The Relationships between the Implied Author and Coherence

Habilitationsschrift, 2016

11 Seiten


Table of Content

1 Introduction

2 The Implied Author

3 Defining Coherence

4 Coherence and Implied Author
4.1 Murder at the Beau Rivage
4.2 Elementary

5 Outlook: Role of the Reader in constructing the Implied Author

6 Conclusion

Works Cited


1 Introduction

For a long time the only accepted form of writing, working completely alone without help is not the only option for writers anymore. New forms have emerged, actively seeking the collaboration of authors in order to create texts that make use of the new possibilities collaboration grants. Though it has not yet achieved the same level of normality as single- author writing, collaborative writing nonetheless has a wide range of readers. As in all forms of writing, readers always try to find an entity that accounts for the text and guides their interpretation. A concept that tries to help in that process is the implied author. While its usefulness is debateable in one-authored writing, this concept is more interesting in collaborative written works as the number of real authors not necessarily corresponds to an equal number of implied authors. This paper is going to prove that coherence is one of the key determinants for creating the implied author. To reach that goal, two texts, both belonging to the genre of crime fiction, will be compared: first, Elementary, a short story dealing with two writers that fail to kill their agent; second, Murder at the Beau Rivage, a poststructuralist story about a serial murder who actually is a serial murderess. However, as the “implied author” and “coherence” are the basis for this analysis, it is, first of all, crucial to come up with uniform definitions and concepts behind the terms since they are not being used consistently in literary studies. Having established the terms, Murder at the Beaus Rivage will serve as an example of how incoherence can cause different implied authors for a text. Then, in order to prove that collaboratively written texts are not bound to have several implied authors, Elementary will be examined in terms of coherence. Finally, as the reader also plays a role in constructing the implied author, a short outlook will be given on the aspects that may be of interest for further research in that field.

2 The Implied Author

Introduced by Wayne Booth in his ground-breaking work The Rhetoric of Fiction, the concept of the implied author tries to account for the intention of a narrative and how it is constructed, that is, a sensibility on which readers can base their interpretations (Abbott 84). When ignoring the concept of the implied author, there are two basic options for that sensibility: the narrator and the real author (Abbott).1 The narrator is not the best choice for that sensibility as the narrator is not necessarily always reliable. A prominent example is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day; the narrative derives much of its appeal from the fact that the narrator Mr. Stevens constantly claims to be totally objective and reliable, while the readers find out the contrary the more they learn about him throughout the story. In this case, and many others, the narrator cannot be taken to account for the intention of a text. However, the real author is not necessarily more reliable than the narrator. As a human being, he has a complex life that is continually changing: the author’s views and thoughts when the text is being read might be totally different from his views and thoughts when the text was written. In fact, authors might even refute their own works after a period of time because of their changed views. In consequence, since neither narrator nor real author are always a reliable guide for the interpretation of a text, the concept of the implied author attempts to fill that gap.

An implied author is that sensibility (that combination of feeling, intelligence, knowledge, opinion) that “accounts for” the narrative. It accounts for a narrative in the sense that the implied author authorial views that we find emerging in the narrative are consistent with all the elements of the narrative discourse that we are aware of (Abbott 84, emphasis in original).

Yet, for several reasons, the implied author is one of the most contested concepts in literary theory.2 First, Booth introduced the concept more or less en passent without clearly defining his own terms and without using them consistently. In addition to not providing a clear basis for discussion, this vagueness led to some confusion in terms of how the concept is applicable and what the additional value would be.3 Second, the concept itself is still in question. Some just deny it completely, while others, like Genette, think the concept possible, but unnecessary. In his work Narrative Discourse Revisited, he argues that though the reader constructs an image of the author while reading, that image "has no features that are distinct (from those of its model) and thus deserves no special mention” (141). There is, amongst others, an exception he allows: collaboratively written works that still appear as if written by one single author (such as Elementary) (Genette 141). While it is, to say the least, debatable whether creating another instance between narrator and real author is useful when there is only one author, the concept is much more interesting for texts that have been written by several authors. The reason for that is that the implied author is inferred from, and only from, the text itself; as Seymour Chatman puts it, “unlike the narrator, the implied author can tell us nothing (148, emphasis in original). Normally, a work written by one author will have one implied author. The question now arises about the relation between real authors and implied author(s) in collaboratively written fiction: if there are several authors, will there be an equal number of implied authors and if not, what influences that relation? In order to answer the first question, it is useful to have a look into what actually determines the number of implied authors in collaboratively written fiction.

