Neuro Humanities Studies

David S. Miall,

Episode structures in literary narratives

Source: JLS
Year: 2004
Topics: Cognition;
Disciplines: Literature;

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This article is concerned with the moment-by-moment unfolding of the text as we might suppose the reader to experience it; in addressing one aspect of this reading experience, I propose a definition of the episode, and of episode structure, in literary narratives. To do so, I draw on insights from Ingarden, Iser, Barthes, Eco, Jim Rosenberg, and Ed Tan, but have found most useful the discussion of narrative structure in a 1922 essay by the Russian Formalist A. A. Reformatsky, which includes an analysis of Maupassant’s story “Un Coq Chanta”. Reformatsky’s essay is analyzed in detail. In a final section, I review responses to a short story (Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”) and consider the evidence for episodes in readers’ responses. To the number of convergent criteria used for characterizing episodes I add the role of the narrative twist occurring at or near the end of an episode, serving to intensify or redirect the issues raised, and itself characterized by a distinct development in readers’ feeling. Episodes provide the phases during which issues of concern to readers are managed and developed, and the analysis of the episodes of a story may thus provide a valuable framework for identifying the key developments in the responses of readers.


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