Edited By Jadwiga Wegrodzka
Irony as the principle of constructing a character: Beryl Bainbridge’s Young Adolf
Irony as the principle of constructing a character: Young Adolf by Beryl Bainbridge
What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character? What is either a picture or a novel that is not of character? What else do we seek in it and find in it?
Henry James, The Art of Fiction
Character is one of the most notorious concepts in literary theory; indispensable on the one hand, contested and almost abandoned on the other, it creates problems for most theoretical formulations, especially those derived from structuralism. As Jonathan Culler observes, “[it] is the major aspect of the novel to which structuralism has paid least attention and has been least successful in treating” (1975: 230). Among the reasons of this theoretical failure Culler mentions the general “ethos” of structuralism which favours the role of the discourse, conventions and language over individuality, and makes a character a site of forces rather than a psychologically plausible individual (1975: 230). Yet, despite this discourse-oriented turn in literary theory, what the Jamesian motto to this article emphasises is that in the simple everyday practice of reading, character remains probably the single most important novelistic element and thus produces a constant challenge to any literary school. As Aleid Fokkema points out,
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