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Historicalness, comprehensiveness, and innovativeness: the first companion to stylistics.

Violeta Sotirova, ed. The Bloomsbury Companion to Stylistics. Bloomsbury, 2016. vii + 730 pp.

The second decade of the new century has seen some unprecedented publications in the field of stylistics, with 2014 witnessing the appearance of The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics and The Cambridge Handbook of Stylistics (see Shen, "Routledge," "Cambridge"), and 2016 the publication of The Bloomsbury Companion to Stylistics, which join forces in marking a new stage in the development of stylistics.

The Bloomsbury Companion provides a valuable picture of the history and the state of the art of stylistics. It comprises four parts, namely, "The Discipline of Stylistics," "Theoretical Approaches and Research Methods," "Current Areas of Research," and "Genres and Periods."


Part I, "The Discipline of Stylistics," only contains the Introduction by the editor Violeta Sotirova. It is characterized by a strong historical concern, devoted to the early influences on modern stylistics, especially Russian Formalism, whose legacy "manifests itself in almost every field of present-day stylistic enquiry" (16). This part not only offers a clear elucidation of how Russian Formalists and Czech Structuralists laid the foundation for stylistics with their discussions of "literariness" or literary language, but also engages with recent uneasiness in stylistics about "formalist" under the pressure of contextualization. "It is not clear," Sotirova observes, "how an analysis of literary language can be 'un-Formalist,' no matter how rich the cultural, historical, readerly contexts that are evoked might be" (5) because linguistics is the most important analytic tool of stylistics. However, Sotirova points out, the theoretical legacy of Formalist poetics "is wider than the strict linguistic focus of some of its practical applications" (5). And the next part of the Introduction charts various concepts and theoretical positions of Russian Formalism that have played an important role in the past and present developments of stylistics.

About one-fifth of Part I is devoted to the relation between Russian Formalism and narratology, the latter regarded as "a sub-discipline of stylistics" (10). Interestingly, perhaps only in Britain is narratology treated as a subdiscipline of stylistics; this is not so in North America, nor on the European continent, nor in China, where stylistics and narratology are two parallel disciplines. In discussing narratology, Sotirova focuses on two key concepts, "story" and "discourse," which also originate in the thought of Russian Formalists. Narratogy's "discourse" is often taken to be more or less interchangeable with stylistics' "style," since "discourse" refers to how the story is told and "style" to how the content is presented. But in effect, the two concepts cover different aspects of form--structural versus linguistic, with only limited overlap between them. An example of this would be "rhythm." The rhythm of narratology's discourse (see Genette 86-112; Chatman 63-75) is a matter of the relationship between the actual duration of the events and their textual length, including normal speed (scene), acceleration (summary), pause (e.g., an external narrator's commenting that does not take up story time), slow motion (stretch), and ellipsis (e.g., "ten years have passed"). Such rhythm in narratology is essentially different from the verbal rhythm in stylistics, the latter being a matter of the features of words and their combination, such as the alternation between stressed and unstressed syllables, the use of punctuation, and the length of words, phrases, and sentences. Given such distinct concerns, narratology's "discourse" is very much complementary to stylistics' "style" (see Shen, "What"). The first part of the Bloomsbury companion, through paying much attention to narratology, may constitute an impetus for stylisticians to draw on or to be engaged in narratology. However, we need to be aware that many narratological aspects go beyond language and do not accommodate the application of linguistics, but they may serve as useful frameworks for stylistic investigation (see Shen, "How"; Short).

The first part of the companion also directs attention to the relation between cognitive narratology and classical narratology, pointing out that these approaches are based on fundamentally different aesthetic theories, one being readerly oriented and the other textually oriented. Rather than seeing classical narratology as being inadequate from the cognitive point of view, Sotirova argues, we should see them as being "more or less incompatible" (11). Moreover, as I discussed in detail elsewhere (Shen, "Why"), they are in effect very much complementary to each other.


