicity conditions[8] required for the successful completion of a speech act; viewed in this way, it becomes possible to identify and understand the assumptions and prevailing ideology behind a work of literature.  Linguistic theories relating to discourse have obviously proved especially useful to the critic writing about plays, as in the previous two examples; Short points out that ‘drama is the literary genre which is most like naturally occurring conversation’.[9]  But speech act theory is not the only linguistic theory to have proved itself useful and drama is not the only genre to benefit from the application of these theories.  Critics have made use of Grice’s maxims and his work on conversational implicature[10] in the analysis of prose texts.[11]  Linguistic research relating to conversational management can be used to assess the balance of power between fictional conversational participants.  The nature of a relationship between characters can be conveyed through forms of address and other linguistic indicators of politeness or formality.  Linguistic categorisations of non-verbal communication can also usefully be applied to prose texts.[12]  The main body of this chapter consists of a reading of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal based on some of the above theories and I hope to have demonstrated how useful they can be.

As mentioned previously, the topic of fictional discourse raises at least three arguments in support of the claim that form = content.  The first of these arguments relates to the individual effects associated with each method of representing fictional discourse.  It is important to bear in mind that here, as in all other areas of literary production, nothing is arbitrary:

for no novelist can avoid continually exercising a choice between different modes of presentation…he must choose between dialogue and narrative or descriptive prose, or a combination of these in proportions which must be settled.  If he decides to make use of dialogue, a further selection has to be made among the various ways of presenting speech.[13]

The critic must first recognise the decisions the author has made, and from there she can examine the author’s choices – why this way and not that way?  How does the representation of speech and thought function in the text as a whole?  The author has, after all, deliberately chosen a certain position on the continuum because of its related effects; for example, DS lends a dramatic quality to the scene but often at the expense of narrative pace.  The effects associated with each method of discourse representation are subtle and these overtones are inevitably lost in paraphrase.  Of all the methods of speech representation, Free Indirect Discourse (FID) has attracted the most critical attention.  This can possibly be attributed to the modern-day critic’s preoccupation with point of view, in that FID can feasibly represent the voice of both the narrator and the character concerned at one and the same time.  To digress just briefly, it is interesting to note the problems posed by the reading aloud of passages of FID from a novel.  Does the performer read in his neutral narrator’s voice, or in the voice of the character?  Terry Pratchett’s Thud! contains passages of FID in which the performer, Stephen Briggs, is forced to read in the voice of the character, a troll called Brick, because the text contains idiolectal elements that belong to Brick, but much of the text can also be attributed to the narrator.[14]  This mingling of voices makes FID the perfect vehicle for irony, as any reader of Jane Austen can testify!  In any case, the point remains that to alter the form of discourse representation is to change something of the content.  Even the rendering of an utterance in Indirect Speech (IS) instead of DS necessitates several changes: the tense is back-shifted, proximal deictics are neutralised, and because the movement to the left on the continuum takes the reader further away from the character’s voice, emotion markers are usually expunged.[15]

The relationship between DS and IS on the continuum brings me to the second argument in support of the claim that form = content.  Ann Banfield, in an essay entitled ‘Narrative Style and the Grammar of Direct and Indirect Speech’, convincingly argues that DS and IS are not transformationally related as Richard Ohmann had earlier claimed.[16]  This is helpful in that it removes the onus on the reader to see one form of speech as derived from, or prior to, another.  Brian McHale upholds Banfield’s assertion, although he does not support her argument in its entirety.[17]  McHale directs our attention to another important difference between real-life speech and fictional speech:

the principle [sic] drawback of the traditional account…is the assumption built into it that the three types of represented/reported discourse are derived from one another, FID from ID, ID from DD….  Admittedly, this account does capture the average speaker’s sense of how these types are related to each other, and his ability to convert one version into another; but in fiction this intuition is falsified, or, more to the point, it is fostered as part of novelistic illusionism.  In the everyday production and use of represented/reported discourse, it is theoretically always possible to recover the ‘original’ direct utterance from the derived non-direct versions, or at least to think of it as being recoverable, ‘basic’ to the non-direct transforms.  This is obviously not so in fiction, in which there is no direct ‘original’ prior to or behind an instance of ID or FID; the supposedly ‘derived’ utterances are not versions of anything, but themselves the ‘originals’ in that they give as much as the reader will ever learn of ‘what was really said’.[18]

The relevance of this line of reasoning to the form/content debate is the idea that there is no unobserved content lurking behind the text in the form of an original utterance that has undergone a transformation.  As McHale says, the form to which the reader has access – the words on the page – is the only form that has ever existed, and as such is the unique source of content.

The third and final point regarding form and content in the fictional representation of discourse is that concerning the use of punctuation.  It is generally agreed that the English writing system is badly equipped to represent spoken language, and that writers must do the best they can with the tools available to them.  Textual layout helps the reader understand who said what, the convention being that a new line is used when a different character begins speaking.  Words heavily stressed by a speaker are italicised: ‘ “Have you gone completely mad?” said Miss Dearheart.’[19]  A dash might lead the reader to infer an interruption:

‘That was for essential maintenance – ’ Mr Slant began.

‘No, it was for repairs,’ snapped Vetinari.[20]

An ellipsis might represent a momentary hesitation: ‘ “There’s…hints, here and there, but really we need something more solid…” ’.[21]  Punctuation, always important, plays an even greater role in discourse representation.  It is here, perhaps as nowhere else in written texts, that the author’s choice of punctuation can guide the reader toward one particular interpretation.

The section that follows is the result of the application of some of the above theories to certain passages from Terry Pratchett’s 2004 novel, Going Postal.

  1. ii) Speech and Thought Representation in Going Postal

Terry Pratchett, the author of the hugely popular Discworld series, is a writer who, like many modern authors, makes extensive use of dialogue.  Pratchett’s dialogue serves both to advance plot and to delineate character, but there is more to it than this: through his use of FID, Pratchett is able to pass comment on both the characters he creates and the world they – and by allegorical extension, we – inhabit.  Pratchett’s use of FID enables the characters to comment both on themselves and on other characters, and the narrator can do the same.  The allegorical nature of the text means that there is frequently a real-world counterpart to which the comments of the narrator/character also apply.  For modern-day readers, comments of a moral nature are generally more palatable when they come from the mouths of fictional characters rather than that of the narrator.  The idea that literature exists to edify and instruct the reader is now old-fashioned, but this is what Pratchett manages to do nevertheless.  The didactic purpose of the text is achieved through FID without alienating the reader: because his voice is inextricably intertwined with that of his characters, the narrator can moralise without appearing to do so.

