Scribbling Suspense and Surprise

Matt Collins

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The definition of ‘narrativity’ has been hotly debated within narratology and stylistics. Monica Fludernik has argued that experientiality constitutes narrativity, and that many so-called narratives found in texts from earlier periods of English do not possess the linguistic and narrative features required to construct the requisite level of experientiality—that is, they have low-level narrativity. Historical correspondence, especially, has been singled out as a text type that lacks engaging and experiential features, such as suspense and surprise.

This chapter provides a quantitative and qualitative investigation of the veracity of this evaluation of correspondence’s low narrativity. Using the Corpus of Early English Correspondence Sampler, the corpus-based analysis looks at the textual, social and linguistic distribution of the narratives found in letters, offering an empirical evaluation of the nature of ‘narrativity’ in this historical text type. In particular, the discussion focuses on suspense and surprise as key narrative features known to promote interpersonal engagement. The study finds that, whilst relatively infrequent, epistolary narratives are a diverse and dynamic feature of early modern correspondence and show stylistic practices that anticipate those in more modern and literary text types.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRethinking Language, Text and Context
Subtitle of host publicationInterdisciplinary Research in Stylistics in Honour of Michael Toolan
EditorsRuth Page, Beatrix Busse, Nina Nørgaard
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781351183222
ISBN (Print)9780367586850
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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