3 Defining Coherence

As not unusual for basic terms in literary theory (though coherence is a term employed in many fields), a clear definition of coherence is very hard to come by since people may have different opinion about what can be considered coherent and what not. However, most definitions have in common that a narrative is exactly then coherent when the single elements (such as plot, closure, genre, etc.) are arranged in a way that lets the reader think “everything fits” (Toolan 44). Though this definition is admittedly, somewhat vague, it conveys what this concept is generally about and that is sufficient for the present purpose.

Narrative is not static but highly dynamic, meaning that the “character” of a narration is defined by the interaction of its elements. In parallel (and as a direct consequence), narrative coherencies not defined by single, static aspects but depends on how well the single elements work together in the context of the narration. For example, finding out that the main character is a cross-dresser in postmodern crime fiction like Murder at the Beau Rivage is probably fine and considered coherent for most readers, just because the genre end epoch allow for such “surprises”. However, imagining that, say, in Dickens’ Oliver Twist the hero would turn out to be a girl would be much less acceptable, to say the least, because neither genre (social novel, though there are some elements of crime fiction) nor the time (the morally restricted setting of the Victorian Age) would allow for such drastic turns in characterisation. What is coherent in the one narration is not in the other, and therefore single elements cannot be analysed isolated but have to be seen their context.

4 Coherence and Implied Author

4.1 Murder at the Beau Rivage

Though in order to be coherent many elements of a text play a role (as mentioned above), some elements are more important in creating (or undermining) coherence than others. Out of these elements, characterisation is maybe the most essential aspect when it comes to judge whether a text is coherent or not (Toolan 50). Since, especially in characterdriven narrative, much of the “action” in a narration revolves around the character(s) and the plot is often heavily influenced by what the character is and does, the coherence of a narration often stands or falls with characterisation. When the description of characters is not coherent, that is, the characters’ actions, motivations, thoughts and so on are not explained consistently to the reader or even contradict each other, it makes the characters unbelievable and, thus, disturbs the feeling of the whole narrative being coherent.

With these facts in mind, it is easier to find a starting point from where coherence can be examined in Murder at the Beau Rivage.The first half of the narration roughly conforms to the standards of crime fiction. Murders happen in the title-giving apartment complex “The Beau Rivage”, suggesting a serial killer. The main character, G. Smith, more or less stumbles in his role of being the detective of the narration by finding some hints suggesting who the murder could be. He is joined by his neighbour, Barry Loomis, and both collaborate on finding the murder, all clues pointing to a woman with short, black hair. Shortly before Barry comes into play, the narration begins to show meta-fictional elements. G. Smith begins to detect some “inconsistencies” in the story itself, and, after some more consideration, finds out that he “was a character in a crime story” (Murder 228). Though one could argue that here already a different implied author is being introduced (for reasons that will be explained shortly) due to incoherence of the narration, a passage follows that makes the change from one implied author to another clear.

A bit after the aforesaid part, the narration turns again into a “normal” story before it once more introduces meta-fictional elements. Again, G. Smith contemplates his situation of being a character in a crime story and that “I am not Hercule Poirot4, my friend” (Murder 232). Apart from meta-fictional elements, instability of identity is a distinct aspect of postmodern works. In Murder at the Beau Rivage, the identity of the G. Smith is indeed very unstable since G. Smith confesses after roughly half of the text that “you can call me Gina“:


1 Nelles suggests the term “historical author” and also renames the implied author with the somewhat more justifiable term “inferred author”. Yet, Booth’s terms are much more current, which is why they will be employed here.

2 Booth introduced the term in 1961, which makes it quite young a concept and is probably not for a small part responsible for the ongoing debate

3 Being aware of these problems, Booth tried to provide clearer definitions in the afterword to the second edition of his work The Rhetoric of Fiction.

4 Hercule Poirot is a professional detective and the main character in some stories by Agatha Christie.

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The Relationships between the Implied Author and Coherence
Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen
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relationships, implied, author, coherence
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Gregor Schönfelder (Autor:in), 2016, The Relationships between the Implied Author and Coherence, München, GRIN Verlag,


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