Part II, "Theoretical Approaches and Research Methods," which consists of Chapters 2 to 16, discusses various stylistic approaches and models. This part is marked by the following characteristics.

Comprehensive Coverage of Stylistic Approaches

This part covers quite fully various stylistic approaches, arranged, to a certain extent, in terms of historical development, starting from "Structuralism and Stylistics" (Linda Pilliere), "Generative Grammar and Stylistics" (Andrew Caink), moving on to "Functional Stylistics" (Benedict Lin), "Pragmatics and Stylistics" (Siobhan Chapman), "Discourse Stylistics" (Marina Lambrou), then on to "Cognitive Stylistics" (David West), "Feminist Stylistics" (Clare Walsh), "Corpus Stylistics" (Michaela Mahlberg), "Critical Stylistics" (Lesley Jeffries), and "New Historical Stylistics" (Beatrix Busse). Then we have "Empirical Stylistics" (Frank Hakemulder and Willie van Peer), "Pedagogical Stylistics: Charting Outcomes" (Sonia Zyngier and Olivia Fialho), "Stylistics and Translation" (Jean Boase-Beier), "Stylistics and Literary Theory" (Geoff Hall), and "Sociolinguistics and Stylistics" (Sylvia Adamson).

It may be worth noting that the distinction among these stylistic approaches is based on different criteria. On one hand, "Generative Grammar and Stylistics," "Functional Stylistics," and "Cognitive Stylistics," among others, are classified according to the linguistic tools employed in the stylistic investigation. On the other hand, "Feminist Stylistics" and "Critical Stylistics" are distinguished in terms of the motivation or purpose: aimed at revealing patriarchal or other kinds of ideology underlying the linguistic choices involved, irrespective of what analytical tools are used. Moreover, "Corpus Stylistics" is categorized according to the amount or nature of the data involved, and so is "New Historical Stylistics," which applies stylistic theories and methods to historical (literary) texts. In addition, there are "Empirical Stylistics" classified in terms of the way of conducting research, "Pedagogical Stylistics" in terms of the situation in which stylistics is employed, and "Stylistics and Translation" or "Stylistics and Literary Theory" in terms of the relation between stylistics and a related field. Precisely because of the coexistence of the different criteria, one stylistic investigation may be classified into different categories. That is to say, the distinction among different stylistic approaches--not only in this book but also in general--is not absolute or clear-cut, and there are often various kinds of overlapping among the stylistic approaches involved. Interestingly, because of the coexistence of different criteria, sometimes the categorization of an essay in a survey may differ from that by the author himself/herself. For instance, the chapter "Functional Stylistics" classifies O'Halloran (2007) as a functional stylistic investigation (72), but O'Halloran himself calls it "a corpus-stylistic analysis."

Beginning with Chapter Overview

Like all the chapters in the following parts (with the only exception of Chapter 34), each chapter in Part II begins with a "Chapter Overview" presenting the basic outline. Some overviews are relatively simple, such as that of Chapter 5, "Pragmatics and Stylistics," which consists of Introduction--Pragmatic Approaches to Stylistics--Neo-Gricean Pragmatics--Reading a Passage from Elizabeth Bowen's The Last September--Conclusions. And some overviews are more complex, such as that of Chapter 15, "Stylistics and Literary Theory," which contains the following section titles: Preliminaries. Theory as a Sceptical Orientation. The Problematic Relation Between Stylistics and Literary Theory--Historical Perspectives, Theory as Poetics, Formalism, Structuralism--"Language" in Theory and in Stylistics--Discourse in Theory and in Stylistics. Poststructuralism--Some Productive Precedents for Theoretically Informed Discourse Stylistics--Futures/Conclusion. Whether simple or complex, the chapter overviews enable readers to see quickly and clearly the progression and the emphasis, as well as the contents of the discussion.

