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Prose Fiction

 | 
Ignasi Ribó

Preface

Texte intégral

1This book is a college-level introduction to the concepts of narrative theory (or narratology) that students need in order to develop their competence in analysing, interpreting and writing prose fiction.

2The book has been conceived and written for undergraduate students majoring in English literature and language, as well as in other disciplines of the Humanities, in Asia. In general, Asian students have only had a limited exposure to Western literature and literary theories during their high-school education. The book aims to provide an easy-to-follow introduction for these students, giving them the tools to read and engage in critical discussion of narrative texts without burdening them with excessive historical or theoretical details. The book should also be useful to Western students, either at high-school or college-level, as well as to general readers interested in learning more about the literary devices used in narrative texts, particularly in prose fiction genres such as short stories and novels.

3 Prose Fiction presents the most important concepts of narratology in a rigorous but accessible way. It follows a semiotic model of narrative communication, which is based on the most recent literary theory, but avoids engaging in overtly technical debates. By using simple language and relying on many examples drawn from a wide range of short stories and novels, some of them well-known to students, the book allows them to develop a thorough understanding of the key elements of narrative.

4This material is intended to be used as the main textbook in a syllabus that would also include a selection of readings, and in-class interpretation and discussion of stories drawn from a variety of authors, genres and periods. It can also be used as a supplementary textbook in creative writing courses, especially those focused on narrative fiction.

5The book begins by introducing the ‘semiotic model of narrative, ’ which incorporates key elements of narratological theory into a single coherent framework. The different elements of this framework are then developed in subsequent chapters. This structure allows the student to progressively develop a comprehensive understanding of narrative without getting lost in the intricacies of theory.

6The initial chapters on plot, setting and characterisation are particularly important for a narratological analysis of stories. They constitute the most accessible part of the book, providing plenty of examples that allow students to better understand the key concepts presented. More challenging, but also important from a narratological perspective, is the chapter on narration. The following two chapters, on language and theme, are not usually covered so extensively by most textbooks on narrative. The chapter on language explores figurative devices generally used in prose fiction, and is particularly useful for students who are not familiar with rhetoric. Finally, the chapter on theme incorporates perspectives drawn from contemporary critical theory (feminism, postcolonialism, etc.) that are not generally discussed in similar textbooks but constitute an essential aspect of contemporary literary criticism.

7The language used in the book is purposely simple and accessible to undergraduate students without previous knowledge of literature. Key concepts are defined in the glossary at the end of the book. Throughout the text, an effort is made to systematically classify and structure the different elements of narrative in ways that facilitate understanding and retention by students.

8I have purposefully avoided giving specific text samples or readings, because I believe that instructors should feel free to design their own reading list, based on their own interests and knowledge, as well as on their students’ preferences and the context of their teaching. I see this textbook as a bare-bones presentation of narrative theory. The book provides a conceptual skeleton, allowing teachers to decide what flesh they want to add, in order to construct a working model for an effective course on the anatomy of fiction.

9Given the abstract nature of many of the concepts discussed, I have tried to provide examples throughout the book. These examples are not developed in detail and are solely used to illustrate key concepts and make them easier to understand for students. They also aim to provide a sense of the diversity, complexity and excitement of fiction narratives. While the examples are drawn from a wide variety of short stories and novels, including both classical and popular fiction from different languages and cultures, most of the texts were originally written in English. This predominance of English (or rather, English-language) literature can be explained in part because the textbook was originally written for students majoring in English language and literature. But it also reflects the current status of English as the preeminent global language, a fact which necessarily affects the international projection of its literature. Coming from a country whose language and culture have been historically minoritised, I am nonetheless quite sensitive to the negative consequences that derive from the supremacy of the English language. Thus, I have tried my best to expand the cultural range of examples in order to reflect the rich diversity of world literature.

10However, I am not entirely sure if I have succeeded in this effort, and most likely my explanations and examples are too heavily determined by the European tradition, which is, after all, my own. In any case, at the end of the book, I have provided a short summary and contextualisation of all the stories that I use as examples. Each entry also includes a link to additional sources of information (i.e., Wikipedia), in order to guide students in their own exploration of the literary canon beyond the formal classroom reading list.

11While the textbook necessarily reflects my own biases and shortcomings, I hope that it will spark the interest of students in literary narratives, encouraging them to read more, but above all, to read more critically.

12Chiang Rai, 1 October 2019

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