Narratology is the study of narrative and narrative structure and the ways that these affect our perception. While in principle the word may refer to any systematic study of narrative, in practice its usage is rather more restricted. It is an anglicisation of French narratologie, coined by Tzvetan Todorov (Grammaire du Décaméron, 1969). Narratology is applied retrospectively as well to work predating its coinage. Its theoretical lineage is traceable to Aristotle (Poetics) but modern narratology is agreed to have begun with the Russian Formalists, particularly Vladimir Propp (Morphology of the Folktale, 1928), and Mikhail Bakhtin's theories of heteroglossia, dialogism, and the chronotope first presented in The Dialogic Imagination (1975).
The origins of narratology lend to it a strong association with the structuralist quest for a formal system of useful description applicable to any narrative content, by analogy with the grammars used as a basis for parsing sentences in some forms of linguistics. This procedure does not however typify all work described as narratological today; Percy Lubbock's work in point of view (The Craft of Fiction, 1921) offers a case in point.
In 1966 a special issue of the journal Communications proved highly influential, becoming considered a program for research into the field and even a manifesto. It included articles by Barthes, Claude Brémond, Genette, Greimas, Todorov and others, which in turn often referred to the works of Vladimir Propp (1895–1970).
Jonathan Culler (2001) describes narratology as comprising many strands
implicitly united in the recognition that narrative theory requires a distinction between "story," a sequence of actions or events conceived as independent of their manifestation in discourse, and "discourse," the discursive presentation or narration of events.'
The Russian Formalists first proposed such a distinction, employing the couplet fabula and sujet. A subsequent succession of alternate pairings has preserved the essential binomial impulse, e.g. histoire/discours, histoire/récit, story/plot. The Structuralist assumption that one can investigate fabula and sujet separately gave birth to two quite different traditions: thematic (Propp, Bremond, Greimas, Dundes, et al.) and modal (Genette, Prince, et al.) narratology. The former is mainly limited to a semiotic formalization of the sequences of the actions told, while the latter examines the manner of their telling, stressing voice, point of view, transformation of the chronological order, rhythm and frequency. Many authors (Sternberg, 1993, Ricoeur, 1984, and Baroni, 2007) have insisted that thematic and modal narratology should not be looked at separately, especially when dealing with the function and interest of narrative sequence and plot.
James Phelan, editor of Narrative (the journal of the International Society for the Study of Narrative), has written numerous books and articles on narrative theory (see reference list). With Frederick Luis Aldama, Brian McHale and Robyn Warhol, Phelan directs Project Narrative at The Ohio State University.
Designating work as narratological is to some extent dependent more on the academic discipline in which it takes place than any theoretical position advanced. The approach is applicable to any narrative, and in its classic studies, vis-a-vis Propp, non-literary narratives were commonly taken up. Still the term "narratology" is most typically applied to literary theory and literary criticism, as well as film theory and (to a lesser extent) film criticism. Atypical applications of narratological methodologies would include sociolinguistic studies of oral storytelling (William Labov) and in conversation analysis or discourse analysis that deal with narratives arising in the course of spontaneous verbal interaction. It also includes the study of videogames, graphic novels, the infinite canvas, and narrative sculptures linked to topology and graph theory. However, constituent analysis of a type where narremes are considered to be the basic units of narrative structure could fall within the areas of linguistics, semiotics, or literary theory.
- General Introduction to Narratology, College of Liberal Arts, Purdue University
- Gerald Prince, "Narratology," Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Michael Groden and Martin Kreiswirth (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1994) 524.
- Herman, David and Jahn, Manfred and Ryan, Marie-Laure (2005) Routledge encyclopedia of narrative theory, pp.574–5
- Bamberg, Michael G. W. (1998) Oral Versions of Personal Experience: Three Decades of Narrative Analysis. A Special Issue of the Journal of Narrative and Life History, p.40[dead link]
- Jonathan Culler, The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction, Routledge Classics ed. (London: Routledge, 2001) 189.
- Ruth Ronen, "Paradigm Shift in Plot Models: An Outline of the History of Narratology", Poetics Today, 11(4):817–842 (Winter 1990).
- Meir Sternberg, Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction, (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993.)
- Raphaël Baroni, La Tension narrative. Suspense, curiosité et surprise, (Paris: Seuil, 2007).
- Félix Lambert, 2015, "Narrative sculptures: graph theory, topology and new perspectives in narratology."
- Henri Wittmann, "Théorie des narrèmes et algorithmes narratifs," Poetics 4.1 (1975): 19–28.
- Phelan, James. Experiencing Fiction: Judgments, Progressions, and the Rhetorical Theory of Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2007.
- Phelan, James. Living To Tell About It: A Rhetoric and Ethics of Character Narration. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005.
- Phelan, James. Narrative as Rhetoric: Technique, Audiences, Ethics, Ideology. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1996.
- Phelan, James. Reading People, Reading Plots: Character, Progression, and the Interpretation of Narrative. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
- Phelan, James, ed. Reading Narrative: Form, Ethics, Ideology. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989.
- Phelan, James, David Herman, and Brian McHale, eds. Teaching Narrative Theory. New York: MLA Publications, 2010.
- Phelan, James, and Peter J. Rabinowitz. A Companion to Narrative Theory. Malden: Blackwell, 2005.
- Phelan, James, and Peter J. Rabinowitz. Understanding Narrative. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1994.
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- "Musical Narratology" by William Echard, review of A Theory of Musical Semiotics by Eero Tarasti, foreword by Thomas A. Sebeok.
- The Narrative Act: Wittgenstein and Narratology by Henry McDonald
- Narrative theory bibliography (A Bibliography of Literary Theory, Criticism and Philology)
- Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative by Manfred Jahn
- Five Analyses of the Narrative "I First Got Paid"
- The Living Handbook of Narratology
- Narratology: The Study of Story Structure