A Critical Overview Paving Way for (Sometimes Theoretically Enriching) Analysis

Each chapter offers a detailed critical survey of past and present research to pave the way for its own exploration. Chapter 2, "Structuralism and Stylistics," for instance, begins with a discussion of how Saussure's ideas have given rise to structuralism and how structuralism has influenced stylistics. The latter part of the chapter is devoted to an analysis of Virginia Woolf's style, focusing on how she deviates from temporal linearity and chronological sequence for thematic purposes, as a way to show that "some of the key concepts of Structuralism can still help reveal important underlying textual patterns" (24).

In some chapters, the analytical practice feeds back into theoretical issues. We will take Chapter 14, "Stylistics and Translation," as an example. It is marked by a heavy analytical component, with three sections out of five devoted to its own analysis: "Reading an Original Text for Translation," "Reading the Translated Text," and "Reading the Original Text through Translation." The analysis shows that not only can stylistics help translation studies, but also the latter can play an important role in enhancing or expanding the former as a discipline.

In the latter Parts of this volume, some chapters also try to enrich existing theoretical framework through textual analysis. A case in point is Chapter 30, "Emotion," by Sara Whiteley in Part III, which, through analyzing Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, suggests that "participation-worlds" be added to Text World Theory to account for readers' hopes, preferences, and predictions about possible future narrative outcomes.

Offering One's Own Theoretical Framework

Although most chapters only apply and/or try to enrich existing theory, the chapter "Critical Stylistics" by Lesley Jeffries outlines a framework of its own for the critical analysis of texts. It draws on Halliday's three meta-functions, but offers a corresponding tripartite distinction of its own among De-contextual, Co-textual, and Contextual form and meaning. The "Co-textual" dimension, corresponding to Halliday's "Ideational" meta-function, is taken to be "Textual/Conceptual meaning," a kind of meaning this chapter focuses on. Jeffries comes up with an extensive and helpful list of ten aspects of the Ideational or "Textual/conceptual" level of meaning, and she stresses that this kind of meaning "takes effect in textual [in contrast with contextual] surroundings" (162)--whether in a critical reading of a real political text or in an aesthetic reading of a literary work (163). In discussing "Naming and Describing," one of the ten aspects in question, Jeffries gives this example: "the terrible mess this government has got us into" (164). To interpret this nominal group in a literary text, we need only to look at the (co-)textual elements in the fictional world, but to interpret it in a political text or a news report, however, we need to consider the social/political context, that is, the real "government" referred to and the real situation that is described as a "terrible mess." If we compare Roger Fowler's Linguistics and the Novel with his Linguistic Criticism or Language in the News, we may see the difference on a wider scale between the (co-)textual ideational meaning in a literary text and the contextual ideational meaning in a real text. In fact, critically oriented stylistic analyses (Critical Linguistics and those investigations in Critical Discourse Analysis focusing on textual features) in general pay attention to context in investigating Ideational meaning, since what is involved is a linguistic representation of some events in the real social/political world rather than a linguistic construction of a fictional world (even in the latter case, we sometimes need to consider context, see Shen, "Neo"). I believe that Jeffries' framework of critical stylistics will be more valid and powerful if it takes context into account for analyzing the Ideational level of meaning.


Part III, "Current Areas of Research," composed of Chapters 17 to 33, shifts to important topics and issues in stylistics, namely, "Defamiliarization and Foregrounding" (Catherine Emmott and Marc Alexander), "Metaphor" (Gerard Steen), "Mind-Style" (David L. Hoover), "Narrative Point of View" (Joe Bray), "Speech and Thought Presentation" (Reiko Ikeo), "Consciousness" (Eric Rundquist), "Deixis in Literature" (Keith Green), "Dialect in Literature" (Jane Hodson), "Dialogue" (Dan Mclntyre), "Text-Worlds" (Joanna Gavins), "Texture" (Peter Stockwell), "Iconicity" (Christina Ljungberg), "Narrativity" (Yanna Popova), "Emotion" (Sara Whiteley), "Verse" (Nigel Fabb), "Odd Pronominal Narratives" (Matuel Jobert), and "Irony" (Massimiliano Morini).

