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  • Modes of Narrative: Approaches to American, Canadian, and British Fiction
  • Richard F. Peterson
Ringard M. Nischik and Barbara Korte, eds. Modes of Narrative: Approaches to American, Canadian, and British Fiction. Würzburg: Könighausen, 1990. 312 pp. pb. DM 68.

The twenty-two essays in Modes of Narratives are presented as a tribute to Helmut Bonheim, Professor of Anglo-American Philology at the University of Cologne, on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. In recognition of Helmut Bonheim's long-standing support of international cooperation in English studies and student exchange programs, the editors have gathered an international guest list of contributors, who, in the proper spirit of the occasion, have written essays on narrative literature, the "center" of Bonheim's many literary concerns.

The impressive range of topics, selected by the contributors from the context of narrative literature, reflects the varied research and teaching interests of Bonheim, although the approaches, described by the editors as "manifold," are predominantly [End Page 689] poststructuralist. Restricted to American, Canadian, and British fiction, the essays on individual works, if arranged historically, begin with Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, move through Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and become thoroughly modern with Joyce's Ulysses. The most common thread running through the collection, however, is the inquiry into the short-story form.

The appeal of Modes of Narrative, because of its diversity, will largely depend upon the reader's literary, critical, and theoretical tastes. The ideal reader should have a strong general interest in modern and contemporary fiction, especially the short story, and in problems of intertextuality, including genre cross-reference and inter-medial influence. The conventional reader may well become frustrated by the unevenness of intention in the essays, the lack of a more definite design or organization in the collection itself, and the occasional theoretical jargon that converts a simple study of influence into an intertextual study of pre-texts. For the reader interested in critical surveys, there are essays that attempt to place current concerns with narrative within the context of previous literary criticism or historical periods. The reader may also choose between essays that claim to offer fresh commentary on such familiar topics as Joyce and Flaubert, negotiate new appraisals of fringe writers like Djuna Barnes, or stake out the territory for recent writers and works such as Bret Easton Ellis and his novel Less Than Zero.

Of the twenty-two approaches in Modes of Narrative, the essays on the short story should prove especially attractive because of their range of subjects and theoretical approaches. For example, the essays by Walter Pache and Ulrich Broich on the modern and contemporary English short story, if taken together, become an interesting study of the relationship between the short narratives of fin de siècle writers and modern short-story writers and an inquiry into either the decline or neglect of the short story form in contemporary English fiction. Although patterns as definite as the rise and fall of the English short story are not common to Modes of Narrative, the frequency of essays on the short story and of poststructuralist approaches creates a general focus for the collection and a way in for the reader.

Richard F. Peterson
Southern Illinois University


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