Autumn 2010
English 761: Introduction to Graduate Study in Narrative and Narrative Theory
Tu-Th 11:30 - 1:18
Journalism Building 0291
Instructor:  David Herman
Office: 409 Denney (office hours T-Th 2:15 - 3:15, 5:30 - 6:00, and by appointment)
Phone: 292-6123; e-mail: herman.145[at]

Web address for this syllabus:


As accounts of what happened to particular people in particular circumstances and with specific consequences, stories have come to be viewed as a basic human strategy for coming to terms with time, process, and change—a strategy that contrasts with, but is in no way inferior to, "scientific" modes of explanation that characterize phenomena as instances of general covering laws. Across a variety of media--from literature, comics, and film to
face-to-face interaction and digital environments--narratives can be used to create fictional worlds that either emulate or depart radically from the world of everyday experience; to engage with questions of identity and explore how institutions, situations, and events play a shaping role in people's lives; to account for one's own or others' reasons for acting; and to come to terms with the (ongoing) legacy of the past.
    This course is a graduate-level introduction to the strategies that theorists of narrative have developed for studying these and other aspects of stories and storytelling. At the beginning of the course, we will focus on the history of recent developments in the field, core features of narrative, and key concepts proposed by narrative analysts. We will use, initially, a couple of short illustrative narratives to anchor our discussion of these developments, features, and concepts;
but as we proceed we will shift to longer, more complex texts, putting ideas from narrative theory into dialogue with three fictional narratives associated with realism/naturalism, modernism, and postmodernism, respectively. At around the mid-point of the quarter, we will then "reboot" and sample some of the approaches being used currently by practitioners in the field. After a consideration of issues in transmedial narratology, or the study of narrative across media, we will center our discussions on Art Spiegelman's graphic memoir Maus, using this text to explore issues of medium-specificity, the fiction/nonfiction distinction, the links between narrative and identity, and questions surrounding the nexus of narrative and (ethical and other) norms.


Texts available for purchase at SBX and other local bookstores

Abbott, H. Porter. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, 2nd edition (Cambridge UP); ISBN 0521887194
Herman, David, Manfred Jahn, and Marie-Laure Ryan. Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory (Routledge), abbreviated as RENT in the course schedule below; ISBN 0415775124

Davis, Rebecca Harding. Life in the Iron Mills, 2nd edition (Feminist Press); ISBN 0935312390
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs Dalloway (Harvest Books); ISBN 0156628708
Spark, Muriel. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Harper Perennial); ISBN 0061711292
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I and II (Pantheon); ISBN 0394747232 and 0679729771

Texts available on the internet or via electronic reserve

A number of texts are either available on the web or have been placed on e-reserve at the library and can be accessed via the Carmen site for our course. The e-reserve items are marked "[ER]" in our course schedule below; please click here for a full list of and complete bibliographic citations for these items.


Texts placed on print reserve at the Science and Engineering Library (SEL)

Chatman, Seymour. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1978.
Genette, Gérard. Narrative Discourse. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980.
-----. Narrative Discourse Revisited. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1988.
Herman, David. Basic Elements of Narrative. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
-----., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.
Herman, Luc, and Bart Vervaeck. Handbook of Narrative Analysis. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2005.
Phelan, James, and Peter J. Rabinowitz, eds. A Companion to Narrative Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.
Prince, Gerald. A Dictionary of Narratology. 2nd edition. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2003.
Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith. Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2002.
Ryan, Marie-Laure, ed. Narrative across Media: The Languages of Storytelling. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2004.

Web-based Resources

Hühn, Peter, John Pier, Wolf Schmid, and Jörg Schönert, eds. The Living Handbook of Narratology.
Manfred Jahn, Narratology: A Guide to the Theory of Narrative.
Project Narrative Bibliographical Wiki:


There are 6 basic requirements for this course, spelled out in more detail below: (1) participating regularly in class discussions; (2) posting discussion questions on the Carmen site for our course; (3) submitting several short response papers; (4) drafting and revising an abstract for a colloquium-style talk that you'll give at the end of the quarter, in connection with your final project for the course; (5) presenting an oral version of your final project at the colloquium; and (6) submitting a written version of the final project.

1. Active class participation: Regular participation is crucial for the success of this course. Indeed, I view the course as an opportunity for a team of scholars to investigate, in a kind of workshop environment, major issues in the study of narrative and narrative theory. Sustained participation by everyone in the class is thus not only intrinsic to the course's design but also one of its central goals.
2. Posting (and reading!) discussion questions on Carmen: To enhance group participation and facilitate scholarly exchange, each student will, for two different class meetings, post 2 well-thought-out and carefully articulated questions on the Carmen site for our course. Click here for a schedule for the Carmen posts
. N.B. Your questions should be posted at least 24 hours before the class meets; and by the same token before coming to class you should give some thought to the questions that others have posted via Carmen.
    In formulating your questions, you should put one or more of our assigned readings in narrative theory into dialogue with one of our illustrative narratives, exploring aspects of the text that the theoretical approach can help illuminate as well as aspects that it is less able to account for. In other words, your discussion questions should explore the possibilities and limitations of a particular contribution to narrative theory, using our example texts to flesh out those potentials and problems.  

