Study Guide

Narrative Theory Timeline

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How It All Went Down

c. 335 BCE: Aristotle's Poetics is published

Narratology may not have been recognized as a discipline until the twentieth century, but its roots go way back to the time of the classical Greek philosophers. Poetics (translated into English in 1789) often gets name-checked as one of the earliest texts of narratology, and we can see why: it's the first known philosophical work to delve into literary theory, with Aristotle analyzing different types of fiction. A big part of this analysis focuses on the structure of narrative and how it plays out: what is it, for instance, that makes a tragedy a tragedy? Take a look at this baby and find out.

1884: Henry James's "The Art of Fiction" is published

James's essay is another text that gets thrown out there on a regular basis. Best known as a novelist, James takes a break here to look at the inner workings of literature and makes a big splash in the field of novel theory in the process. And, let's be real: if Henry James doesn't know how a novel works, then who does?

1915: The Moscow Linguistic Circle is founded

This group, whose most famous member is probably Roman Jakobson, was around for nearly ten years and played a big role in developing what came to be known as Russian Formalism, a movement concerned with studying literature as a science. Taking this approach, the Moscow Linguistic Circle dedicated itself to the study of linguistics and poetics, and explored areas such as folklore and the relationship between written and spoken language.

1916: The Society for the Study of Poetic Language (OPOYAZ) is founded

This group was set up in St. Petersburg and, like its Moscow sibling, was a big influence on the development of Russian Formalism. Plus, it was one of their members, Viktor Shklovsky, who came up with the terms fabula and syuzhet to distinguish between narrative sequence and story.

1928: Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale is published

Probably the best-known example of narratological analysis, Propp's Morphology gets named again and again as one of the pioneering studies in this area. And it's no wonder: having analyzed a whole heap of wonder tales, Propp found that their narratives were seriously similar, and so he drew up a list of the typical course of events in any given tale. As well as being a success on Propp's home turf, the book's first English language version in 1958 helped spread the word even further.

1955: Claude Lévi-Strauss's "The Structural Study of Myth" is published

Lévi-Strauss has been a major influence in the academic world, and this essay was one of the works that put him on the map. Here, he starts off by pointing out that myths from around the world and from different time periods may seem different in content but actually have a pretty similar basic structure. For Lévi-Strauss, then, it's the "deep structure" of myth that's most interesting, and he went on to explore this topic in many of his other works.

1965: The term "hypertext" is first used

Way before the internet became part of our daily lives, Ted Nelson invented the term "hypertext" in his 1981 book Literary Machines. Fast-forward to the present, and this isn't even experimental anymore. With the concept of hypertext, Nelson actually predicted a structure that would become the norm in the electronic age.

1966: Communications producesan edition devoted to narratology

While people may trace narratology back to different starting points, one event that has often been singled out is the publication of Volume 8 of the journal Communications. Bringing together articles by top theorists such as Barthes and Todorov, it was the academic equivalent of The Avengers. Whether it marks the birth of narratology is open to debate, but what is for sure is that it put the spotlight on narratology and was a big influence on future research.

1969: Tzvetan Todorov's Grammaire du Décaméron is published

Despite all the work that the Russian Formalists had done in structuralism, it wasn't until 1969 that Todorov finally came up with the term "narratology" (well, narratologie, if we're being nit-picky and French) and emphasised the need for a "science of narrative." Todorov also practiced what he preached, using this book to analyze Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron from a narratological angle.

1971: The Journal of Narrative Theory is founded

While some journals come and go, this one is still going strong today. Published three times a year by Eastern Michigan University, the JNT nerds out on all kinds of topics: history and narrative; global approaches to narrative; the relationship between narrative and social categories like gender, sexuality, and ethnicity; and narrative in pop culture, film studies, media studies, and so on. This journal keeps up with new developments, like poststructural theories and international approaches, and has a thing for essays that challenge disciplinary boundaries.

1973: Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of "chronotope" gets popular

Bakhtin wrote the bulk of his essay on the chronotope, or "time space," during 1937-38. Still, since he didn't add the final section until 1973 (wow, talk about a late addition), we'll go with that as our date. Titled "Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel," the essay's major contribution was to highlight the close connection between time and space within a narrative.

1979: A conference on "Narrative Theory and Poetics of Fiction" is held

Organized by the University of Tel Aviv, this conference (also known as "Synopsis 2") featured more than 40 papers presented by some of the international big shots in the field of narrative theory. It was such a success that its ten year anniversary was marked by a follow-up conference featuring some of the original names, plus newcomers, reflecting on how narratology had developed over the years in between.

1979: F. K. Stanzel's Theorie des Erzählens is published

Having worked on a model of narrative analysis since the 1950s, Stanzel rounded up his thoughts in this 1979 work, translated into English as A Theory of Narrative in 1984, in which he describes a "typological circle" made up of three main narrative situations: authorial, first-person, and figural. While Stanzel's template has been challenged by rival models, it's taught at German universities today and is still a big deal when it comes to the history of narrative theory.

1980: Gérard Genette's Narrative Discourse is published

Following its original publication, this book became a go-to text for other theorists and was a big deal on an international level—especially when it was translated into English. Its focus is on how time and narrative are treated in the work of Marcel Proust specifically, but it's been influential on a much wider scale. Here, Genette introduces some of key terms and concepts (like focalization) into narrative theory.

1984: Attention turns to children's literature

During 1984 and 1985, a couple of important landmarks helped highlight the relevance of narrative theory to children's literature. One of these events was a special issue of Studies in the Literary Imagination—the first ever journal issue dedicated to this topic—while Children's Literature Association Quarterly also focused on this subject around the same time. This all showed that that children's literature was worthy of serious attention, and it suggested that narrative theory was starting to broaden its horizons.

1987: The first dictionary of narrative theory is published

Since narrative theory contains its fair share of lingo, it was only time before someone helped shed light on what all these words mean. Thankfully, this book does the job. Compiled by well-known narrative theorist Gerald Prince, A Dictionary of Narratology provides a useful A-Z of some of the key terms used in this field and has helped shaped the language used by narratologists. The book was revised in 2003 to keep up with new developments.

1997: David Herman coins the term "postclassical narratology"

As Herman explained further in 1999, this term helped highlight a new phase in narratology that had started to emerge in the late 1980s. In contrast to straight-laced "classical" narratology, these newer methods were blurring boundaries and drawing on a variety of theories, as well as exploring narrativity in different kinds of texts and contexts. Like poststructuralism and postmodernism, postclassical narratology gave a name to this more laidback, "anything goes" approach.

2008: The European Narratology Network (ENN) is founded

The ENN is made up of individual narratologists and professional institutions, its focus being European texts, languages, and cultures. It held its first conference at Hamburg University in 2009, with seven narratologists giving talks under the general title "Mind—Narrative—Ethics."

2009: The Living Handbook of Narratology begins publication

Though there have been several encyclopedias dedicated to narratology, this handbook is extra useful because you don't have to wait for a new edition to be published—it's always up to date. Featuring a helpful glossary of key terms, plus detailed explanations and background info, it's a great primer on narrative theory and definitely worth checking out.

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