Going Postal is the twenty-ninth title in the Discworld series.  One of the themes of this novel is freedom: the character of Moist von Lipwig allows Pratchett to explore the nature and true extent of individual freedom when that individual is a member of a larger community.  Moist is an extremely gifted con-man who has spent his life swindling for personal gain, and he is forced to come to terms with the effect his actions have had on others; his parole officer, a golem called Mr. Pump, acts as Moist’s conscience, but the access the reader is granted to Moist’s thoughts through numerous passages of DT and FID reveals a man capable of sympathizing with the plight of others and one who eventually shuns his old ways.  Mr. Reacher Gilt,[22] an unscrupulous businessman and the real villain of the piece, represents in one sense the tyranny of the free market when it is not subject to government intervention, and in a more moralistic sense, the sin of avarice.  Moist, despite his initial introduction to us as a fraud and a cheat, is the romantic hero who triumphs over the black-hearted malefactor: Gilt does not survive the events of the story, choosing instead to end his own life rather than to make amends as Moist did.

In this section of the chapter, I intend to discuss Pratchett’s chosen methods of discourse presentation, the fictional depiction of the power-balance between characters in terms of conversational management and the use of speech adverbials, and finally, Pratchett’s use of orthological and graphological deviation.  The passages I have chosen to look at are as follows: Moist’s first conversation with Miss Dearheart and Lord Vetinari’s meeting with the financiers (pp. 66-78); Moist’s conversation with Captain Carrot following the fire in the Post Office (pp. 242-244); the beginning of the race and Moist’s conversation with Reacher Gilt (pp. 320-323); and the scene in the Great Hall at Unseen University in which the miscreants are publicly accused (pp. 331-342).[23]

A close examination of the passages in question reveals that the narrative is mostly a mixture of Direct Speech (DS), Pure Narrative (PN) or Narrative Report of Action (NRA),[24] Free Indirect Discourse (FID), and Direct Thought (DT).[25]  There are some rare examples of Narrative Report of a Speech Act (NRSA):

  1. In a silence punctuated by chuckles from the crowd, Pony tried to explain, in so far as he now had any grip of what was going on. (p. 320)[26]

Rarer still are instances of Indirect Speech (IS): there are no examples in the passages studied.[27]  DS is by far the most common representation of speech used in these passages, and in Pratchett’s novels in general – as a result, it is relatively easy to rewrite many pages of any Pratchett narrative as a playscript – but there is another construction which appears with almost as much regularity as DS, and that is DT with an inversion of the reporting clause leading into a passage that could be a continuation of DT or could equally be classified as FID.  For example,

  1. (1) And what would you have done against a banshee? Moist had thought. (2) You suspect Gilt.  (3) Well done.  (4) But people like Gilt don’t bother with the law.  (5) They never break it, they just use people who do.  (6) And you’ll never find anything written down, anywhere.  (p. 244)

The second person pronoun ‘you’ of (2) and the evaluative phrase in (3) attribute these sentences to Moist, whose words are addressed silently to Captain Carrot, but it is arguable that (4) to (6) could be classified as either a moralistic narratorial comment on ‘people like Gilt’ as part of the text’s allegorical function, or these words could represent a continuation of Moist’s DT – or perhaps both.  Similarly, the ‘you’ll’ of (6) could equally be addressed specifically to Captain Carrot, or, more generally, to the reader, a device which arguably has the effect of animating the reader by directly involving him in the text.  A related technique is the considered placing of the reporting clause in (1), ‘Moist had thought’, which is placed after the reported clause; the effect of this delay is to plunge the reader into momentary uncertainty about whether the words are those of the narrator or of the character – the longer the reported clause, the greater the effect – although in the example quoted above it is reasonable to conclude that the words belong to Moist.  The uncertainty is more marked in passages like the following:

  1. There’s no stink more sorrowful than the stink of wet, burnt paper, Moist thought. It means: the end.  (p. 242)

In examples 2 and 3, the narrative arguably slips into FID following the reporting clause.  Other examples are more easily classifiable:

  1. (1) All they wanted to do was be delivered, he thought. (2) At a time like this, sitting on the sea bed for nine thousand years seemed quite attractive.  (p. 242)

Even without the temporal deictic ‘like this’, the sentiments expressed and the contextual evidence[28] make it relatively easy to identify (2) as representing the voice of the character alone: there is no bivocality between character and narrator here, and note the ease with which (2) can be represented in DT: it is necessary only to alter the verb-form from the narratorial past tense to the present tense of the character (‘seemed’ to ‘seems’), and to add a reporting clause:[29]

  1. At a time like this, sitting on the sea bed for nine thousand years seems quite attractive, he thought.

This is FID sourced in character, meaning that the reader can attribute the utterance entirely to Moist.  The specificity of the fictional situation, unlike example 2, renders pointless any attempt at an allegorical interpretation.  An ironic narratorial voice is not needed here.

The amalgam of narrator/character voice in Pratchett’s text is pervasive; some instances are difficult to spot and may be overlooked on a first reading:

  1. ‘We do a pamphlet,’ said almost-certainly-Miss Dearheart, pulling open a drawer and flipping a thin booklet on to the desk. (p. 66)

This time, the voice of the character has invaded the reporting clause: Moist has just noticed that Miss Dearheart wears no rings on her fingers,[30] prompting him to conclude that she is not married, and therefore ‘almost-certainly-Miss’.  The reporting clause itself is embedded in what is clearly a PN clause, thus further burying the intrusion of Moist’s voice.  The phrase in question could not belong to the narrator, because an omniscient narrator would presumably know whether or not one of his characters was married.

This technique of ‘slipping’ between the various voices of the text can be noted elsewhere:

  1. (1) They had a werewolf with them. (2) Oh, probably most people would have thought it was just a handsome dog, but grow up in Uberwald with a grandfather who bred dogs and you learned to spot the signs.  (p. 243) [31]

In (2), the use of the exclamatory ‘Oh’ more usually associated with spoken language, the second person pronoun and the reference to Moist’s childhood places the utterance in the realm of FID: (2) could represent Moist’s thoughts or the narrator’s voice.  An omniscient narrator would know about Moist’s upbringing, just as he knows whether or not Miss Dearheart is married.  Another example of slipping can be found on page 67:

  1. On the Tump…the big tower…glittered with semaphore.It was good to see the lifeblood of trade and commerce and diplomacy pumping so steadily, especially when you employed clerks who were exceptionally good at decryption.

Although the sentiments expressed and the use of the second person pronoun suggests that we are looking at the scene through the eyes of Lord Vetinari, the surface narrative purports to be PN, just as in example 7.

Pratchett combines FID with an interesting use of punctuation to produce a curious effect on page 68, in which Lord Vetinari is in conversation with his secretary, Drumknott:

  1. ‘There will be an opportunity,’ said Vetinari. Being an absolute ruler today was not as simple…[a lengthy passage of what is arguably FID follows]…A thinking tyrant, it seemed to Vetinari, had a much harder job than a ruler raised to power by some idiot vote-yourself-rich system like democracy.  At least they could tell the people he was their fault.‘…we would not normally have started individual folders at this time,’ Drumknott was agonizing.

