Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Wayne C. Booth - Author Of 'Rhetoric Of Fiction' - Passes


I somehow missed this obit in the New York Times the other day:

MARGALIT FOX - New York Times

Wayne C. Booth, one of the pre-eminent literary critics of the second half of the 20th century, whose lifelong study of the art of rhetoric illuminated the means by which authors seduce, cajole and more than occasionally lie to their readers in the service of narrative, died yesterday morning at his home in Chicago. He was 84.


... to Professor Booth, literature was not so much words on paper as it was a complex ethical act. He saw the novel as a kind of compact between author and reader: intimate and rewarding, but rarely easy. At the crux of this compact lay rhetoric, the art of verbal persuasion.

The author's task, he argued, was to draw readers into the web of narrative and hold them there. The critic's task was to tease out the specific rhetorical devices - linguistic, stylistic, symbolic - by which this was accomplished. To describe the intricate, shifting dance between author and reader, he coined a number of critical terms that are now common parlance, among them "implied author" and "unreliable narrator.

If you are a writer of fiction, 'The Rhetoric Of Fiction' is mandatory reading to better understand your craft. If you are a reader of fiction, 'The Rhetoric Of Fiction' is mandatory reading just for the pure, raw, naked enjoyment of it.

Later LA Times obit does an excellent job of describing his major work:


Mary Rourke Times Staff Writer October 14, 2005

In the book, Booth identified key aspects of storytelling and created terms that are now commonly used to discuss the craft. He referred to "the implied author" as one of three who write a novel. The first is the actual person who does the writing. Then there is the narrator who tells the story. The third is an "implied" presence that conveys irony, judgment and other guideposts throughout the story. The implied author serves as a companion for the reader, Booth said.

In the same book, he compared a "reliable narrator," one who seems to share the author's judgment, with an "unreliable narrator." One is trustworthy, while the other may lie or simply get things wrong.By dissecting fictional narration and looking at each component separately, Booth was able to show the complex communication between an author and a reader.

The book remains "the single most important American contribution to narrative theory," said Bill Brown, chairman of the English department at the University of Chicago. It is "a book that continues to be read, taught and fought about." Booth's writing and teaching demonstrate "how significant the act of literary analysis could and should be," Brown said.

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