"Proto-Novels". A comparison of John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" and Aphra Behn's "Oroonoko"

Hausarbeit, 2019

33 Seiten, Note: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The basic elements of narrative situation and communicative frameworks
2.1 The various types of narrators
2.2 Narrative perspective and fundamental motifs
2.3 Storytelling strategies
2.4 A short overview of the analytical criteria used in this paper

3. Narrative modes in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
3.1 The narrator’s relation to the portrayed happenings
3.2 Discontinuities in the configuration of the narrative perspective

4. Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko as a precursor of the novel
4.1 Oroonoko as a personalized narrative with the power of a focused report
4.2 Objectivity and subjectivity in Oroonoko

5. Conclusion

6. List of Works Cited

1. Introduction

Nowadays, novels are everywhere. We find them in bookstores, supermarkets, hotel lounges, and even in telephone booths. The provision of laughter and dreams is widely regarded as a legitimate occupation that does not only help people to escape from the dullness of their existence but may also make their lives more manageable. Thus, the novel can even be understood as a form of expression which reflects the mosaic of its contextual culture. And if we take a closer look at book sales in the world, it certainly seems as if the novel has become indispensable in today's society.

But this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that the novel’s survival as a new, more authentic form of literature was at stake. According to William Warner , there were a large number of critical voices in 17th century Britain who claimed that the novel should be banned (Warner 4-5). Of course, there wasn’t yet any conclusive definition of the term “novel” at that time, since the new mode of expression had only just started to evolve, but because these “new books” portrayed contemporary life in a particularly candid manner and often had love as their central topics, they were generally thought to “breed imitation, incite desire”, and “seduce women” (Warner 7). Especially the Puritans, who regarded all stories as lies, seemed to utilise all available opportunities in order to express their discomfort regarding novels and novel-writers. However, it wasn’t only religious devotees and overprotective patriarchs that sought to put a ban on these “conduits of immorality” before they would eventually “reach into every corner of the kingdom” (Warner 7): even the famous Samuel Johnson, himself a distinguished poet and playwright, insisted that “the author must assume responsibility for the novel's moral effects”, for else they would surely “take possession of the memory by a kind of violence, and produce effects almost without the intervention of the will” (Warner 5).

It is probably due to this perceived lack of solidness, honesty, and morality within novels that John Bunyan chose to write an Apology for his book, in which he does not only defend his unusual method, but even claims that it is precisely this nonorthodox form which allows him to advance divine truth: “This Book is writ in such a Dialect As may the minds of listless men affect: It seems a novelty, and yet contains Nothing but sound and honest Gospel strains (Bunyan 7).” In this manner, Bunyan emerges as a pioneer and precursor of the novel who committed to the emancipation of “novel-writing”.

But despite all of his efforts to provide an explanation for his use of allegories and metaphors, it still remains somewhat obscure that a Puritan preacher like Bunyan succumbed to the writing of what he calls deceptive “Types, Shadows, and Metaphors” (Bunyan 4). Why would a convinced Dissenter choose to write such a kind of prose text, if the Puritans usually disagreed with the practices of inventing stories and furnishing them with verbal embellishments (Warner 10)? This question will be one of the most important issues that this present paper seeks to answer. As for now, however, I propose the thesis that the novel has some special “affordances” (to borrow Caroline Levine’s term) that directly lent themselves to Bunyan’s task and purpose of strengthening the religious beliefs of his readers. Although the novel might have had a rather bad reputation at that time, it also holds a great number of latent potentialities which can be put in use for spiritual advancement. And, thus, I argue that the novel’s dormant potential to create such vivid stories that they will long remain impressed upon the minds of its readers (Bunyan 7), made it the ideal choice for Bunyan if he wanted to direct his readers “to the Holy Land” (Bunyan 6).

The truth is, that the novel as a medium was often used by devout Christians like John Bunyan and Samuel Richardson as a means of articulating social ideas and fostering religious beliefs. For, the novel does not only disregard the constraints that govern drama and poetry, it also achieves a synthesis between idealism and authenticity that is accessible to people from all walks of life. The Pilgrim’s Progress, for example, distinguishes itself through the presentation of biblical teachings in a pleasurable form that is comprehensible for everyone. And, thus, the novel slowly became regarded with more and more acceptance (Warner 8).

According to William Warner, it is especially due to the novel’s special affordance of narrative authenticity that it could finally assert itself: because “to represent ‘real’ life is to attain a more valuable species of writing” and, therefore, novels could also be seen as a justified method to guide the readers “into an enlightened movement toward a rational modern taste in entertainment” (Warner 32).

However, the novel as a form of creation has never been a fixed medium. From the time of its first emergence onwards, it has always been in a state of continual change and oscillation. In the 17th century especially, when the early “novelists” made serious efforts to distinguish their writings from antecedent forms of literature, there were a large number of “experiment[s] in the infancy of the novel” (Warner 44), which brought new narrative possibilities in general and an enriched conceptualization of ‘the story’ in particular.

It is for this reason that this term paper seeks to explore the various elements that make these proto-novels stand out from earlier types of writing. To read a novel and to recognize the narrative strategies within its word flow, is to really understand what makes the text work. And since a comparison with other writings of its time and epoch can substantially increase the comprehension and appreciation of a given text, I have chosen to contrast the two “proto-novels” of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko.

