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Midlands Cadences: Narrative Voices in the Work of Alan Sillitoe

Scott, Jeremy (2016) Midlands Cadences: Narrative Voices in the Work of Alan Sillitoe. Language and Literature, 25 (4). pp. 312-327. ISSN 0963-9470. (doi:10.1177/0963947016645001) (KAR id:55788)

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This paper will examine excerpts from a range of Alan Sillitoe’s prose fiction, most notably Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958) and short stories from the collection The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1958), via a comparative exploration of the texts’ representations of Midlands English demotic. Both texts enact Bakhtin’s notion of novelistic dialogism and find much expressive capital in the tension between discourses: between the oral and the written. Indeed, it could be argued that much of Sillitoe’s work functions as a direct challenge to dominant notions of the literary. The narrative discourse attempts to trace a link between the quotidian experience of the Midlands English working classes represented and the demotic language which they speak. His technique also explores the link between language and sensibility; i.e. verbal articulacy need not be a limit to expression of a character’s distinctive identity. In contrast to the more radical techniques of novelists like James Kelman and Irvine Welsh, all instances of phonetically-rendered demotic remain imprisoned by what Joyce called ‘perverted commas’ – as direct speech. However, the diegetic narrative discourse itself is redolent of registers rooted in 1950s English working class life. The texts also contain different methods of representing their protagonists’ consciousness through their own idiolect. In Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, this is evidenced by the use of the second person ‘you’. It functions simultaneously as a representation of Seaton’s consciousness in the oral register which he might choose to articulate it, and as a dialogic ‘sideways glance’ at the reader and assumed shared experience. The second is more redolent of internal monologue, using the first-person form (as seen in the homodiegetic narration of the second novel); crucially, though, it remains in Standard English, if explicitly orientated towards oral register.

Sillitoe’s is a novelistic discourse which refuses to normalise itself to accord with the conventions of classic realism, and as such prefigures the ambitions of many contemporary writers who incline their narrative voices towards the oral – asserting the right of a character’s dialect/idiolect to be the principal register of the narrative. The paper will demonstrate this thesis through the ideas of Bakhtin, and through an analytical taxonomy derived from literary stylistics. It aims to propose a model which can be used to analyse and explore any fiction which has been labelled as ‘working class’, and asserts that such an approach leads to a more principled characterisation of working class fiction (based on its use of language) than current literary-critical discussions based simply on cultural/social context and biography.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1177/0963947016645001
Uncontrolled keywords: fictional technique, narrative technique, dialect in literature, Alan Sillitoe, contemporary British fiction
Subjects: P Language and Literature
P Language and Literature > PE English philology and language
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Jeremy Scott
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2016 10:21 UTC
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2021 15:52 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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