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"Writing as conversation" : the novels of Henry Green with an annotated bibliography on Green Fraser, Gail

Abstract

Henry Green described his experiments in fiction as "conversations" between the writer and his unseen reader. "We talk to one another in novels," he said. In chapter one, the implications of this statement are discussed within the framework of the author-reader relationship in fiction from Sterne to John Barth and Robbe-Grillet. By comparing Green with these novelists and others such as Jane Austen, Dickens, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf, one can consider and evaluate more effectively his techniques of communication. Some of the aspects of conversation as a living art as well as a literary art are also discussed, with particular emphasis on the delight in process rather than in the finished product. Chapter two begins by relating the "communication without speech" between author and reader to the dialogue between Green's characters. Then, the "project for the novelist" which the author outlined in two of his radio talks is considered as a formula for the successful management of the conversation between writer and reader. This formula is: "first, to catch his [the reader's] attention, secondly, to make him read each word as if he were not asleep, and finally to create a work of art . . . between the author and reader." The second chapter contains a study of the tactics whereby Green catches the attention of the reader, and awakens him to the experience of the novel. These tactics include: the challenging titles; the introduction of startling discrepancies, particularly in the opening chapters; the "arresting" use of coincidence; and the juggling of identical names between different characters. Chapter three tests the second part of Green's formula: "to make him read each word as if he were not asleep." To ensure the reader's careful listening, Green forged a personal and distinctive prose style--a voice for his side of the conversation. In this chapter, the arresting aspects of his style are examined in detail. Green developed another sure technique for keeping us awake: the significant distortions which ruffle the surface of his prose and create a watchful, uneasy reader. Green's narrators in Party Going and Concluding are parodies of omniscient story-tellers; consequently, the reader is placed in essentially the same questioning, tentative position as the characters occupy in the novels. Green's formula is completed when the reader takes an active part in the silent conversation. Chapter four discusses the ways in which this reader is urged to become a performing partner in the creation of the novel. The mysterious, unanswered questions, the lack of authorial commentary, and Green's technique of "non-description" provide silent places in the narrative which the reader must fill. Ambiguous endings put Green's reader in an equivocal position in which his own reactions become comically apparent, and most of his conventional expectations are exposed by the author's parodies of various stock devices. At the same time, Green persuades his reader to create meaning from the network of free-riding motifs and images which gives unusual freedom to the interpretive voice. Thus the reader "talks back" even after the novel is "finished," and Green's fiction becomes a vital, artistic conversation.

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