Lord Vetinari’s DS is followed by a passage of FID which slips into what is perhaps Indirect Thought (IT) with the phrase ‘it seemed to Vetinari’;[32] the most interesting point, however, is the ellipsis which introduces Drumknott’s DS and the past progressive verb tense of the reporting clause: ‘was agonizing’.  Together, these two factors suggest that Lord Vetinari had ceased to listen to Drumknott, and that the intervening passage represents his thoughts while Drumknott is still speaking.  Lord Vetinari pays attention to what Drumknott is saying only when his reverie has ended.  This technique has the additional effect of imbuing the text with an element of immediacy, as if the reader is witnessing events as they take place – events which include a momentary insight into Lord Vetinari’s thoughts.[33]

Pratchett uses FID to confuse the voices of narrator and two characters in the passage just before the beginning of the race between Post Office and Grand Trunk:

  1. (1) ‘Is this why you appear so confident?’ snarled Gilt. (2) And it was a snarl, there and then, a little sign of a crack appearing.(3) A broomstick could travel fast enough to blow your ears off.  (4) It wouldn’t need too many towers to break down, and heavens knew they broke down all the time, for a broomstick to beat the clacks to Genua, especially since it could fly direct and wouldn’t have to follow the big dog-leg the coach road and the Grand Trunk took.  (5) The Trunk would have to be really unlucky, and the person flying the broom would be really frozen and probably really dead, but a broomstick could fly from Ankh-Morpork to Genua in a day.  (6) That might just do it.(7) Gilt’s face was a mask of glee.  (8) Now he knew what Moist intended.(9) Round and round she goes, and where she stops, nobody knows…(10) It was the heart of any scam or fiddle.  (11) Keep the punter uncertain or, if he is certain, make him certain of the wrong thing.  (p. 321)

The changes in this passage are rapid.  Over eleven sentences, the narrative voice shifts between the narrator, Moist and Gilt.  Sentences (3) to (6) are arguably FID, a mixture of an informative narrator’s voice, and Gilt’s anxious assessment of the change in his situation now that Moist has a broomstick.  The PN of (7) is followed by a trickier utterance in (8): this is not Moist’s voice, and although it looks like another instance of PN, this is unlikely on reflection.  Gilt does not know what Moist intends, but nor does the reader – at this point, only the narrator knows for sure.  So where to place (8) on the continuum?  If PN, the narrator is lying to us, so the utterance must reflect Gilt’s point of view.  This is FID sourced in the character, as Toolan’s test will verify.[34]  Sentence (9) is a line chanted when performing a trick with a coin under three cups: the cups are rapidly switched and the audience has to guess the whereabouts of the coin.  At this point, the narrative is still rendered in FID, but the intermingled voices are now those of the narrator and Moist.  The choice of discourse representation in this short passage neatly encapsulates the fierce rivalry between the two men at this crucial stage of the story; Pratchett’s use of FID enables the reader to witness the internal processes of both antagonists, thereby adding to the suspense and excitement of this most important scene.

The most important point which has emerged from a careful reading of the chosen passages is that Pratchett tends to favour a technique of rendering speech which subtly shifts from DS or DT into FID.  Why should this be so?  Firstly, this technique allows the narrator to stay close to chosen characters.[35]  The reader is naturally inclined to trust the narrator, and the mingling of the narratorial voice with that of Moist von Lipwig encourages us to sympathise with this character, despite the fact that he is introduced to us as a hardened criminal.  The access we are given to Gilt’s voice, however, has the opposite effect: we are made privy to Gilt’s machinations which only helps to build the reader’s antipathy towards the wealthy banker.  Secondly, and as previously stated, the reader is far more likely to tolerate any narratorial moralising which is disguised as the words of a character, especially when that character has been shown to be as fallible as the rest of us.

Having discussed FID at some length, I wish to turn now to another topic mentioned in the introduction to this chapter, that of the use of titles and other forms of address in depicting fictional power-play.  I shall begin with one of Pratchett’s most powerful characters.

Lord Vetinari is the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork.  His title relates to his status as ruler of the city, and he is generally considered a despot; however, one could argue that his role is more that of benevolent dictator.  Vetinari resembles more closely one of Plato’s philosopher kings than Machiavelli’s Prince.  Lord Vetinari himself is known variously throughout the Discworld series as ‘Vetinari’, ‘Lord Vetinari’, ‘my lord’, ‘sir’, ‘his lordship’, ‘the Patrician’, ‘Havelock’, and ‘Havelock, Lord Vetinari’, amongst other forms of address and instances of elegant variation such as ‘his master’.  ‘Vetinari’ predominates in the main body of the text, the narratorial voice occasionally making use of Vetinari’s title to emphasise his social status: for example, in the reporting clause following Vetinari’s explanation concerning his lack of attendance at Reacher Gilt’s infamous parties: ‘ “Affairs of state take up so much of my time,” said Lord Vetinari brusquely.’  The sudden, and therefore foregrounded, use of Vetinari’s correct title provides a reason for his non-attendance.  Gilt is rich, but not of the same social standing as Vetinari.  Vetinari’s title is not inherited, but is linked to his status as ruler of the city; nevertheless, Vetinari is the scion of an old and immensely wealthy aristocratic family, and his lineage is therefore impeccable.  The adverb ‘brusquely’ indicates a desire on the part of the speaker to change the subject; it is also an indication that Vetinari considers Gilt’s remark to be both inappropriate and somewhat impertinent.  Vetinari himself addresses the other characters correctly at all times.  His secretary Rufus Drumknott is addressed by his surname, and Vetinari’s clerks are addressed as ‘Clerk’ + first name, for example, Clerk Brian, Clerk Harold, Clerk Alfred.  Vetinari addresses other members of Ankh-Morpork society always by the correct title; social distinctions are in this way rigidly preserved by the Patrician, and as protector of the status quo, it is in his interests to do so.  It is noteworthy that in a scene from an earlier Discworld novel, Men at Arms, Dr. Cruces, who has something unpleasant to confess, addresses Lord Vetinari as ‘Havelock’, an indication that he is anxious to begin the exchange on an equal footing.  Lord Vetinari already knows what the man has to say, and he in his turn does not address him by his first name, but as ‘Dr. Cruces’.  Needless to say, the conversation very soon takes an unpleasant turn for Dr. Cruces and he is summarily dismissed.

