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Narrative Beginnings

Theories and Practices

Brian Richardson

Publication Year: 2009

George Eliot wrote that “man cannot do without the make-believe of a beginning.” Beginnings, it turns out, can be quite unusual, complex, and deceptive. The first major volume to focus on this critical but neglected topic, this collection brings together theoretical studies and critical analyses of beginnings in a wide range of narrative works spanning several centuries and genres. The international and interdisciplinary scope of these essays, representing every major theoretical perspective—including feminist, cognitive, postcolonial, postmodern, rhetorical, ethnic, narratological, and hypertext studies—extends from classic literary fiction to nonfictional discourse to popular culture.
The authors, respected scholars and emerging critics, ask what conventions structure our understanding of beginnings before we encounter them; how best to analyze and comprehend beginnings in historical, traditional, and postmodern works; and how endings are (often unexpectedly) related to beginnings. The contributors use historical, political, narratological, and psychological frameworks to pursue these and related questions in works by Laurence Sterne, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Manuel Puig, Salman Rushdie, Julia Alvarez, and feminist hypertext fiction. Together their essays comprise the single most important volume for theorizing about and understanding narrative beginnings.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Frontiers of Narrative


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pp. vii-viii

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Editor’s Preface

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pp. ix-x

Beginnings are one of the most important topics of narrative theory, textual analysis, and the study of fi ction. They are frequently thematized within modern literary narratives; to take a recent example, the...

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pp. xi

Thanks to Cathy Romagnolo for many years of rich discussion on the topic of narrative beginnings, and to the Society for the Study of Narrative Literature, which approved two panels on beginnings and...

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Introduction Narrative Beginnings

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pp. 1-10

The beginning is a foundational element of any narrative, fictional or nonfictional, public or private, official or subversive. The full importance of beginnings, however, has long been neglected or misunderstood and...

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Part One: Origins, Paratexts, and Prototypes

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pp. 11-14

Three major areas of research have emerged since 1975 that theorize beginnings before the narrative proper gets under way. These are rhetorical situation, paratextual apparatuses, and ideological positioning...

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1. To Begin with the Beginning

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pp. 15-28

The ancient distinction between art and nature has generally caused scholars to distinguish between artificial and natural beginnings. This vocabulary has, however, the unfortunate consequence of insinuating...

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2. Before the Beginning

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pp. 29-43

The few narrative theorists who analyze beginnings typically assume that a narrative's beginning is to be found in its opening line, fi rst paragraph, or fi rst chapter. But what do we make of a work whose...

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3. Stories, Wars, and Emotions

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pp. 44-62

It has been a commonplace since at least Homi Bhabha's famous collection that nation and narration are intertwined. Nationhood, everyone now tells us, is inseparable from storytelling. The problem...

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4. September 1939

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pp. 63-78

As James Phelan has observed in his overview of the scholarship bearing on how novels open and close, "beginnings have received less attention from theorists than endings" (97). Phelan restricts his presentation to...

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Part Two: Beginnings in Narrative Literature

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pp. 79-82

In the modern era, theorists of beginnings have generally gravitated toward one of three positions: first, the attempt to establish a fixed point where the sequence of events commences; second, the identification...

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5. “The More I Write, the More I Shall Have to Write”

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pp. 83-95

When Laurence Stern's wide-eyed Tristram Shandy eagerly takes up the project of writing his bildungsroman, "the history of myself," he expresses a fervent desire to begin at the beginning: he promises...

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6. Virginia Woolf and Beginning’s Ragged Edge

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pp. 96-112

Pick up a book and feel in your hands its compact, three-dimensional, sturdy shape. Open the book and run your eye down the clean edge of its left-hand page. For readers, beginning a book means entering into...

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7. A Theory of Narrative Beginnings and the Beginnings of “The Dead” and Molloy

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pp. 113-126

The central theoretical question surrounding this topic is precisely what constitutes the beginning of a narrative. I argue in this essay that there are three distinct kinds of beginnings: one in the narrative...

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8. Heartbreak Tango

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pp. 127-136

Scholars have identified the figure of the "archive" as the origin of Latin American narrative. This repository of colonial letters, chronicles, and contracts is the crucible for a literary tradition that speaks in a patriarchal...

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9. Lost Beginnings in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children

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pp. 137-148

Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children opens with a classic statement announcing autobiographical origins: :I was born in the city of Bombay . . . once upon a time: (3). The Dickensian echo signifying the...

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10. Recessive Origins in Julia Alvarez’s Garcia Girls

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pp. 149-165

In his seminal study Beginnings: Intention and Method, Edward Said defines beginnings as "the first step in the intentional production of meaning" (5). Implicit in Said's study is an understanding of beginnings...

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11. Curtain Up?

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pp. 166-178

You know that this article has begun because of several clear cues: the title appears above, indicating an article about drama; my name is printed just below; and after a standard number of lines, the text...

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12. Where to Begin?

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pp. 179-190

While postmodernism may eschew closure in both history and narrative, it seems that the need to classify narrative beginnings as a single originary juncture remains necessary. On the one hand, Gerald Prince ...

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Part Three: Beginnings and/as Endings

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pp. 191-194

It is widely felt that beginnings are connected in significant ways to endings, though the precise nature and implications of these connections are not always agreed on. Edward Said and Peter Brooks affirm...

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13. The Beginning of Beloved

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pp. 195-212

This essay locates narrative beginnings within a rhetorical theory of narrative, develops an approach to beginnings that pays attention to both textual dynamics and readerly dynamics, and then analyzes...

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14. Connecting Links

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pp. 213-227

In a coherent system, beginnings lead to endings, and endings determine how we understand beginnings. Our concept of the novel as the locus of a fictive world includes a strong expectation of coherence. As...

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15. “Mr. Betwixt-and-Between”

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pp. 228-245

Upon its publication in 1886, Kidnapped immediately claimed a place of high renown in Stevenson's canon. No less a critic than Henry James, writing in Century Magazine in April 1888, claimed of Kidnapped...

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16. Maculate Reconceptions

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pp. 246-262

Dear Professor Polhemus, I have just finished reading your book, Lot's Daughters: Sex, Redemption, and Women's Quest for Authority, and I'm trying to reconcile what you say with an article I"m writing about...

Further Reading on Narrative Beginnings

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pp. 263-266


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pp. 267-270


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pp. 271-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780803219380
E-ISBN-10: 0803219385

Page Count: 470
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Frontiers of Narrative