Research: Beginning Theory

Notes from Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory

These notes have been made to supplement my essay on Victoria Hislop’s The Island in particular. The original draft of this essay can be found here.


The aim of stylistics is to “show how the technical linguistic features of a literary work, such as the grammatical structure of its sentences, contribute to its overall meanings and effects”. (p196)

A ‘floating signifier’ is “the idea that the meanings established through language are innately fluid, indeterminate, and shifting.” (p197) This idea is generally ignored in stylistics

Look into the structure of sentences ie what is the subject and what is the object. For example he [subject] touched her [object] (p205)

A problem (see Stanley Fish What is Stylistics and Why are they Saying such Terrible Things About It?) is that there is always a gap between the linguistic features identified in the text and the interpretation of them offered by the stylistician – hermeneutic gap ‘hermeneutic’ refers to act of interpretation (p206)

“common feature of poetry is to break habitual collocation patterns, so that words not usually seen together suddenly occur. Poets divorce words from their usual partners and provide unlikely new partnerships between words which we would never have imagined together” (p210)


Gérard Genette – how the tale is told:

  1. basic narrative mode ‘mimetic’ (dramatised/scenic) or ‘diegetic’ (telling/relating)?
  2. how is narrative focalised? (viewpoint)
  3. who is telling the story? (narrator/character)
  4. how is time handled? flash back -> analepsis. flash forward -> prolepsis
  5. how is story ‘packaged’? frame/embedded narratives (look at relative balance between frame and embedded narrative)
  6. how are speech and thought represented? direct and tagged vs indirect speech. each inserted tag is a reminder of the presence of a narrator that tends towards telling rather than showing (mimesis)


Four areas:

  1. ‘the wilderness’ (deserts, oceans, uninhabited regions etc) often entered as if instinctively by those who would ‘find’ themselves
  2. ‘scenic sublime’ (forests, lakes, mountains, cliffs, waterfalls etc)
  3. ‘the countryside’ (hills, fields, woods etc)
  4. ‘domestic picturesque’ (parks, gardens, lanes)


  1. re-read major literary works from ecocentric perspective, to look at representation of natural world
  2. extend applicability of a range of ecocentric concepts eg growth and energy, balance/imbalance, symbiosis/mutability, sustainability
  3. give canonical emphasis to writers who foreground nature
  4. extend range of literary criticism by placing emphasis on ‘factual’ writing, reflective essays, memoirs, travel
  5. turn away from ‘social constructivism’ and ‘linguistic determinism’ and emphasise values of meticulous observation, collective ethical responsibility and claims of world beyond ourselves.


Barry, P. (2009) Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory Manchester: Manchester University Press


Books: Visual Methodologies

Visual Methodologies by G. Rose has individual chapters to explore different methodologies for interpreting visual media.

Rose asserts in the introduction that “We’re often told that we now live in a world where…what we see is as important, if not more so, than what we hear or read. So-called ‘visual illiteracy’ is berated…” Rose paraphrases Stuart Hall to say that ‘it is important to justify your interpretation’ of images as there no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. It is this skill of interpretation that I still feel I am only just beginning to develop. Continue reading “Books: Visual Methodologies”