‘Form is inseparable from content in a work of literature’. How do the formal qualities of narratives shape the reader’s experience of their contents?
German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, has supported the statement “Form is inseparable from content in a work of literature”. He strongly believed that “‘Form’ without ‘content’ is empty; ‘content’ without ‘form’ is blind.”1 (page 157) It can be argued that the formal qualities in literature are a key aspect in contributing to the reader’s overall experience. E. M Forster has suggested that the generic structure of a novel should entail a beginning, middle and an end.2 In Muriel Spark’s novel ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, the author has challenged this traditional format through illustrating events in an anachronical form and through the inclusion of a universal omniscient narrator, which has resulted in a build up of suspense, reinforced the novels thematic richness and enabled the reader to recognise the development of characters throughout. Reflecting upon Forster’s belief, I would have to disagree with this and feel that Spark’s structure has successfully enhanced the reader’s appreciation of the novel as a whole. On general terms, it seems clear to me that the form of literature is a tool used by authors in order to display the content within the novel in a certain fashion. This will result in the reader interpreting the text in a specific way, driven by the writer. This reflects Kant’s opinion when focusing on the divorce of ‘form’ with ‘content’. In any novel, and in every aspect of life, time is of paramount importance. In Spark’s novel, this facet is manipulated in such a way to be unfamiliar to the reader, yet still providing structure. Despite foreshadowing events of the story, the reader has become intrigued to find out the reasons as to why certain events occur. Time as a general concept, can be used by writers to emphasise events and regardless of the malleability of time as a structural point, linearity cannot be eradicated completely – it fundamentally acts as a structural base for a novel. At the start of the novel, it is immediately clear to the reader that the pattern of time is not in a chronological order, as Spark has included numerous counts of analepsis and prolepsis. This has insistently drawn the reader to a question of time, and it is obvious Spark has explicitly made this a key focal point for the reader. At the first introduction to the ‘Brodie Set’, we are informed that the girls are “fourth-form” (page 5). Following this, there is a flashback to when the girls were age twelve, and then a scene of the girls at the age of sixteen. The individuality of the girls is framed when the reader is told, “The five girls, standing very close to each other because of the boys, wore their hats each with a definite difference.” (Page 5) Despite sharing the commonality of being a part of “The Brodie Set”, their differences are highlighted with a flash-forward to how the girls are viewed as individuals later on. Spark has strategically mentioned in the first chapter that Mary Mcgreggor “lost her life in a hotel fire” (page 14). This key piece of information has signified this event, which has ultimately created a sense of tension, and despite knowing the fate of Mary, the reader almost feels obliged to continue reading. This early foreknowledge one has of Mary’s fate, affects how the reader views her throughout the remainder of the novel. Critic Teresa Bridgeman has stated, “The proleptic information is active in influencing our reading, but anticipation of the event is not strong.” (140)3 Looking at this quote, I have already shown a way in which the technique of prolepsis can have a strong impact on the reader, however Bridgeman’s radical statement implying that the reader’s anticipation is minimal due to the mere knowledge of what happens, I would have to disagree. By simply knowing key events about the content of a novel, the reader...
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