On pages 66-78 of Going Postal, Lord Vetinari meets with a group of bankers and financiers, including Mr. Reacher Gilt and the lawyer, Mr. Slant.  These money-men have conspired to purchase the Grand Trunk Company at a fraction of its value from those who originally patented the technology; Vetinari also suspects Gilt and the assembled company of using illegal means to ensure that any rival company is doomed to failure, those means including the murder of John Dearheart.  Lord Vetinari’s remarks are pointedly directed to or away from the conversational participants: for example, ‘ignoring that face’; ‘looking directly at him’; ‘said to the lawyer’; ‘his eyes on Reacher Gilt’s face’.  In this way, Vetinari is controlling who can and cannot respond to his line of questioning.  He deliberately ignores Reacher Gilt at the outset and later implicates him in the murder of John Dearheart.  Vetinari’s gaze rests on Gilt while his spoken utterance is addressed to another man present:

‘There is no proof that we had anything to do with the boy’s murder,’ snapped Horsefry.

‘Ah, so you too have heard people saying he was murdered?’ said Vetinari, his eyes on Reacher Gilt’s face.  (p. 72)

David Graddol et al. point out in chapter six of Describing Language that ‘people are remarkably sensitive to what others are doing with their eyes – no other aspect of non-verbal behaviour, except direct physical encounters, is capable of arousing quite the same intensity and subtlety of reaction’.[36]  In commenting upon eye-contact, the authors note that ‘a…specific extension of the idea that mutual gaze can be threatening is the idea that the person who is first to break gaze is yielding dominance to the other and admitting inferiority’.[37]  An interesting fictional representation of this kind of NVC occurs between Vetinari and Gilt on page 76 of the same extract: ‘Their eyes met….  Gilt and Vetinari maintained smiles, maintained eye contact’.  In the end, neither man backs down: both turn at the same time to look at Horsefry, who, characteristically, interrupts their conversation with an idiotic remark.  The two men establish eye-contact once more, but this time their look is conspiratorial instead of confrontational: ‘Gilt and Vetinari shared a look.  It said: while I loathe you and every aspect of your personal philosophy to a depth unplumbable by any line, I’ll credit you at least with not being Crispin Horsefry’ (p. 76).  Beyond this, Vetinari is a man who deliberately gives few kinesic signals; occasionally though, he raises one or both eyebrows to show surprise, feigned or otherwise, or to indicate that he thinks the preceding remark is a stupid one.[38]

Mr. Slant is the third of the four conversational participants; his utterances account for approximately 16% of the DS in this scene.  Vetinari has the lion’s share of the DS, 49%, with Gilt on 20% and Horsefry on 15%.  Throughout his conversational exchange with Slant, Vetinari controls the turn-taking process by instigating a question-and-answer pattern.[39]  Gilt is silent for the first part of the scene, and he joins the conversation in response to a directly confrontational question from Vetinari.  Gilt’s entry into the fray is delayed this long because the reader is waiting for it; the reader has been primed earlier on to expect a battle of wills between Gilt and Vetinari, and Pratchett allows the tension to build by initially denying Gilt a voice.

In summary then, Vetinari is shown to be the dominant conversational participant through a variety of means.  His social standing is reinforced where necessary by the narratorial voice in order to highlight his relative importance as lord and ruler of the city, and Vetinari maintains the social status quo in his own use of forms of address.  Vetinari is a master of NVC, directing his remarks to specific conversational participants and using eye contact as a means of implication, challenge and conspiracy.  In scenes involving the Patrician, Vetinari is given the highest percentage of DS, and he controls the verbal responses of other characters through calculated use of adjacency pairs.

The power-play between Vetinari and his opponents is also evident in Pratchett’s use of speech adverbials, metaphors and similes, or in other words, the words and phrases the narrator uses to indicate how a particular utterance was spoken.  As Fowler remarks,

these comments are more than ‘stage directions’ giving indications of the speech acts and behaviour of the speakers; cumulatively, they add an emotional colouring deriving from the narrator’s analysis of the relationship between the characters.[40]

The delicate power-play between Vetinari and his opponents from the business world is depicted and carried through Pratchett’s choice of adverbial phrases accompanying the characters’ words.  Adverbs connected to Lord Vetinari’s spoken utterances in this scene are ‘calmly’, ‘quietly’, or, more simply, the verb ‘stated’ on its own.  Only one other character is allowed the use of the adverb ‘calmly’ in this particular scene, and that is Reacher Gilt; the power balance is thus nicely captured in Pratchett’s use of the same word for the two adversaries.[41]  When Vetinari later openly refers to the ‘misfortunes’ of rival companies to the Grand Trunk, Mr. Slant replies ‘stiffly’; the adverb is not only a fortunate choice for a character who is a zombie, but the forced manner of Mr. Slant’s reply indicates that he knows he is on dodgy ground.  Crispin Horsefry is the unfortunate young man whose stupidity leads him to make an utter fool of himself in this scene, dealing as he is with men whose intelligence far exceeds his own.  The following phrases are connected with Horsefry: ‘said a voice’; ‘he muttered’; ‘snapped Horsefry’; ‘yapped a voice’; ‘he burbled’; ‘said Horsefry, as if this was a source of immense pride’.  Twice Horsefry is represented as a disembodied voice, breaking an uncomfortable silence with a misguided remark.  His anxious reactions to Vetinari’s rather pointed comments are ‘muttered’ and ‘snapped’, the muttering revealing a desire to speak without quite being heard, and the snapping indicating a childish inability to control his outbursts.  Unlike Reacher Gilt, Horsefry lacks the courage of his convictions, and he quickly backs down in the face of Vetinari’s calmly delivered threat.  Horsefry yaps like a small annoying dog, and burbles like an idiot or a child.  He is directly condemned by the narratorial voice in the phrase ‘as if this was a source of immense pride’.

When accusations of wrong-doing are publicly made during a scene towards the end of the book, Vetinari maintains his equanimity while his opponents crumble.  The adverbs connected with the soon-to-be-condemned men can be arranged into four groups, as follows:

i) raised voices: ‘screamed’ (x 2); ‘shouted’

ii) difficulty speaking/breathing: ‘faltered’; ‘protested weakly’; ‘gasped’

iii) protesting/pleading: ‘was protesting’; ‘protested weakly’; ‘pleaded’

iv) involuntary exclamations: ‘moaned’; ‘burst out’[42]

Vetinari’s utterances, on the other hand, are simply ‘said’, or ‘stated’.  Even when he demands silence in the midst of the hubbub, he does not speak loudly; once silence is established he continues speaking ‘in the same calm tone’ (p. 335), while by contrast the wrongdoers falter and splutter.

