A literary text,as a construct of language,is a multi‐level and multi‐dimensional entity,to which different analytic models,each with its given assumptions and interests,may apply.Not surprisingly,the conceptions of and the approaches to literary style are marked by proliferation,diversity and one‐sidedness.The present chapter seeks to define the typical objects of investigation of stylistics as an intermediary discipline in relation to the concerns of some other approaches to literary style.


The difference in the conception of style first has to do with the domain of style:genre or period style differs,not only in scope but also fundamentally,from the style of a particular author or text.I shall now touch briefly on genre or period style,then proceed to a discussion of two contrasting concepts of authorial or textual style.

2.1.1 Style as Genre or Period Characteristics

The characteristics of the use of language found in a particular genre(or school)or period of literary writing have frequently attracted the attention of investigators of style.Significantly,genre or period style differs from authorial or textual style in the sense that,rather than a writer's personal choices,it involves a set of given conventions or rules with which a writer operating in that particular genre or period complies or is expected to comply.If the style of a given author or text is determined primarily by contrast with the styles of other authors or texts found in the same genre(and/or period),the style of a genre or period is on the other hand defined in relation to the styles of other genres or periods.Now,given that genre or period style is theoretically fairly uncontroversial(like the investigation of registers in non‐literary language),there seems no need to go further.

2.1.2 Style as Habitual Traits of the Author

Many analysts,particularly author‐detection stylisticians,have focused on the linguistic habits of the writer.Traditionally,the measurement of style as such rests on intuitive impression or statistics.Starting from the 1960's,some transformational grammarians such as Hayes and Ohmann have resorted to transformational analysis to make explicit the author's characteristic preference for surface syntactic choices,one aspect of style which is taken by Ohmann as“a central determinant”(1964:438).

As habitual traits in contrast with thematic devices,this aspect may be treated as the“unconscious pole”of the writer's use of language(Milic 1971).Not surprisingly,the critic in this vein is typically concerned with the association between style as such and the writer's personality rather than the literary significance of the text(s).Now,leaving aside the true intent of the widely cited aphorism of Buffon's“The style is the man”(cf.Gray 1969:39;Milic 1971),if one claims that style reflects the personality of the author,one may mean by“personality”either behavioural/mental characteristics or distinctive ways of perceiving and organizing experience or perhaps both.1 In terms of the former,a notable critical attempt is made by Henri Morier who postulates a one‐to‐one correspondence between eight classes of style as such and eight kinds of temperament and mental makeup:weak,delicate,balanced,positive,strong,hybrid,subtle,and defective(see Ullmann 1965:25-26;cf.Milic 1971:77).But such associations can be,and often are,far‐fetched in that“some peculiarities of style need have no psychological background:they may be mere mannerisms or tics”(Ullmann 1965:24).Or it may even throw a false scent,that is,suggest some personality quite contrary to that of the author(see Ullmann 1965:30-31).Now some points need to be noticed here.First,the view that a writer's personality determines the quiddity of his or her style implies that the writer can exert no control over the style at all,all of it being determined by habits,associations,and conditioning(Milic 1971:80).It follows that if the writer consciously controls his or her linguistic choice for this or that purpose,as in the case of techniques or rhetorical choices,his or her‘style,'if we may still call it so,most probably no longer reflects his or her personality.Secondly,as Milic observes,a rhetorical choice may shade into a linguistic habit.In such a case,the change may be due to personal predilection and,therefore,possibly personality but it may be due to factors that do not have to do with personality.Furthermore,when searching for personality in linguistic habits,one needs to be on guard against attributing choices that are more or less determined by subject matter or genre to the writer's own predilection or personality(see Leech&Short 1981:12;Lutwack 1960:211;Milic 1971:82-83).

When it comes to the correlation between the author's linguistic habits and his or her distinctive ways of perceiving and organizing experience,the picture seems to be less problematic.This kind of association has received much attention from Ohmann,who holds that:

each writer tends to exploit deep linguistic resources in charac‐teristic ways-that his style,in other words,rests on syntactic options within sentences...-and that these syntactic preferences correlate with habits of meaning that tell us something about his mode of conceiving experience.(1966)

It seems worth mentioning that,while the reflection of the author's behavioural/mental characteristics is more or less confined to linguistic habits,the reflection of the author's cognitive process may be found both in the habitual and in the rhetorical,or thematically‐motivated,choices.But of course the habitual and the rhetorical/motivated differ from each other in the sense that what the former reveals is,as Ohmann puts it,“a habit of meaning...a persistent way of sorting out the phenomena of experience”(1967),whereas what the latter brings out is on the other hand the author's specific vision or viewpoint concerning particular fictional event(s)(Ohmann seems to regard such cases as“temporary epistemologies”).Perhaps precisely because the habitual and the rhetorical/motivated can both correlate with the author's cognitive processes,one finds here frequent overlap between the two kinds of choices.It has been observed that in some experimental writers like Donald Barthelme,there is a consistent use of highly simple language,a linguistic“habit”that is however motivated by a desire“to support,even establish,a particular point of view-that the world is meaningless,disjointed,and doomed by poverty of experience”(Traugott&Pratt 1980:168-169).Similarly,Henry James's preference for complexity and for placing causes after effects is in a sense motivated by his particular concern with psychological realism(see Leech&Short 1981:102).