Naturally, a literary critic who tries to compare and contrast two authors coming from such different backgrounds (one a Puritan preacher writing Christian allegories and the other a poet and playwright constructing stories with a decisively sexual imprint), must be very careful not to draw any hasty conclusions. But despite these difficulties, I still venture to take a deeper look at the different modes of narration in the two text, because I believe that such an inquiry will help us discover the special affordances and potentialities of the novel as a medium.

In order to reach this goal, I will deal initially with the general roles and characteristics of a narrator, before finally moving on to a closer analysis of Pilgrim’s Progress and Oroonoko, respectively. The main points for examination during this process will be knowledge, reliability, attitude and narrative strategies, since I regard them as the most fundamental aspects that contribute to the effectivity and credibility of a certain story. Thus, I hope to evince both the elements that render Pilgrim’s Progress and Oroonoko congeneric with older forms of storytelling, as well as the components that might already make them likenesses of ‘the novel’.

2. The basic elements of narrative situation and communicative frameworks

The Austrian writer and literary scientist Arno Geiger once said that literature should be understood as „an attempt to understand both life and the world within which it takes place “. Ever since human beings have learned to speak and write, they have tried to find the true meaning behind their own experiences by putting them into words and organizing them linguistically. Through the practice of articulating their diffuse, sometimes ostensibly amorphous lives, they hoped to disentangle the chaotic entirety of human actions at least to such a degree that the world became sufficiently manageable in order for the individual person to lead an ordered existence.

But since our world is constantly changing, literature, too, has been forced to constantly develop new forms of expression that “provide a specific access to a reality that does not only have social and political, but also psychic, ethical and transcendent dimensions” (Herrmann 27). And it is arguably the central entity of the narrator that underwent the most changes.

Analysing the narrative modes within a given text is, therefore, always a difficult task that requires a lot of systemic effort and methodological work. But because it is only by the means of such an analysis that we can finally understand what makes the novel so successful (i.e. what affordances it provides that other forms of expression cannot offer), this term paper still attempts to capture the key features of pre-novelistic narrators.

The units under inspection will be the following:

2.1 The various types of narrators

“In the literal sense, the term ‘narrator’ designates the inner-textual (textually encoded) highest-level speech position from which the current narrative discourse as a whole originates and from which references to the entities, actions and events that this discourse is about are being made” (Margolin n. pag.). But even though this definition by Uri Margolin provides us with some indication of the narrator’s major function of storytelling, it nevertheless cannot be seen as fully sufficient because it does not adequately represent the multidimensionality and occupational complexity of the ‘narrator’ as an entity.

On a very basic level, we differentiate between first, second, and third person narrators, depending on both the role they take in relation to the narrated story and the pronouns they use in the process of storytelling. However, it is not enough to simply announce the use of a first-person narrator because we have encountered a major or minor character who is using the pronoun ‘I’ to tell a certain story. It is also vitally important to take a look at the many distinctive qualities, affordances, and potentialities that such a point of view may also evince.

A first-person narrator, for example, usually portrays the story events in a more subjective manner—maintaining a certain emphasis on emotional and psychological processes but, conversely, keeping mere descriptive passages to a minimum—while a third-person narrator attempts a more accurate portrayal of the happenings so that objective details such as setting, scenes, and utterances are brought to the fore.

Therefore, it is important to stress that all the different features and functionalities of ‘the narrator’ are indeed closely interlinked. First-person narrators tend to be rather limited in their knowledge because they only have a restricted view of the events and cannot access the same level of detached expertise as a third-person narrator. But, of course, this doesn’t always have to be the case. A narration can also be aligned to the perspective of a specific character (focalization), while still maintaining a majority of the nominal powers an omniscient narrator might commonly transmit. Of course, it is true that certain types of narrator often seem to be especially prone to special forms and perspectives. But even a third-person narrator’s point of view can be severely restricted “in relation to the experience and knowledge of a character” (Niederhoff n.pag.), so as to render all of his expressions focalized/biased.

Also linked to this concept of focalization, however, is that of narrative levels: “an analytic notion whose purpose is to describe the relations between an act of narration and the diegesis, or spatiotemporal universe within which a story takes place” (John Pier n.pag.). In this respect, we differentiate between (1) a homodiegetic narrator who is also a character in the story, (2) an autodiegetic narrator who happens to be the protagonist of the story, and (3) a heterodiegetic narrator who hovers above the story world and describes the events from a well-informed, yet more distanced vantagepoint.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 1. Diegesis and narrator types.

From this simple figure alone, we can already infer how important the narrator’s point of view is. However, it is still necessary to take a closer look at narrative perspectives and the way they shape and influence a given story.

2.2 Narrative perspective and fundamental motifs

According to Burkhard Niederhoff, “[p]erspective in narrative may be defined as the way the representation of the story is influenced by the position, personality and values of the narrator, the characters and, possibly, other, more hypothetical entities in the storyworld” (n. pag.). He argues that a story should be analysed in a similar way to an image, closely analysing the relationships between the narrator and the various characters that inhibit his story world. But while Niederhoff is certainly right that a survey of the narrator’s “psychological idiosyncrasies”, attitudes, and behavioural dispositions towards others is of crucial importance when we seek to understand a given text (n. pag.), I would also argue for a differentiated examination of his principal focus.


Ende der Leseprobe aus 33 Seiten


"Proto-Novels". A comparison of John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" and Aphra Behn's "Oroonoko"
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
precursors of the novel, novel, protonovel, narrative modes, narratology, pilgrim's progress
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Ann-Kathrin Latter (Autor:in), 2019, "Proto-Novels". A comparison of John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" and Aphra Behn's "Oroonoko", München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/490065


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