The metaphors and similes used in place of adverbs are useful indications of the power relations between the characters.  Vetinari is connected with the following phrases: (1) ‘The sentence came out fast and smooth, like a snake’s tongue, and the swift flick on the end of it was…’ (p. 71); (2) ‘cold as the depths of the sea’ (p. 75); (3) ‘Lord Vetinari’s voice came out of the throng like a knife’ (p. 341).  Example (1) connects Vetinari with a snake, more specifically with a snake’s tongue.  The sea-depths of (2) remind the reader not only of the coldness of this particular character, but also of his personal hidden depths, and the depth of the extent of his knowledge.  In (3) he is linked to a weapon – a knife – a fitting image for this character: Vetinari is an accomplished assassin, trained at the city’s Assassins’ Guild, and the present Provost of Assassins.  Figurative language connected with the miscreants conveys appropriately their predicament: ‘Greenyham tried, aware once more of the creaking of ice’ (p. 336); ‘The cracks were spreading, the ice was breaking up on every side’ (p. 336); ‘Not only had the ice broken up, but he was on the floe with the big hungry walrus’ (p. 337).  Greenyham is eventually reduced to silence by the threat of imprisonment.  The extended metaphor depicting his unenviable situation is a new take on the cliché, itself a dead metaphor, ‘to be on thin ice’; the breaking up of the ice also indicates the increasing isolation of Greenyham and his associates from Ankh-Morpork’s more law-abiding citizenry.

It has, I think, been demonstrated how linguistic theories of conversational management can contribute to an examination of the power-balance between various fictional characters.  It has also been shown how literature imitates the real world in the importance attached to forms of address and forms of NVC such as eye contact.  Speech adverbials are of course specific to the written word; these words and phrases represent an attempt on the writer’s part to convey the tone of an utterance.  Linguists do have the tools necessary for representing on paper the exact manner in which an utterance was rendered – pitch, volume, pronunciation, et cetera – but highly specialised knowledge is required to read such scripts.  The novelist simply hints at the manner of an utterance and leaves the rest to the imagination of the reader.

There are ways, however, in which the novelist can provide more than just a hint of the way in which the characters’ lines are delivered.  Pratchett makes extensive use of orthological and graphological deviation to represent his characters’ idiolects, speech mannerisms, accents and even voices.  Deviant pronunciations are rendered by the imaginative use of an alphabet numbering only twenty-six letters.  The upper-class accent of the curator of Ankh-Morpork’s museum and art gallery is represented by orthological deviations such as the addition of an h before almost every word beginning with w: ‘hwere’ and ‘hwho’ for example.  Word-endings ly and y are rendered as ‘eah’, so ‘mystery’ becomes ‘mystereah’ on page 50 of Thud!; watchman Nobby Nobbs cannot understand a word the curator says, and mistakes his pronunciation of ‘mystery’ for ‘mister rear’.  A vampire who has forsworn blood in an effort to fit in with human society attempts to disguise his (stereotypical) vampiric pronunciation of w as v by overdoing his ws: ‘ “I don’t believe wwwe have had the pleasure,” he said, extending a hand.  It should not be possible to roll your double-yous, but John Smith managed it’.[43]  By way of contrast, a female human who wishes to be mistaken for a vampire affects a vampiric accent: ‘ “Vell, zat is good news!” said Mrs Winkings, leaning back’.[44]  Just as the vampires have an accent which we might associate with their popular cinematic counterparts, the subservient Igors speak, as we might expect, with a pronounced lisp: ‘ “Oh, we Igorth are no thtranger to marthterth of an enquiring mind, thur,” said Igor gloomily’.[45]

The obvious example of use of graphological deviation to represent voice is that of Death, who always speaks in capital letters; on page 263 of Interesting Times, we are told that Death has a voice like ‘a cemetery in midwinter’.  When Death comes to collect Anghammarad on page 241 of Going Postal, he tells him ‘YOU HAVE REACHED THE PLACE WHERE THERE ARE NO MORE ORDERS.’

Some other examples of graphological deviation include the headline of ‘The Times’ on page 282 of Going Postal,newspaper headline

…and the ‘mystic’ language of the golems on page 66 of the same novel.language of golems

In Thud! we see troll graffiti on page 176, designed to look as though it has been carved in rock by a troll’s forefinger,troll finger

and a magical dwarfish symbol decorates the pages with increasing regularity as the Summoning Dark catches up with Vimes. magic symbol

These latter examples represent instances of textual, rather than verbal, pragmatics but they do add a distinctive flavour to the text.  One might speculate that the fantasy/allegory genre within which Pratchett writes grants him the freedom to stray from the traditional paths, but it is possible to find examples of this kind of experimentation in the work of other authors: in Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne presents the reader with two completely black pages to represent a period of mourning – a speech act with no words.[46]

iii)     Conclusions

It was suggested in the introduction to this thesis that one of the ways in which linguistic study has an advantage over critical writing is in the rigour and specificity of its terminology.  The linguistic categorisations of the rendering of fictional speech and thought have certainly proved useful to the critic, as has been stated.  Even so, in 1988 Norman Page wrote in reference to these categorisations that ‘there would seem to be a number of constructions, by no means rare in works of literature, for which a precise and generally-accepted terminology is lacking’.[47]  The first edition of Page’s book appeared in 1973, but the sentence quoted still appears in the second edition of 1988.  Leech and Short divided the various representations of fictional speech and thought into useful categories in their 1981 text, Style in Fiction, and these categorisations seem to have been widely accepted – bar one or two minor modifications – so it is interesting to note that Page chose not to expunge this sentence from the second edition of his book.  The Leech and Short text does appear in Page’s bibliography; perhaps he felt that the categories offered could not be described as definitive, or were not ‘generally accepted’.  Nevertheless, the speech and thought continuum described by Leech and Short does seem to be in general use, and I myself found it very helpful in writing this chapter.

We have seen that there are many linguistic theories useful to the critic in the analysis of speech representation: speech act theory, Grice’s maxims, theories relating to conversational management, to name but a few.  Fictional utterances make up an important part of the fictional world.  However, it is important to remember that the fictional representation of speech is merely a representation, and an idealised representation at that.  The way in which we communicate is complex and not entirely understood: Graddol et al. cite the research of Stier and Hall, who ‘make the interesting observation that people’s beliefs and perceptions may run contrary to observed facts’.[48]  It might be worth bearing this in mind, especially when one considers that those people include writers and readers.

I have argued for the usefulness of linguistic theories, but I feel I should note that it is not the case that one needs to be aware of the existence of these theories in order to respond ‘appropriately’ to a text – for example, it is obvious that Vetinari is in control throughout his meeting with the financiers without the critic being aware of theories relating to conversational management – but linguistic theory could help the critic to explain exactly why she responds as she does.  The precise way in which Vetinari controls the direction of the conversation can be partly explained by even a sketchy knowledge of adjacency pairs, for example, and the simple statistics relating to DS can support a critical intuition regarding who speaks most.  As always with the use of statistics, though, it pays to be cautious: a garrulous character is not necessarily the one in control.  Other factors must be weighed in the balance.  Pragmatic analysis of utterances, that is, language use in context, must take into account contextual factors such as addresser-addressee relationship.  This still holds in the fictional world, but such details will have been established as part of that world: Lord Vetinari’s social and political status compared to that of Reacher Gilt, for example.

