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Reading Novels

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George Hughes’s Reading Novels is a unique piece of practical criticism, a comprehensive “poetics” of a genre that has not attracted a great deal of such attention, at least not on this level. It is a reader’s and student’s guide that reaches beyond issues of individual texts and historical traditions to essential features of the form. There are several sophisticated textbooks of this kind that deal with poetry. John Frederick Nims’s
Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry, published twenty-five years ago and now in its fourth edition, comes to mind as a comparable volume, both for the catholicity of its examples and the intelligence of its comments. But because of the length of individual novels, perhaps, or because of the difficulty of formalizing the conventions of a genre that is always foregrounding its departure from tradition, most books on the “rhetoric of fiction,” the “nature of narrative” or “structuralist poetics” that have broken important ground in the last half-century have been aimed at a scholarly, professorial audience, not at a readership of students, teachers of introductory courses, and that endangered species, the general reader. All of these more common readers stand to benefit greatly from this new book. At the same time, Hughes’s engagement with a wide range of French structuralist studies of the novel, of narrative, and of language in general makes Reading Novels a book that ought to be informative and valuable to many American scholars as well, especially those who teach English and American literature, since this kind of criticism, once fashionable, seems no longer to be widely read in this country.

Foreword vi
Preface xi
Introduction 1
Part I Openings 13
1 Starting the Analysis 15
2 Space and Time 39
Part II Description, Character,
Dialogue, and Monologue 55
3 Description 57
4 Character and Character Portraits 71
5 Dialogue 87
6 Monologue and Stream of Consciousness 104
7 Free Indirect Discourse 111
Part III Narrative and Narrators 117
8 Narrative I 119
9 Narrative II 131
10 Narrators 148
Part IV The Language of the Text 161
11 Sentence Structure and Connection 165
12 Verbs: Tense, Time, and Voice 183
13 Adjectives 194
14 Figures: Metaphor, Metonymy, Irony 199
15 Words and Meanings 213
16 Repetition and Figures of Construction 222
17 Lists 234
Part V Endings 239
18 Endings 241
Checklist of Questions
for the Analysis of a Passage 249
Appendix 1. Film and the Novel 253
Appendix 2. Stereotype and Cliché
in the Novel 257
Notes 261
Works of Fiction Cited 283
Select Bibliography 287
Index 293
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