These chapters offer a clear and detailed explication of the topics or concepts involved, together with a more or less comprehensive survey of existing research, followed by their own illustrative analyses. In addition, some chapters in this part display the following characteristics.

Familiar Topics and New Areas of Research

Although the topics are familiar ones except for "Odd Pronominal Narratives," the textual analysis sometimes extends to new territories. Chapter 17, for instance, discusses the concepts "Defamiliarization and Foregrounding" in relation to four medical autobiographies, which describe neurological illnesses affecting the authors' perceptions of the world, rendering the most mundane aspects of daily life to appear extraordinary and the relevant linguistic choices "foregrounded." The investigation is very compelling, but we need to be aware that here we have a different framework--illness-affected perception versus normal perception--and that "defamiliarization" is used in a sense quite different from the original/usual sense of "aesthetic" estrangement. The latter is a matter of the author (with a normal state of mind) aesthetically making the ordinary look strange, to prolong one's perception for the purpose of making one experience the artfulness of the objects involved (Shldovsky 12). By contrast, the authors of the medical autobiographies make the mundane appear odd so as to reflect or imitate the mental state of a neurologically ill person versus that of a healthy person.

In discussing "Narrative Point of View," Chapter 20 uses epistolary and email novels as data for exploring internal perspective. In contrast with previous investigations that tend to focus on epistolary novels with the predominating consciousness of a single character, this chapter shows that the traditional epistolary form, and also the recent email form, accommodates various internal perspectives as conveyed by correspondences among different characters. Not only is the extension to such narratives valuable, but also laudable is the chapter's emphasis on the function of the reader when faced with a multitude of internal perspectives: "the reader's role in untangling the perspectives becomes vital; only he or she can fully appreciate each character's motivations and machinations" (342). However, this chapter's introduction of relevant narrative theory is far from adequate. It argues that, in discussing internal perspective/focalization, Gerard Genette and other narcologists are confined to narratives with a single perspective or focal character and therefore it is necessary to pay attention to narratives with various internal perspectives (341-42). But in fact, Genette does attend to this type and he actually offers a comprehensive classification of three kinds of "internal focalization": (i) fixed, with one character consistently functioning as the focalizer; (ii) variable, with different characters' internal focalizations, "as in Madame Bovary, where the focal character is first Charles, then Emma, then again Charles; or, in a much more rapid and elusive way, as with Stendhal"; (iii) multiple, "as in epistolary novels, where the same event may be evoked several times according to the point of view of several letter-writing characters" (Genette 189-90; see also Chatman's discussion of "Shifting Limited Mental Access" 216).