In this chapter I put forward three arguments relating to the form/content debate.  I mentioned the differences in effect that exist between the various points on the speech/thought continuum, the lack of an original utterance to which any fictional discourse can be traced, and the effects associated with the use of various punctuation marks.  In this final summary, I wish to add just a few more observations to these arguments.  The subtlety of the effect associated with the use of FID is, I think, the strongest argument in support of the inseparability of form and content.  Austen’s Emma would be a very much inferior novel if the passages of FID prevalent throughout were to be neutralised by a different rendering in Indirect Thought, for example.  FID, as well as being the perfect vehicle for irony, and, as we have seen here, moralising, is also an extremely useful concept for the study of point of view, in that the reader is led to question whose voice it is that she is hearing.  In the case of speech adverbials, we saw how a simple trick such as using the same adverb for two evenly-matched adversaries can be enormously effective in contributing to a picture of the power-balance between characters.  Finally, Pratchett’s orthological experiments can give the reader a clearer idea of how an utterance is delivered, and his graphological decorations help the reader to form a mental image of his extraordinary Discworld.  All of the above, I think, can be cited in support of the hypothesis that form and content are inseparable.


[1] See G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), chapter 10.

[2] N. Page, Speech in the English Novel (1988), p. 55.

[3] G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), p. 160.

[4] Leech and Short comment on the differences between real speech and fictional speech in ibid., pp. 159-166.

[5] R. Tanaka, ‘Action and Meaning in Literary Theory’ in Journal of Literary Semantics (1972).

[6] Speech act theory is the theory that people do things when they speak: promise, request, threaten, and so on; an extreme example is Ridcully’s utterance, ‘And I so rule’, on page 322 of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal.  Ridcully is the impartial adjudicator in the race to Genua, and his speech act makes the new ruling – no horses, no broomsticks – concrete and inviolable.  These words are differentiated from Ridcully’s other utterances by a marked formality of lexis and syntax.  Much of the dialogue in Peake’s Gormenghast novels is based on ritual, and each utterance is therefore a speech act similar to Ridcully’s judicious ruling.  Consider Sourdust’s greeting to his master, Lord Groan: ‘I, Sourdust, lord of the library, personal adviser to your lordship, nonagenarian, and student of the Groan lore, proffer to your lordship the salutations of a dark morning, robed as I am in rags, student as I am of the tomes, and nonagenarian as I happen to be in the matter of years’ (M. Peake, Titus Groan, p. 48).  All this just to say good morning!  Sourdust can barely communicate outside of the wording pertaining to the Gormenghast lore, and the irony is of course that the significance of many of the daily rituals has been lost over the course of time, rendering the speech acts meaningless; the utterances of Sourdust and Lord Groan are empty – they no longer do anything.

[7] R. Ohmann, ‘Literature as Act’ in Approaches to Poetics (1972).

[8] Katie Wales writes that ‘in speech act theory felicity conditions refer to particular kinds of appropriateness valid for the successful functioning of speech acts, e.g. promising, ordering, threatening, requesting, etc.  Utterances which do not satisfy various conditions are regarded as infelicitous, and, in a sense, as invalid speech acts’.  (A Dictionary of Stylistics, 2nd edition, 2001.)

[9] M. Short, Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose (1996), p. 168.

[10] Extra meanings are created when Grice’s maxims are deliberately flouted, and Grice refers to these meanings as conversational implicatures.  Cf. footnote xx, but it should be noted that Grice insisted upon the difference between violating the maxims and flouting them.  Violating a maxim may not necessarily yield an extra meaning; the creation of conversational implicatures is more likely if one simply flouts a maxim.

[11] See, for example, G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), chapter 9, pp. 294-304, in which the authors use Grice’s maxims to investigate a passage from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

[12] David Graddol et al., identify the following as functions of NVC (non-verbal communication): gesture, proxemics, body contact, posture and body orientation, facial expression and gaze (Describing Language (1994), chapter 6).

[13] N. Page, Speech in the English Novel (1988), p. 23.

[14] For example, the passages on pp. 152-153 and 186-187 of the same novel.

[15] Compare, for example, the following.  IS rendering of a DS original: ‘Miss Dearheart asked Moist what he wanted.’  DS original: ‘Well, what do you want, Mr. Clever?’  (T. Pratchett, Going Postal, p. 313.)

[16] Ohmann presents this argument in his paper ‘Generative Grammars and the Concept of Literary Style’ (1964).

[17] B. McHale, ‘Free Indirect Discourse: A Survey of Recent Accounts’ in Poetics and Theory of Literature (1978).

[18] Ibid., p. 256.

[19] T. Pratchett, Going Postal (2004), p. 245.

[20] Ibid., p. 73.

[21] Ibid., p. 68.

[22] The name is a pun on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver; Mr. Reacher Gilt has an eyepatch and a talkative parrot, like his piratical counterpart.  The piracy as far as Gilt is concerned is not robbery on the open seas, but embezzlement on a grand scale.  His parrot, instead of repeating ‘pieces of eight’, habitually cries ‘twelve and a half per cent’, an allusion to the percentage of people who would actually receive their money if everyone simultaneously decided to withdraw their savings from their bank accounts.  The word ‘gilt’, with its reference to what is only a superficial covering of gold, is also a clue to the real nature of this particular character.

[23] Going Postal is, of course, just one novel of an entire series set on the Discworld, and it should be borne in mind that Lord Vetinari, Captain Carrot and Mr. Slant are firmly established characters in the minds of Pratchett’s readers through their appearances in earlier novels.  The other characters featuring in these extracts, Moist von Lipwig and Reacher Gilt included, are new inventions.  I have chosen these extracts in particular largely because they provide ample material for the effective illustration of the points I wish to make.

[24] PN is the terminology of M. Toolan, Narrative: a critical linguistic introduction (2001), p. 119, and NRA that of G. Leech and M. Short, Style in Fiction (1981), p. 324.  I have decided to use Toolan’s PN, to avoid any possible confusion between NRA and NRSA.  (Toolan also retains NRSA; see p. 139 of his book.)

[25] The absence of quotation marks means that the latter could be described as a form of Free Direct Thought (FDT), but the presence of reporting clauses suggests that these passages are in fact somewhere between DT and FDT on the speech/thought continuum.  It is, in fact, fairly common practice amongst modern authors to omit the quotation marks around the representation of a character’s thoughts in order to differentiate between this and the representation of a character’s speech.

[26] T. Pratchett, Going Postal (2004).  Subsequent page references to this novel are marked in the main body of the text.  Examples and sentences are numbered for ease of reference.

