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Foregrounded Description in Prose Fictio

Foregrounded Description in Prose Fictio: Five Cross-Literary Studies

Series: Heritage
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 196
  • Book Info
    Foregrounded Description in Prose Fictio
    Book Description:

    In this wide-ranging study, José Manuel Lopes proposes a theoretical framework for analysing the role of description in prose fiction. He offers readings of texts drawn from four national literatures-French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Brazilian-testing his model across a cultural and temporal spectrum.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2324-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Wladimir Krysinski

    The development of literary theory in the second half of our century is marked by the fact that numerous critics and theorists in the West have discovered critical movements promoted by Eastern and Central European scholars of literature. At the same time, while such theorists as Vladimir Propp, Victor Shklovsky, Juryi Tynianov, Roman Jakobson, and Jan Mukaǐovský have considerably influenced literary theory in the West, Western critics and theoreticians have inspired new developments in the East. By the same token, the scope of literary theory has expanded to such a degree that, nowadays, any specific literary phenomenon can be scrutinized...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-5)

    Critical works on fictional description have, with very few exceptions, demonstrated a bias against it, and considered it to be purely ornamental, redundant, or even irrelevant. Description, however, can play a very significant role, not only in more recent texts of prose fiction (for example, the Frenchnouveau roman,or the post-modern novel in general), but also in those nineteenth-century realistic/naturalistic works that give description a foregrounded prominence.¹

    My aim is to present not only a framework that can better foster and facilitate the analysis and appreciation of description, but also to examine in detail a series of relevant fundamental...

  6. 1 Towards a framework for the analysis of description in prose fiction
    (pp. 6-27)

    With the emergence of nineteenth-century European realism in prose fiction, literary descriptions of characters and space cease to be mere rhetorical devices associated to the classic notions of ‘portrait’ and ‘tableau’ to become, more than ever before, important elements in the over all construction of narratives.² Thus, beyond such topoi as the ‘classical portrait’ and the‘locus amoenus’(which were aesthetic conventions not always pertinent to a narrative development), realistic/naturalistic descriptions become more intimately linked to the very process of fiction writing. This process no longer functions as mere aesthetic pauses inserted onto a narrative axis, but as fundamental building...

  7. 2 Description and mise en abyme Zola’s Une Page d’amour
    (pp. 28-50)

    Unlike some of the twenty volumes that constituteZola’s Les Rougon-Macquart, Une Page d’amour(1878)² has never received wide critical attention. In fact, apart from some brief references by Philippe Hamon (1981,1983) and by Raymonde Debray-Genette (1982), the critical bibliography on this specific novel consists primarily of Joy Newton’s ‘Zola et 1’ expressionnisme: Le point de vue hallucinatoire’ (1971), in which she addresses some problems pertinent to the concepts of literary impressionism and expressionism.³

    One is led to speculate on whyUne Page d’amourhas been ignored both by historicist criticism and by even more recent critical trends, since this...

  8. 3 Readings of visual images and postcard descriptions in Claude Simon’s Histoire
    (pp. 51-67)

    Claude Simon’sHistoire(1967)² is a novel in which the reader feels constantly in the presence of a consciousness generating a text through evocative memory processes. These are both scattered and centred by a range of visual images – postcards, stamps, banknotes, paintings, photographs³ – that function as modes of suspending a narrative continuum through the introduction of long and detailed descriptions. Thus, memory presents itself as a series of narrative/descriptive segments superimposed upon or juxtaposed against the perceptions of a narrativized present.

    The effect is one of ‘discohesion’ or fragmentation, a type of discourse formed as a shifting mosaic of textual...

  9. 4 The sarcastic descriptor: Satire and parody in Benito Pérez Galdós’ La de Bringas
    (pp. 68-90)

    Although humorous descriptions of characters do often occur in nineteenth-century realistic/naturalistic prose fiction (for example, in the works of Balzac and Dickens), descriptions of space are very seldom depicted sarcastically or even comically. Commenting on the lack of humour or sarcasm in the nineteenth-century French and English novel, Benito Pérez Galdós equated naturalism, which he viewed as a typically Spanish tendency, not with direct observation (as is often the case with Zola) but with the fiction of Cervantes and Quevedo, or with Goya’s drawings.²

    In this sense, the works of Galdós reveal a different naturalistic practice. Even in French and...

  10. 5 Description and modes of representation in Cornélio Penna’s A Menina Morta
    (pp. 91-114)

    Cornélio Penna’sA Menina Morta(1954)² is a Brazilian novel that seems to elude all labels categorizing novelistic genres: it has the descriptiveness of the French New Novel, some of the historiographic metafictional qualities of post-modern fiction,³ and yet at the same time it manages to convey, at least on first reading, an overall realistic mode of representation. These characteristics, together with the fact that the novel does not follow either the ‘modernistic’ or the ‘regionalistic’ trends of the Brazilian fiction of the 1950s, may explain why it has remained practically unknown.⁴

    It should be mentioned that Penna’s work is...

  11. 6 The impossible ‘mimesis’: Description and metadescription in Carlos de Oliveira’s Finisterra
    (pp. 115-141)

    Although the early poems and novels by Carlos de Oliveira can be viewed as works of Portuguese ‘neo-realism’ (a trend that spans from the 1940s to the 1960s),² his literary production as a whole still remains one of the most difficult to place among the canons of a literary school. His first four novels –Casa na Duna(1943),Alcateia(1944),Pequenos Burgueses(1948), andUma Abelha na Chuva(1953) – although ‘neo-realistic’ when first published, underwent (with the exception ofAlcateia) extensive revisions and transformations. In fact, what started as a series of minor stylistic modifications...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 142-150)

    After detailed analysis of five novels belonging to different cultures and periods and illustrating various problems concerning the nature and the uses of literary description in prose fiction, it is now possible to summarize the findings, following both synchronic and diachronic approaches. I begin such a synthesis with a brief reexamination of the theoretical framework proposed in chapter 1. Then, departing from traditional distinctions between description and narration (or, from a discourse linguistics point of view, between ‘backgrounded’ and ‘foregrounded material’), I shall consider several cases where such dichotomies prove to be awkward, inapplicable, or altogether irrelevant, even in the context...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 151-166)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 167-178)
  15. Index
    (pp. 179-183)