Understanding characters: a cognitive stylistics of the communication of experience

Sanchez-Davies, Jennifer (2017) Understanding characters: a cognitive stylistics of the communication of experience. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

[img] PDF (Thesis - as examined) - Repository staff only - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (4MB)


Over the last decade, research in characterisation has proliferated in (cognitive) stylistics, with investigations exploring the different avenues concerning the conceptualisation and presentation of fictional characters. There is a wealth of theoretical work on the definition of character, yet a weakness lies in the lack of unification of this information into a systematic method of analysis that can holistically represent characters as the unique individuals they are. This thesis sets to fill this hiatus by developing an adaptable, strategic method of analysis to comprehensively represent characters.

Beneath fictional characters’ familiar and recognisable exteriors, is an interconnected network of linguistic strategies that encode their identities and situate them in the storyworld. To successfully account for this, I argue that a working knowledge of the different levels involved in communicating character—from the atomistic textual level to macro storyworld level—as well as the reader’s perceptual and cognitive capacities is required. To grasp these different facets, I dovetail their key components in conjunction with reader response data to develop a Character Tracking Model (CTM). Drawing on corpus stylistic techniques, the CTM is designed to render the storyworld spatiotemporally and mentally track characters throughout the narrative, allowing it to reveal the fundamental elements that are the impetus behind character portrayal.

To demonstrate the CTM’s potential and flexibility, it is deployed in an analysis of Gavin Extence’s novel The Universe Versus Alex Woods wherein the protagonist experiences an epileptic seizure. I highlight the subtle linguistic patterns and textual cues that communicate the character’s highly subjective seizure experience. I further use the case study to signal how cognitive stylistics can productively be used as a rich resource for exploring the experiences of epileptic seizures; something which has not yet been addressed by cognitive stylistics or in epilepsy research, but has the potential for positive impact in the public health sector.

Overall, this thesis presents an integrative application of cognitive stylistics, examining both character and reader to propose a universal way of approaching characters.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Stockwell, Peter
Conklin, Kathy
Keywords: characters, characterisation, cognitive stylistics, literature, gavin extence, epilepsy
Subjects: P Language and literature > PN Literature (General)
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 41210
Depositing User: Sanchez-Davies, Jennifer
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2017 01:33
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/41210

Actions (Archive Staff Only)

Edit View Edit View