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Week 5 - Narratology and Theories of Reading

Iwona Janicka

In this session we will consider the practice of storytelling and look at selected theories with which narratives can be analysed and understood. We will focus on two questions: “Who sees?” (focalisation) and “Who speaks?” (voice) in the context of unreliable narration.

For our session please read the following theoretical texts and prepare a close reading of the accompanying literary excerpts:

Key Concepts

*Roland Barthes, Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narratives’ from Image, Music, Text (1966)

H. Porter Abbott, ‘Narration’ from The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (2002)


*Gérard Genette, ‘Voice’ from Narrative Discourse (1972)

Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, ‘Text: Focalisation’ from Narrative Fiction (1983)

Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, ‘Narration: Levels and Voices’ from Narrative Fiction (1983)

For analysis: Henry James, What Maisie Knew (1897)

Narrator's Reliability

Uri Margolin, ‘Theorizing Narrative (Un)reliability: A Tentative Roadmap’ (2015)

For analysis: W. M. Thackeray, Barry Lyndon (1844)


Herman, David, Manfred Jahn and Marie-Laure Ryan. 2005. Routledge Encyclopaedia of Narrative Theory (London and New York: Routledge)

Actant - Author - Discourse Analysis (Foucault and Linguistics) - Embedding - Existent - Framed Narrative - Function (Jakobson and Propp) - Ideology & Narrative - Implied Author & Implied Reader - Institutional Narrative - Intentionality - Modality - Mode - Narrator - Plot & Plot Types - Point of View & Polyphony - Reader Constructs - Reflexivity & Reliability - Story Schemata & Causal Structure - Story Discourse Distinction - Storyworld - Temporal Ordering & Tense -Theories of Fiction - Truth - Voice

Suggested Further Reading

Bal, Mieke. 2009 [1985]. Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. 3rd Edition. (Toronto et al.: University of Toronto Press)

Booth, Wayne C. 1983 [1961]. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 2nd Edition (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press)

Chatman, Seymour. 1978. Story and Discourse. Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press)

Cobley, Paul. 2014 [2001]. Narrative. 2nd Edition (London and New York: Routledge)

Eco, Umberto. 1979. The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (Bloomington: Indiana University Press)

Fish, Stanley. 1980. Is There a Text in the Class? The Authority of Interpretative Communities (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP)

Iser, Wolfgang. 1974. The Implied Reader: Patterns of Communication in Prose Fiction from Bunyan to Beckett (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press)

Iser, Wolfgang. 1978. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response (Boltimore: John Hopkins Univeristy Press)

Nünning, Ansgar (ed.). 1998. Unreliable Narration: Studien zur Theorie und Praxis unglaubwürdigen Erzählens in der englischsprachigen Erzählliteratur (Trier: WtV)

Nünning, Vera (ed.). 2015. Unreliable Narration and Trustworthiness. Intermedial and Interdisciplinary Perspectives (Berlin et al.: De Gruyter)

Rimmon-Kennan, Shlomith. 2002 [1983]. Narrative Fiction. Contemporary Poetics. 2nd Edition (London and New York: Routledge)

Stanzel, Franz K.A. 1984 [1979]. Theory of Narrative. trans. by Charlotte Goedsche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)