Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001158, Fri, 28 Jun 1996 10:29:28 -0700

Re: Unreliable narrators (fwd)
From: Robert Cook <rcook@rhi.hi.is>

The unreliable narrator is an old technique. I'm not sure how ancient it
is, but certainly some of Chaucer's pilgrims are not to be taken at their
word, say, the Prioress in her tale. Even when writing in his own voice, as
in Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer undercuts his own reliability. In English
fiction Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy is an early example, and Henry
James a later one. Since then the unreliable narrator is legion (Ford Madox
Ford's The Good Soldier, for one example). See Wayne C. Booth, The Rhetoric
of Fiction (University of Chicago Press, 1961 - though there is a later,
revised edition) for a solid survey of the technique, especially in James.