Trying to Offer a New Approach

When we turn our attention to the chapter "Metaphor" by Gerard Steen, we find an effort to present a novel approach aimed at integrating different approaches to metaphor, style, and discourse. As we know, since the publication of Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By, metaphor is no longer regarded just as a matter of literary style (figure of speech), but also as a way of conceptualization and thinking in everyday language--a "figure of thought" (Lakoff). Steen tries to incorporate this insight of cognitive linguistics in investigating metaphor in poems. He proposes a three-dimensional approach to metaphor, namely, thought (conceptualization), language (expression), and interaction (deliberately using metaphor for communicative purposes). He uses this model to analyze Carol Ann Duffy's volume of poems Rapture and shows that love is on the scale of a whole poem or even a volume of poems "conceptualized" as magic and the poems use various indirect metaphors and similes (expression) for the purpose of conveying metaphorical effects to readers (interaction). Steen's analysis is insightful and engaging, but as far as poetry is concerned, the effort to incorporate the cognitive-linguistic approach to metaphor cannot really succeed in that the merit of this approach, as Steen himself observes (318), "lies in the tenet that most metaphors are not deliberately used as metaphors but work automatically," such as "be crazy about somebody," "find, time," "spend an hour." What functions in poetry and in other literary genres, by contrast, is deliberately employed explicit or implicit metaphorical devices, and automatized/unconsciously used "conceptual" metaphors have little or no role to play. As far as I can see, what is truly worthwhile in Steen's discussion is his using cognitive-linguistics' "conceptualization" (originally aimed at revealing the metaphorical in automatized local expressions) to investigate the extended metaphor on the scale of a whole poem or even a volume of poems, and that he persuasively explores the interaction between the overall conceptual framework and (deliberately used) local metaphorical expressions. This macro-micro metaphorical relationship has not received enough attention and Steen's investigation is therefore a valuable contribution to the analysis of metaphor in poetry. Another thing worth noting is that this chapter puts much emphasis on the differentiation among different genres, registers, or domains of discourse, as well as on the difference among the styles of different persons. But, again, this is not really relevant to poetic analysis, since in reading a poem or poems by a certain poet, the (competent) reader would naturally bring to it expectations associated with poetry rather than with political or scientific or other kinds of texts and, moreover, the reader would take it for granted that this poet's style would be different from those of other poets.

Taking an Eclectic Approach

In investigating a topic or issue, there often exist several approaches from different perspectives. Instead of opting for a given approach, some chapters choose to be eclectic in approach. A case in point is Chapter 33, "Irony," which analyzes a passage from Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby with different rhetorical and linguistic approaches. It shows that a stylistic analysis aimed at revealing the literary effects of irony can resort to "whatever linguistic approach happens to be useful for its present needs" (564) and that the various instances or aspects of irony in the passage concerned call for the use of different approaches.

It should be noted that, in reading Part III, I find one thing puzzling: Chapter 31, "Verse," and Chapter 32, "Odd Pronominal Narratives," are sandwiched in between Chapter 30, "Emotion," and Chapter 33, "Irony." It seems to me that these two chapters would more appropriately belong to Part IV, "Genres and Periods" (see below).


The last part of this volume, "Genres and Periods," is composed of Chapters 34 to 40. We may divide the seven chapters into three subparts. The first subpart consists of Chapters 34 to 36, respectively entitled "Old English Style" (Sara M. Pons-Sanz), "Middle English Style" (Louise Sylvester), and "Early Modern Style" (Sylvia Adamson). As the titles indicate, this subpart is historically oriented. Interestingly, instead of offering a chapter overview like all the other chapters, the first chapter in this subpart begins with an Old English inscription "ek hlewagastiz holtijaz horna tawido," which immediately draws the reader back to the fifth century. This chapter discusses with well-chosen examples the main stylistic features of Old English literary compositions, a discussion informed by rich knowledge of the historical contexts involved. The second chapter discusses Middle English style with as strong a concern with the historical contexts, but compared with the preceding and the following chapters, it is more linguistically oriented, with much attention paid to the etymologies of the linguistic choices involved and with much space devoted to a discussion of the linguistic context out of which the literature in that period grew. The last chapter of this subpart investigates early modern style, but instead of covering various kinds of style, it opts for a detailed discussion of "the grand style," which was very important in the early modern period. As a whole, this subpart stands out as being unique among existing volumes of essays in the stylistics field, since it is the first time that these historical styles receive such systematic attention.

The second subpart comprises Chapters 37 to 39, which focuses on genres or domains of discourse, with the chapters respectively entitled "The Poetics of Everyday Discourse" (Jessica Mason and Ronald Carter), "Dramatic Discourse" (Sarah Grandage), and "Style in Popular Literature" (Rocio Montoro). It is here that I think the two chapters in Part III on "Verse" and "Odd Pronominal Narratives" could be better positioned. The repositioning would have the following advantages: (i) "Verse" and "Odd Pronominal Narratives" constitute two genres of literature and it is right and proper to place them in the part dealing with "Genres." (ii) Of the three literary genres, poetry, fiction, and drama, Part IV only covers "Dramatic Discourse," and incorporating "Verse" and "Odd Pronominal Narratives" would enable this part to have a fuller coverage of literary genres, (iii) The repositioning can also help to make the last part (only seven chapters) more balanced in length with the preceding two parts (respectively fifteen chapters and seventeen chapters).