3. Three short position papers: To enrich your reading and responses, you will be required to submit three short (500- to 750-word) position papers on three different days of your choice. The papers are due at the beginning of the class period during which we discuss the material on which your paper focuses. Also, your position papers should not overlap with your discussion questions; in other words, your papers should center on different readings than the ones you address in your discussion questions.
    In composing your position papers, you should again put one or more of our assigned readings in narrative theory into dialogue with one of our illustrative narratives, exploring aspects of the text that the theoretical approach can help illuminate as well as aspects that it is less able to account for. In other words, like your Carmen posts, your response paper should explore the possibilities and limitations of a particular contribution to narrative theory, using one of our example texts to flesh out those potentials and problems.
    Please keep these papers within the allotted word-limit, and save them in case you should decide to use one (or more) of them as the basis for your final project for the class.

4. An abstract (250-500 words): This abstract corresponds to the oral and written versions of your final project for the course, per items 5 and 6 below. Following the general conventions for abstracts for presentations and articles, your abstract should (a) state and describe the research problem (in this case, the aspect of narrative/narrative theory) that you are addressing via a particular case study; (b) situate that problem in the context of previous scholarship devoted to the issue you intend to explore; and (c) indicate how your own approach to this problem will advance or enrich or refine prior scholarship in this domain. Please include a title and a tentative bibliography.
    First drafts of abstracts are due Tuesday, November 9; we'll then work together to revise your abstract until, by the end of the process, you'll have an abstract ready to submit to a scholarly conference. Note that the deadline for abstracts falls before our discussion of Spiegelman's Maus, so if you do want to work on Spiegelman's text you'll need to plan ahead. 
    For examples of abstracts written by OSU graduate students for colloquia held in previous courses, follow these pointers:
5. A 12-minute conference presentation: This presentation will be delivered at the 2010 OSU Graduate Colloquium on Narrative and Narrative Theory (all submissions guaranteed acceptance). The colloquium will be held in two "waves," on the last day of class (Thursday, December 2) and on the following day--Friday, December 3--from 1:00 - 4:30 p.m. in Denney Hall, Room 245. If you choose to read from a script for your presentation, please note that 12 minutes corresponds to about 6-7 double-spaced pages of written text. You do not need to hand in any written material that you use for your presentation.

6. A well-organized, persuasively argued, and stylistically polished final paper with a target length of 15-20 pages, or about 5,000 - 7,000 words: This paper corresponds to items 4 and 5 and, as previously indicated, it can build on your short response papers (item 3)--or possibly even you Carmen posts (item 2). Hard copies of your final papers should be placed in my faculty mailbox in Denney 421 by Tuesday, December 7, at 5:00 p.m.


In-class participation and posting of discussion questions on Carmen = 25%
Short response papers = 25%
Drafting and revision of abstract = 15%
Oral presentation at colloquium + final project = 35%



Please make sure that cellphones, blackberries, etc. are turned off before you enter the classroom. 

Special needs

Anyone who feels s/he may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss your specific needs. Anyone with such needs should also be aware of the Office for Disability Services in room 150 Pomerene Hall (614-292-3307;
TDD 292-0901) which provides services for students with documented disabilities.


The following is tentative course schedule. Depending on the actual pace at which we proceed during the quarter, we may have to make adjustments to the syllabus as we go.


Core Features of Narrative and Key Concepts in Narrative Theory: Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess" (1842) and Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (1890)

Th 23  Introduction to the class;
read Abbott, chapters 1-3; Herman, excerpt from Introduction to Narratologies (pages 1-14) [ER]; Herman, "Histories of Narrative Theory (I)" [ER]; Monika Fludernik, "Histories of Narrative Theory (II)" [ER]; Herman, McHale, and Phelan, excerpt from Introduction to Teaching Narrative Theory [ER]

T 28  Abbott, chapters 4-8; Prince, "Narratology" [ER]; entries on "Narrative," "Narrative Turn in the Humanities," "Narrativity" in RENT  

Th 30  Continued discussion of items assigned for 9/23 and 9/28; also read
Herman, chapter 1 of Basic Elements of Narrative (, plus the following entries in RENT: "Actant," "Audience," "Character," "Focalization," "Minimal Narrative," "Narration," "Narrator," "Plot," "Thought and Consciousness Representation (Literature)," "Storyworld"