[27] In fact, I have been so far unsuccessful in my search for an example of IS in Pratchett’s novel as a whole; it would appear that Pratchett does not make use of this form of speech representation at all.

[28] The golem Anghammarad, who perishes in the Post Office fire, actually spends nine thousand years sitting on the sea bed (see pp. 153-155 of Going Postal).

[29] This new rendering of 4 into DT passes Toolan’s ‘framing or commutation test’ on p. 132 of Narrative: a critical linguistic introduction (2001).  See footnote xx below for more details.

[30] This fact is once again reported via DT with inversion: ‘No rings on her fingers, Moist noted.’  The inversion is necessitated in this case by the verb ‘noted’; if the reporting clause were to precede the reported clause, a subordinating conjunction ‘that’ would have to be added:

*Moist noted no rings on her fingers. (* indicates an unacceptable sentence)

Moist noted that there were no rings on her fingers.

[31] This passage raises another interesting point.  If Moist grew up in Uberwald, he would presumably have an Uberwaldian accent, yet in Stephen Briggs’ reading of the novel for the audiobook version, Moist’s accent is neutral, the same voice as that of the narrator.  The reason for this is presumably that an audiobook version of a novel read for the most part in a feigned foreign accent would be as wearisome for the listener as it would be for the performer.  The principal is the same as that which dictates that narrators should not generally ‘speak’ in a dialect other than Standard English.  Norman Page in Speech in the English Novel (1988) cites the example of Joseph from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights: ‘Joseph remains…a minor character: one could hardly imagine him charged with the narration of any part of the story.  [Brontë] seems to have been aware that small helpings of dialect are likely to satisfy the keenest appetite, and it is revealing that Ellen Dean…is a very superior kind of servant…a well-spoken woman with…little sign in her speech of her regional origins’ (p. 71).

[32] The use of the verb ‘seemed’ certainly indicates that the text is written from Vetinari’s point of view.

[33] There are similar instances of this technique to be found elsewhere in Pratchett’s work.  For example, a passage of FID sourced mainly in the character of Ronnie Carney from The Truth is also interrupted in a similar fashion when Sacharissa enters Carney’s office, as follows: ‘Dibbler had the knack.  He’d make up some story about some huge monster being seen in the lake in Hide Park and five readers would turn up swearing that they’d seen it, too.  Ordinary, everyday people, such as you might buy a loaf off.  How did he do it?  Carney’s desk was covered with his own failed attempts.  You needed a special kind of imagi-

“Why, Sacharissa,” he said, standing up as she crept into the room.’

The fractured word ending in a dash just before Sacharissa’s arrival suggests the breaking-off of a train of thought, similar to the termination of Lord Vetinari’s reverie in the above example.

[34] As mentioned in footnote xx above, Toolan’s test is useful when the reader wishes to identify a passage of FID as sourced in the character or the ‘abstract narrator’.  The following is the test for passages of FID sourced in the character: ‘[insert text to be probed, with any pronouns referring to the putatively discoursing character converted to first person, and with tenses converted to the present tense of thinking/speaking], the character remarks, to themselves or other characters’ (p. 132).  So: ‘Now I know what Moist intends,’ Gilt remarked to himself.

[35] Those characters kept at a distance are treated so for a reason.  The reader is not allowed to witness the internal monologues of Miss Dearheart, for example; as the object of Moist’s affections, she must remain inscrutable to the reader.  We must be kept guessing as to whether or not she will accept Moist’s proposal; in this way, our interest in the budding romance is sustained.

[36] D. Graddol et al., Describing Language (1994), p. 159.

[37] Ibid., p. 160.

[38] Cf.  Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, p.19.  The protagonist and narrator, Christopher, is an autistic boy who cannot read body language and has many basic everyday signals explained to him by his teacher, Siobhan: ‘I find people confusing.  This is for two main reasons.  The first main reason is that people do a lot of talking without using any words.  Siobhan says that if you raise one eyebrow it can mean lots of different things.  It can mean “I want to do sex with you” and it can also mean “I think that what you just said was very stupid.” ’

[39] Cf. the work of E. A. Schlegoff and H. Sacks on adjacency pairs (1973).  This work is referred to in Describing Language (1994), p. 204.  ‘Adjacency pair’ is a term used ‘to refer to conversational sequences in which an utterance by one speaker depends upon an utterance made by another’ (Katie Wales, A Dictionary of Stylistics, 2nd edition, 2001).

[40] R. Fowler, Linguistic Criticism (1996), p. 152.

[41] It is evident here and elsewhere that the reader is being encouraged to compare these two men and their respective philosophies on the concept of freedom.  Pratchett even supplies the reader with two similar scenes in which we see the master speaking to a servant: Lord Vetinari and Drumknott, and Reacher Gilt and his Igor.  The Patrician’s question – ‘Who will tell the tyrant he is a tyrant?’ (p. 78) – is mirrored in the second of these scenes by Gilt’s question, ‘Igor, would you say that I’m insane?’ (p. 273).  Perhaps the reader is being invited to question whether Reacher Gilt is Pratchett’s idea of Lord Vetinari ‘gone bad’.  The parallels between the two men are clear, but the difference is that Igor eventually abandons Reacher Gilt, whereas Drumknott only replies to his master’s line of questioning with the irrelevant observation that ‘what the world really needs are filing boxes which are not so flimsy’ (p. 78).  Here, Drumknott breaches Grice’s maxim of relation; presumably he wishes to avoid the question!  These maxims are discussed in various texts, including Graddol et al., pp. 124-125, and in Leech and Short, pp. 294-5.  Drumknott violates, rather than flouts, Grice’s maxim of relation in providing a totally irrelevant answer to Vetinari’s question.  The implication is that Drumknott breaches one maxim in order to avoid breaching another, the maxim of quality, which dictates that one should not lie.  Presumably there is a sense in which Drumknott does indeed consider Vetinari to be a tyrant.  It is worth mentioning that Pratchett also encourages the reader to compare the conduct of Gilt with that of Moist: Vetinari gives both men the opportunity for salvation, but Gilt refuses to take it.  Grice’s maxims can also be useful in examining the passage following the fire in the Post Office in which Moist is interviewed by Captain Carrot (pp. 242-244).  Moist is lying, and both the reader and the Captain know it.  As one would expect, many of Carrot’s speech acts are questions, or requests for information.  Moist hedges these questions by repeatedly breaking Grice’s maxims of either quality or quantity, that is, his replies are either untruthful or scanty, in all except one instance.  When Carrot asks Moist if he has received any threats, Moist replies, ‘None at all’ (p. 244).  This is true – but of course, Gilt is far too clever to openly threaten his adversary.

[42] Examples taken from chapter 14 of Going Postal, pp. 331-350.

[43] T. Pratchett, Thud! (2005), p. 19.