As for the three chapters already placed in this subdivision of Part IV, the first explores creativity in everyday discourse--in the "common, the trivial and mundane" use of language (632). Since much less attention has been paid to creativity in spoken discourse, this chapter sets its focus on this domain. It should be noted that this chapter, tided "The Poetics of Everyday Discourse," treats "poetics" as being interchangeable with "creativity." In the section "Poetics of Spoken Discourse--Verbal Duelling," there is such an example: '"Please will you get me a pint of lager?!?!?!Xxxxx' 'Cheeky bitch.'" This exchange took place between two friends while one was waiting for the other to arrive at the pub. The response "cheeky bitch" was neither meant nor taken to be offensive and this case indicates that the "use of insult between friends would not function without an inherent ability to use a high degree of creative licence both as speakers and interpreters of language" (634-35). I fully agree that such cases of verbal duelling display creative (versus literal) use of language, but I am hard put to see them as cases associated with "poetics." Since this section and this chapter as a whole are in effect concerned with "creativity" in a very broad sense in daily language use, I think the titles "Creativity of Spoken Discourse" and "The Creativity of Everyday Language" would work better in directing the reader's expectations and in indicating what is actually discussed. As for the second chapter in this subpart, it first offers a comprehensive survey of various existing approaches to dramatic discourse, then carries out an innovative exploration of the role of deixis and modality in the iconic "band of brothers" speech from Shakespeare's Henry V, an exploration that takes the contexts of production and reception into consideration to provide insight into both characterization and the dynamics of the play--"not just as a single entity but also within a linguistic, historical and performance context" (666). The last chapter of this subpart shifts to style in popular fiction, focusing on the stylistic aspects of horror novels dealing with a vampiric theme. Like some other chapters in this volume, it employs a corpus-stylistic methodology, for the purpose of testing whether the traits generally attributed to vampires can be backed up by statistical evidence.

Apart from extending to the creativity of everyday discourse and the style in popular literature, Part IV spreads out in its last chapter, which is also the last chapter of the whole volume, to "Style in World Englishes Literature" (by E. Dawson Varaghese). It analyzes Anuja Chauhan's Battle For Bittora, a work representative of a larger body of postmillennial fiction in English from India. The stylistic analysis of the novel tries to show that such literary works go beyond the Indian postcolonial genre and they therefore can be viewed as part of World Englishes literature.

In short, with its historical emphasis, comprehensive coverage of some spheres, and innovative exploration of various issues, The Bloomsbury Companion to Stylistics forms an important contribution to the field. This Companion and the two Handbooks of Stylistics referred to at the beginning of this essay, all written by specialists in the field, are very much complementary to each other. With different concerns, different emphases, and extensions into different areas, they supplement each other in presenting a quite full picture of the history, the state of the art, and the future of stylistics. They join hands in marking a new stage of development of this thriving interdisciplinary discipline.

Dan Shen


DAN SHEN is Changjiang Professor of English Language and Literature at Beijing University, China. She is on the advisory or editorial boards of the American journals Style and Narrative, the British Language and Literature, and the European JLS: Journal of Literary Semantics. In addition to six books and more than one hundred essays in China, she has published Style and Rhetoric of Short Narrative Fiction: Covert Progressions Behind Overt Plots (hardback 2014, paperback 2016) with Routledge and numerous essays in North America and Europe in stylistics, narrative studies, and translation studies.


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Title Annotation:The Bloomsbury Companion to Stylistics
Author:Shen, Dan
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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