← 8 | 9 →Introduction
Since I started examining unreliable narrators in fiction, I have heard numerous jokes from friends and other people about the subject of my research, often along the lines of “so you’re writing about me” or “you should have a good look at [a friend’s name].” People have also shared with me their speculations about what this thing called unreliable narrator might be. These reactions probably result from the fact that the terms unreliable narrator and unreliable narration make use of common words widely used in everyday language. Compared to the concepts of, say, homodiegesis or focalization, unreliable narration is much more likely to elicit ideas about its meaning in people who do not engage in literary studies. Such ideas, however, often fail to fully coincide with how theorists of narrative understand this concept. This situation is not so surprising and provides no reason to be alarmed. However, the terminological ambiguity is repeated on a smaller scale even among students and critics of literature: I have had to learn to differentiate between the wider and narrower senses in which the term unreliable narrator is used.
It is the narrower sense that interests me in this book: unreliable narration as described by narratology. The living handbook of narratology defines this concept in the following way: “In its narratological sense, unreliability is a feature of narratorial discourse. If a narrator misreports, -interprets or -evaluates, or if she/he underreports, -interprets or -evaluates, this narrator is unreliable or untrustworthy” (Shen, “Unreliability” par. 1)...
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