T 5  Continued discussion of items assigned for 9/30; also read Bruner, "The Narrative Construction of Reality" [ER], plus the following entries in RENT: "Gender Studies," "Genre Theory in Narrative Studies," "Narrative Dynamics," "Narrative Structure," "Space in Narrative," "Temporal Ordering," and "Time and Narrative"

Building and Populating (Realist/Naturalist) Narrative Worlds:
Life in the Iron Mills

Th 7  Abbott, chapters 10 and 12;
Herman, chapter 5 from Basic Elements of Narrative [ER]; entries on "Possible-Worlds Theory," "Realist Novel," and "Realemes" in RENT

T 12 
Barthes, "The Reality Effect" (available by scrolling down toward the end of this page on Google Books); Teresa Bridgeman, "Time and Space" [ER]; Jannidis, article on "Character" in The Living Handbook of Narratology

Th 14  No class: Festival of Cartoon Art

T 19  Continued discussion of items assigned for 10/7 and 10/12 (and earlier readings) vis-à-vis Davis; also read
excerpts from Herman contributions to Practicing Narrative Theory: Four Perspectives in Conversation [ER]; Luc Herman and Bart Vervaeck, "Ideology" [ER]

Modernist Fiction and Narrative Worldmaking: Mrs Dalloway

Th 21  Manfred Jahn, "Focalization" [ER]; Melba Cuddy-Keane, "Narratological Approaches [to Virginia Woolf]" [ER]; entries on "Modernist Narrative" and "Psychological Novel" in RENT

T 26  Woolf, "Modern Fiction" [ER];
Herman "1880-1945: Re-minding Modernism"; also, discussion of earlier readings vis-à-vis Woolf

Postmodernist Narrative and Narrative Theory: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Th 28  Continue discussion of Mrs. Dalloway as necessary; also read Lyotard, excerpt from The Postmodern Condition (18-41) [ER]; entries on "Historiographic Metafiction," "Metalepsis,"
"Postmodernist Narrative," "Postmodern Rewrites," and "Reflexivity" in RENT


T 2  Hutcheon, chapter 8 of A Poetics of Postmodernism [ER]; McHale, "Chinese Box Worlds" [ER]; Nicol, "Postmodern Fiction" [ER]; also, discussion of earlier readings vis-à-vis Spark

"Rebooting" the Discussion: An Overview of Some Contemporary Approaches to Narrative Theory

Th 4 
Continue discussion of The Prime Miss Jean Brodie as necessary; also read the following "approaches" entries in RENT: "Cultural Studies Approaches," "Feminist Narratology," "Poststructuralist Approaches," "Psychological Approaches," "Rhetorical Approaches"; also read Herman, article on "Cognitive Narratology" in The Living Handbook of Narratology; Alber, Iversen, Nielsen and Richardson, “Unnatural Narratives, Unnatural Narratology" [ER]

T 9  Continue discussion of approaches; also read Abbott, chapter 9; Herman, "Toward a Transmedial Narratology" [ER]; Ochs and Capps, "A Dimensional Approach to Narrative" [ER]; "Media and Narrative" in RENT; the transcript of and background about "UFO or the Devil," available at; ABSTRACTS DUE 

Th 11  No class: Veterans' Day Holiday

Graphic Memoir and Issues of Medium-Specificity, the Fiction/Nonfiction Distinction, Identity, and Ethics: Maus I and II

T 16 
Ewert, "Reading Visual Narrative" [ER]; McCloud, chapter 3 of Understanding Comics [ER]; Gardner and Herman, excerpt from Introduction to special issue on "Graphic Narratives and Narrative Theory" [ER]; Herman, "Narrative Worldmaking in Graphic Life Writing" [ER]; "Comics and Graphic Novel" in RENT

Th 18 
Abbott, chapters 11, 13, and 14; "Fiction, Theories of" in RENT; Lejeune, "The Autobiographical Pact" [ER]

T 23 
Cohn, "Signposts of Fictionality" [ER]; Doležel, "Fictional and Historical Narrative" [ER]; Ritivoi, "Explaining People" [ER]; "Identity and Narrative" in RENT

Th 25  No class: Thanksgiving Holiday

T 30 
Harré and van Langenhove, "The Dynamics of Social Episodes" and "Introducing Positioning Theory" [ER]; MacIntyre, excerpt from After Virtue [ER]; Taylor, excerpt from Sources of the Self [ER]


Th 2  First wave of colloquium presentations 

F 3  Second wave of colloquium presentations (1:00 - 4:30, in Denney 245)

Final projects due in my faculty mailbox in Denney 421 by Tuesday, December 7, at 5:00 p.m.