Sample Chapter 5

Empowering Readers:
Ten Approaches to Narrative

Book Proposal

Garry Gillard PhD
School of Humanities
Murdoch University


The aim of the book is to offer students an account of various approaches to narrative which have succeeded and competed with each other, particularly since the 1950s. It will offer not only an introduction to these approaches, but also a demonstration, as each chapter will include a reading in the terms of the selected approach of one major narrative text (usually a novel). The book therefore has the double appeal of giving not only an overview of theoretical and critical schools from New Criticism to Postmodernism, but also a fresh, new, insightful reading of important texts which are on a large number of reading lists. (The current design includes one Australian text, but this could be replaced with another of more international appeal.)

Each of the ten chapters (plus an introduction) treats one major critical approach to the novel, and each presents a reading, in terms of that approach, of one text in the international canon. A balance will be maintained between the theoretical and the practical, with not too much of the former. The novels have not necessarily been chosen for their appropriateness for that approach--because one of the aims of the book is to show that any approach can potentially be used in relation to any narrative--and in some cases I shall deliberately read against the grain, to defamiliarise, or 'make strange' the text. Brief suggestions will be made at the end of each chapter as to the effectiveness of approaches other than the one chosen in reading the same text. Readers will be empowered to be able to choose whatever approach they wish to a narrative text.


Empowering Readers will be the only book in the market by a single author which discusses a number of approaches to reading narrative, and which demonstrates their usefulness, and which provides the outline of a course in reading narratives.

Although I'll be writing with an undergraduate audience partly in mind, the largest target market is TEE (Sixth Form) Literature students. I write in an accessible style with a minimum of technical jargon, explaining each approach clearly and in a demystifying way, and show its strengths and weaknesses in a practical demonstration. (I might mention here that, although I've been a university lecturer for fifteen years or more I was a secondary teacher for ten continuous years before that (mainly in English Literature, and including two years in England), and so have a practical feel for that audience as well.) At the secondary level, Empowering Readers could be followed as the set text for a one year course in Literature, with one text read per month, using ER as the primary source of approaching that text. The book will also be useful to any university student of Literature who is reading a unit on the novel or on narrative--the majority of all Literature students. The book will be set for my own course.

Chapter outline

Chapter 1. Introduction

This book is an introduction to approaches to narrative which have been found to be useful during the last fifty years or so, and most recently. Each chapter deals with one narrative, usually a novel, and one approach--often associated with a particular theorist or critic. Approaches and texts are in roughly chronological order.

Chapter 2. Tom Jones and realism

Literary critics and theorists, since ancient times, have been concerned with the problem of representation. But the notion of imitation cannot be dealt with alone, and questions about form immediately arise. In approaching Henry Fielding's great novel, due respect is given to Ian Watt's seminal work on the rise of the novel.

Chapter 3. Dangerous Liaisons and point of view

Laclos's novel, being epistolary, of course presents an ideal field in which to begin to discuss the crucial topic of point of view: each letter must by definition offer just one. Wayne C. Booth's 1961 book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, is a landmark still used as a triangulation point for work in the area.

Chapter 4. Frankenstein and reception

Although Mary Shelley's novel might seem to invite treatment from a philosophical approach, this chapter will read the novel in the light of reader-response theory. Wolfgang Iser sees this as, among other things, filling up the gaps or 'indeterminacies' inevitably left by the text.

Sample chapter
Chapter 5. Oliver Twist and myth
As this is only a sample chapter, any links may not work.

Again, Dickens' novel is usually read in the contexts of its period in history and the life of the author. Perhaps no-one has ever tried to read it in the light of the structuralist approach to myth pioneered by Claude Lévi-Strauss: both the utility and limitations of the approach should be clearly shown.

Chapter 6. The Brothers Karamazov and biography

This time an 'obvious' approach is used, one which has been found enlightening by many critics: Michael Holquist, for example, has shown the potential for understanding the novel in the relationship between its central themes and the author's life.

Chapter 7. The Turn of the Screw and psychoanalysis

This chapter will offer not only a brief account of how psychoanalysis works but also a critique of Freud's work which results in a demystification of James's story. Reference will also be made to the genre of the 'fantastic,' as Tzvetan Todorov has given such a clear account of it in relation to stories like this one.

Chapter 8. Heart of Darkness and marxism

Now that the ideological thrust of marxism is weakened, it can be seen once again in terms of its base discipline of sociology where it began, in literary terms with theorists like Georg Lukacs. This reading 'against the grain' makes the nature of the approach clearer than one colluding with the target text.

Chapter 9. 'Dora' and deconstruction

Although Freud's case study seems is not apparently a literary narrative, it's worth remembering that is was for Literature that he won the Goethe Prize in 1930. A deconstructive reading (following Derrida) takes a text and forces it to reveal what it is most desirous to conceal.

Chapter 10. A Passage to India and postcolonialism

The book concludes with two more conventional readings: but the approaches in each case are relatively new and in need of straightforward exposition. Forster's story inevitably presents 'his' view of the case, and a 'postcolonialist' reading will show that there are others clamouring for attention.

Chapter 11. An Open Swimmer and postmodernism

Although Tim Winton's novel is not necessarily a clear example of a postmodern text in itself, it tends in that direction, and presents enough of those characteristics for a postmodernist reading to be useful. (If an Australian text is not appropriate, another will be offered: Albert Camus's The Outsider.)

New: 3 August 1996
Now: 21 February 1997
HTML author: Garry Gillard: