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Story and Situation

Story and Situation: Narrative Seduction and the Power of Fiction

Ross Chambers
Foreword by Wlad Godzich
Volume: 12
Copyright Date: 1984
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Story and Situation
    Book Description:

    Studies the relation between teller and listener in a set of French, English, and American short stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8204-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword After the Storyteller...
    (pp. xi-2)
    Wlad Godzich

    Ross Chambers is a critic of modest pretensions: Eschewing the current tone of theoretical pronouncements, he prefers to analyze the way in which stories make their point. He does so with unparalleled rigor and clarity and in full cognizance of the methodological and theoretical debates that animate the branch of literary studies we have recently taken to calling narratology. In the process, he not only provides an evaluation of the achievements and the shortcomings of this field, but forces us into a fundamental reflection on narrative and its fate.

    Narratology arose from the seemingly common-sensical observation that stories are told...

  5. Chapter One Story and Situation
    (pp. 3-17)

    With the waning of structuralism, it has become clear that, in general terms, meaning is not inherent in discourse and its structures, but contextual, a function of the pragmatic situation in which the discourse occurs. Indeed, there is some debate—fired principally by the extreme monism of Stanley Fish¹—as to whether it makesanysense to attempt to distinguish text from context, although to many it does seem that meaning is precisely theperception of a relationshipbetween discourse and its context (however difficult it may be, in purely formal terms, to distinguish one from the other). As far...

  6. Chapter Two Self-Situation and Readability
    (pp. 18-49)

    Much of the specific conceptual apparatus deployed in this book is unoriginal. It derives from modern research into the interpretability of literary texts, their self-interpreting specularity and their readerly availability to hermeneutic operations. It derives, too—why make a mystery of it?—from the already long tradition of narrative analysis, with its “grammatical” branch reaching back to the formalism of Vladimir Propp and largely developed by French structuralism, and especially its “rhetorical” branch, influenced seminally by the perspectivism of Henry James and which has flourished particularly in English-speaking countries. If I wish to extend the narratological tradition and go beyond...

  7. Chapter Three Narratorial Authority and “The Purloined Letter”
    (pp. 50-72)

    To tell a story is to exercise power (it is even called the power of narration), and “authorship” is cognate with “authority.” But, in this instance as in all others, authority is not an absolute, something inherent in a specific individual or in that individual’s discourse; it is relational, the result of an act of authorization on the part of those subject to the power, and hence something to be earned. Thus, in conversation, I may be willing to give up my prerogative of turn taking¹ in order to listen to a particularly interesting, or useful, or funny report; and...

  8. Chapter Four Seduction Denied: “Sarrasine” and the Impact of Art
    (pp. 73-96)

    “Une nuit d’amour centre une belle histoire.”¹ As has been mentioned, Roland Barthes rightly draws our attention to the exemplary character of "Sarrasine" as a figuring of the fact that no act of narration occurs without at least an implicit contract, that is, an understanding between narrator and narratee, an illocutionary situation that makes the act meaningful and gives it what we call a “point.” In “Sarrasine,” the contract is as close to being explicit as decorum allows: in accepting the very intimate circumstances of the rendezvous in which the narrator reveals the secret she wishes to learn and dispels...

  9. Chapter Five Seduction Renounced: “Sylvie” as Narrative Act
    (pp. 97-122)

    It has become customary, in the criticism of Nerval’s “Sylvie,” to distinguish between the two narrative instances covered by the same first-person pronoun, “I” (“je”).¹ There is a hero “I,” the subject of the act of “folly” recounted in the text (its narré): his voyage to the Valois in verification of the intuition that past and present are identical and that Aurelie, the actress he lovesde lonh,is “the same” as the aristocratic young girl Adrienne, now a nun, with whom he fell in love as a child, betraying his first love, the peasant girl Sylvie. And there is...

  10. Chapter Six An Invitation to Love: Simplicity of Heart and Textual Duplicity in “Un Cœur Simple”
    (pp. 123-150)

    “Elle avait eu, comme une autre, son histoire d’amour” (p. 592).¹ Innocuous as this sentence may seem, its vocabulary is pointed: Felicite’s “love story” with Théodore is embedded in the “love story” that is her life, and we must ask in what way it is a narrational model of the text. At the level of mise en abyme de I’enonce, the answer is relatively simple: by contrast. The commonness (“comme une autre”) of the story of Felicite’s seduction by Theodore points up the relative uniqueness of her true love story, the self-abnegation she displays throughout her life for others—for...

  11. Chapter Seven Not for the Vulgar? The Question of Readership in “The Figure in the Carpet”
    (pp. 151-180)

    This passage opens various paths of entry into “The Figure in the Carpet.” The Jamesian identification of text with author (reading the Vereker text is equivalent to intercourse with Vereker) produces an image of reading as interpersonal intimacy that is central to the tale and, of course, highly pertinent to the concerns of this book. No less central is the narrator’s failure, here in his quest for the book, and elsewhere in his search for the elusive secret of Vereker’s work (a “quest for the book” in another sense)—the theme, then, of his impotence and of his exclusion from...

  12. Chapter Eight Gabriel Conroy Sings for His Supper, Love Refused (“The Dead”)
    (pp. 181-204)

    Gabriel and Michael are the messenger angels, charged the one with the Annunciation, the other with heralding the Day of Judgment.¹ In “The Dead,” Gabriel Conroy and Michael Furey figure in a story about messages, set at Epiphany time,² and inviting consideration of its own status as message, that is, its relationship to noise.

    It is a commonplace of communication theory that there is no message without “noise”: since there must always be a channel of communication, there is also a degree of interference between the message’s transmission and its reception. But, putting it another way, this means that noise...

  13. Chapter Nine Authority and Seduction: The Power of Fiction
    (pp. 205-224)

    Jonathan Culler would probably include this book among those works of theory that fall into the “temptations of interpretation.”¹ Such works are misguided, in his view, because, theory being a conceptualization, or explicitation, of the norms and conventions by which the literary community (authors in their writing, readers in their reading) produce the phenomenon of literature, a theory that attempts to “prove” itself by demonstrating that it can generate "new" interpretations of literary works, is self-contradictory. One should rather expect of a theory that it give an account of the interpretations we already possess.

    But it is surely imposing unnecessary...

  14. Appendix A Saki, “The Open Window”
    (pp. 227-230)
  15. Appendix B Marcel Schwob, “Les Sans-Gueule”
    (pp. 231-236)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-246)
  17. Index
    (pp. 249-256)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)