Now,in terms of literary/thematic interpretation,one needs to be aware that a“distinctive frequency distribution is in itself no guarantee of stylistic relevance,as can be seen from authorship studies,where the diagnostic features are often,from a literary standpoint,very trivial ones”(Halliday 1971:344).Nevertheless,some critics who focus on the author's habitual and recurrent linguistic choices may well take the author's linguistic habits and literary significance as necessary correlates.Ohmann(1964),for instance,after offering a description of Faulkner's syntactic traits based on a typically Faulknerian passage,declares:

The move from formal description of styles to critical and semantic interpretation should be the ultimate goal of stylistics,but in this article I am concerned only with the first step:description.

However,once literary interpretation is actually brought in,attention tends to shift from the author's linguistic habits to rhetorical or thematically‐motivated choices.This seems to be the case even when it comes to writers like Conrad,Hemingway or James whose habitual traits are closely tied up with the subject matter.To take Ohmann's own analysis for example:in his evaluatively‐oriented analysis(1966)of the final sentence of Conrad's“The Secret Sharer,”much attention is directed towards the particular syntactic organization(e.g.the rhetorical movement)of that sentence,which is very much motivated by the immediate thesis of that sentence and the underlying theme of the story.In effect,only by treating the syntax as so motivated,rather than as habitually preferred,can one make full sense of Ohmann's observations such as“The syntax of the last sentence schematizes the relationships[the narrator]has achieved,in identifying with Leggatt's heroic defection,and in fixing on a point of reference-the hat-that connects him to the darker powers of nature”(ibid.).It is true that the syntax concerned exemplifies some of Conrad's habitual traits such as the use of chaining in syntactic expansion.But the stylistic significance comes largely from syntactic devices that are motivated in that particular context and that are more subtle than,say,a mere chaining effect.The sentence in question points to the fact that a linguistic form,while being on a general level representative of its author's habitual choice,may contain a subtle internal organization motivated in its given context,the analysis of which,as distinct from that of the habitual,cannot be divorced from the immediate thesis and/or the underlying theme.And this brings us to a different conception of style.

2.1.3 Style as Artistically or Thematically Motivated Choices

Investigators of style,if concerned with literary interpretation or evaluation,tend to focus on artistically or thematically motivated choices.Such a concentration is unequivocally displayed in Halliday's definition of foregrounding:

Foregrounding,as I understand it,is feature that is brought into prominence will be“foregrounded”only if it relates to the meaning of the text as a whole.(1971:339;my emphasis)

A similar exclusion is found in the French structuralist Todorov's statement:

Every utterance will...have a multitude of stylistic characteristics.But only a part of them will normally be“actualized.”In other words,the structural description of a particular text will not consider a property stylistic if it cannot show that this property is found in relationship with others,at other levels,or,to put it in other terms,that it is meaningful.(1971:36)

Stylisticians in this vein are interested in that part of a writer's style which displays conscious or quasi‐conscious artistry or craftsmanship(cf.Milic 1971;Mukarovsky 1964:19);a part that contains various kinds of stylistic or rhetorical devices functioning as semantic re‐inforcement or modification,including“technique”both in Ohmann's narrow sense(1964:425)and in a broader sense as used by Schorer who regards“the resources of language”as“part of the technique of fiction”:

language as used to create a certain texture and tone which in themselves state and define themes and meanings;or language,the counters of our ordinary speech,as forced,through conscious manipulation,into all those larger meanings which our ordinary speech almost never intends.(1967:66-67)

Stylisticians operating along these lines do take the author's linguistic habits as part of the author's style but they establish a clear criterion of relevance,namely,sematic/thematic or artistic function,dismissing thematically or artistically irrelevant linguistic choices as being trivial.This position is arrived at via different paths.A most common route that leads to such a position is a concern with the subject matter,with the object and purpose of artistic creation or literary communication,treating style as expressive or affective elements operating to heighten the aesthetic effect.Such a concentration by stylisticians on the aesthetic purpose,function and value associated with the use of language in literature may find an interesting expression in Cluysenaar's observation that“stylistic exploration can be the equivalent,for literature,of the painter's or sculptor's workshop”(1976:9).Style is thus identified with various linguistic features,devices and patterns which function to produce artistically or thematically related effects;and language is naturally examined in the context of literary interpretation.