[44] Ibid., p. 21.

[45] T. Pratchett, Going Postal (2004), p. 273.

[46] K. H. Basso has written an interesting essay on the function of silence in Western Apache culture, where to remain silent actually represents a conversational turn: ‘ “To Give up on Words”: Silence in Western Apache Culture’ (1970), reproduced in P. P. Giglioli, Language and Social Context (1972), pp. 67-86.

[47] N. Page, Speech in the English Novel (1988), p. 40.

[48] D. Graddol et al., Describing Language (1994), p. 152.  Stier and Hall are commenting upon human behaviour in relation to body contact, or haptics, but it is possible that their conclusion may have relevance to other areas of face-to-face interaction.


Three Spark Novels Covered

We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, and we all do it nevertheless. Of course we do. So much so, in fact, that the cover design is now recognised as part of the narratology of a book: the ‘layout and illustration of a book’s cover and the design of its title page strongly influence consumer behaviour when the reader is able to choose from a number of editions from a range of newly published books’ (Monika Fludernik, An Introduction to Narratology, p. 19). The picture on the cover begins to draw us into the text before we’ve glanced at the first page, and in some cases can even contain spoilers, or can provide a reading, or interpretation, of the text that will influence the reader right from the start.

Personally speaking, I avoided Terry Pratchett novels for years because of those awful Josh Kirby covers. Be-thonged maidens with unfeasibly large boobs? No thanks. Kirby’s illustrations gave me the impression that the novels would be representative of the fantasy genre at its most ridiculous, when in fact this is not true at all. A friend urged me to ignore the covers and give Pratchett a try, and when I did, I enjoyed his Discworld books hugely and read them all one after the other. If it hadn’t been for those ghastly covers, I would have read them years ago. My apologies to those who like Kirby’s work – I know there are many who do – but I’m firmly in the Paul Kidby camp.

Anyway, this term I’ve been writing about Muriel Spark’s The Bachelors, The Ballad of Peckham Rye and The Public Image, and I thought I’d put together a little blog about the covers for these books. The Bachelors was first published in 1960, and its central figure is a spiritualist medium by the name of Patrick Seton. Seton is a criminal – of that there is no doubt – but there is textual evidence to suggest that his powers as a medium may be genuine, especially in the episode concerning Dr Lyte. Most of the evidence points to Seton being a fake, but he seems to be genuinely unaware of what it was that he said to Dr Lyte when in his trance. Of course, you never really know where you are with Spark, and her narrators often keep the reader guessing just for the hell of it – you’re never told for sure whether Seton is able to contact the spirit world or not. Let’s have a look at the covers.


(left) This is Patrick during a séance, mouth open, delivering messages from the other side, with his audience gathered around him. This next one, however (below), goes beyond simple illustration and provides the reader with an interpretation:








Here (right) we have Patrick, tied to his chair as he is during his trances, but this time, coins, not words, are cascading from his open mouth. The impression given is that Patrick makes money from his spiritualist performances, so the further implication is that Patrick is not genuine. This reading will colour the reader’s perception of the text right from the start.




The final cover for this book, however, is more likely to simply confuse the reader:


(left) I mean – what’s this about? It’s just a man of a certain age in a suit and a hat. It’s as if someone just searched for ‘bachelor’ in the Clip Art library and came up with this one. Not wrong, because the book is entitled The Bachelors, but not really right either. And the blurb on the back cover is weird too (see below):

Bachelors_back cover




Just who is supposed to be talking here? ‘He’s that dear little, sinister little medium’? Is it supposed to be the voice of one of the members of the Wider Infinity, Patrick’s spiritualist group? I suppose it could be, but clearly the last sentence is a narratorial voice rather than the voice of a character, which doesn’t help matters and makes the whole thing look a bit cock-eyed and cobbled together at the last minute. And what’s a ‘VHF of a flutter’ when it’s at home? Really, this is rubbish.

On to the next novel, The Ballad of Peckham Rye, also published in 1960. This story features a character called Dougal Douglas (or Douglas Dougal), who arrives in Peckham Rye and causes mayhem before departing. He has two lumps on his head which he claims to be the remains of horns removed by a plastic surgeon, but we don’t have to believe this. The designer of this cover, however, wants the novel’s readers to believe that Dougal really is an instrument of the Devil (below left):


Here Dougal’s ‘horns’ are two miniature versions of himself, each with their own set of horns – which in turn will have horns, and so on and so on. Dougal is looking at us and grinning, as he is here (below right):


The grin is not so obvious, but can be inferred perhaps from the raised eyebrow and cheek muscle. This cover goes some way towards depicting the canteen scene in the novel, in which Dougal attracts a great deal of female attention by bursting into tears. A third cover does not depict Dougal at all, but focuses on Peckham itself:


Here, Peckham Rye has been made to look a bit like Las Vegas – which it doesn’t – but the artist has picked up on the dancing. There’s an awful lot of dancing in this novel, and of course the Devil loves to dance! But dancing is part of social behaviour and it comes with a whole set of rules and regulations of its own, to which the Peckham inhabitants add their own little rituals. In Peckham Rye, dancing is never very far from fighting (and vice versa, in fact), both of which activities are undertaken by savage and civilised societies. And dancing, of course, is so often a prelude to sex. William Boyd argues that this is a novel about sex in his perceptive introduction, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Sex, fighting and dancing. The inhabitants of Peckham Rye don’t really need a devilish figure running around to cause trouble, because it’s all happening already. Dougal, for all his funny ways, is merely a catalyst.

So now we come to my last novel for today, The Public Image, published later than the other two, in 1968. This story is about a second-rate actress, who has somehow become very successful, fighting to save her public image when her husband commits suicide.


The first cover (left) shows a diminutive woman struggling under the weight of a huge star bearing a wide toothy grin. The woman herself is frowning fiercely: she looks off-balance and is obviously unhappy with her position. This picture always reminds me of Atlas trying to bear the weight of the world on his shoulders, but Atlas, of course, had no choice. The idea that the public image is something from which the actress would like to escape is another example of a reading that is given to the reader in the cover image. A second cover looks like this (below right):


It’s very similar in some ways: a large smiling face, eyes hidden by sunglasses as is so often the case, and the shell appears in Frederick’s suicide note to Annabel: ‘You are a beautiful shell, like something washed up on the sea-shore, a collector’s item, perfectly formed, a pearly shell – but empty, devoid of the life it once held.’ (p. 92). The shell image reappears at the end, but I can’t say more without spoiling it. Finally, this third cover is very different:


This image (left) focuses not on the public image, but on the ruptured marriage – an image in negative of two people kissing is torn across the centre. This cover design incorporates Frederick’s role in Annabel’s public image, which the other two do not.

I’ll end with an image of Muriel Spark herself (below). Isn’t it fabulous?