Now,because of the limitation of space,I shall not go into other different,though possibly overlapping,conceptions of style,such as style as deviation from a norm(see Enkvist 1964:23ff.;Todorov 1971:30;Mukarovsky 1964;Leech&Short 1981:43ff.)or style as textual characteristics:a concept of style as shown in Halliday's earlier descriptively‐oriented analyses of literary texts.With the distinction drawn above between habitual traits and motivated choice,we now come to a consideration of some specific objects of investigation of stylistics as an intermediary discipline.


The concern of stylistics as a discipline mediating between linguistics and literary criticism can be simply and broadly defined as thematically and artistically motivated verbal choices.This title,however,involves different layers or dimensions of the text.Which dimension or dimensions are brought under focus in one particular analysis depends on factors such as the linguistic model(s)used,the stylistic properties of the text( which aspect(s)foregrounding or defamiliarization occurs)or the analyst's own interest.Attention will be directed here to two contrastive dimensions of the text:i)linguistic form and ii)fictional‘facts.'The former constitutes the most prominent and characteristic object of investigation of literary stylistics;and the latter has been singled out mainly because of its relevance to the analysis in the second part.

2.2.1 Linguistic Form

Linguistic form as a title covers many specific categories such as surface syntactic choice,lexical choice(e.g.from different registers),figurative expression,metre,alliteration,or modes of speech presentation( vs.indirect speech).The aesthetic significance of linguistic form varies a great deal in literature-not only from poetry(which often works by elegant concentration)to the novel(which often works by exhaustive presentation[see Watt 1957:33]),but also within the genre of prose fiction.Anthony Burgess observes:

Novelists,like poets,work in the medium of human language,but some may be said to work in it more than others.There is a kind of novelist(conveniently designed Class 1),usually popular,sometimes wealthy,in whose work language is a zero quantity,transparent, unseductive,the overtones of connotation and ambiguity totally damped...Such work is closer to film than to poetry,and it invariably films better than it reads....To the other kind of novelist(Class 2)it is important that the opacity of language be exploited,so that ambiguities,puns and centrifugal connotations are to be enjoyed rather than regretted,and whose books,made out of words as much as characters and incidents,lose a great deal when adapted to a visual medium....Needless to say,there are stylistic areas where the two classes of fiction overlap....(1979:15)

What interests me here is not so much the distinction itself as the point that different types of prose fiction present different degrees of aesthetic significance of linguistic form.Modern experimental novels of Woolf,James,Joyce and their like,which figure at the very heart of opaque writing and which have a close affinity with modern poetry,are a type where“form is accorded maximum importance”(Lodge 1977:44)and where aesthetic significance is inseparable from the novelist's exploitation of the possibilities of language.Indeed,that“[Joyce's]language demands our central attention as critics,is a proposition that no one is likely to challenge”(Lodge 1966:30).

But a quite different picture emerges from traditional realistic fiction where language is much more referential or informative and where aesthetic effects tend to reside more in the created fictional reality which is expressed through,rather than inherent in,language.If,in modern poetry or experimental fiction,foregrounding may be taken as forming the primary coherence,in the present type of novel,primary coherence is normally constituted by the represented fictional reality.Here one can usually postulate a distinction between the narrative discourse and the narrated story,locating aesthetic function of linguistic form at the level of narrative discourse.This point is reflected in the following comment by Wayne Booth:

“style”is sometimes broadly used to cover whatever it is that gives us a sense,from word to word and line to line,that the author sees more deeply and judges more profoundly than his presented characters.But,though style is one of our main sources of insight into the author's norms,in carrying such strong overtones of the merely verbal the word style excludes our sense of the author's skill in his choice of character and episode and scene and idea.“Tone”is similarly used to refer to the implicit evaluation which the author manages to convey behind his explicit presentation,but it almost inevitably suggests again something limited to the merely verbal;some aspects of the implied author may be inferred through tonal variations,but his major qualities will depend also on the hard facts of action and character in the tale that is told.(1961:74)

Fictional reality does not,of course,exist apart from the sequence of words symbolizing it,yet it constitutes“a more abstract level of existence,which in principle is partly independent of the language through which it is represented,and may be realized,for example,through the visual medium of film”(Leech&Short 1981:37) Essentially,one infers fictional‘facts'in the same way as one infers facts from news reports or historical documents(see Fowler 1981:169).In reading a realistic fiction,then,the reader tries to reconstruct the experience the novelist has represented and then evaluates the writer's formal operations made on it as regards,say,whether the author is manipulating linguistic form to imitate or“shape”the experience involved(see 7.5).

Such a distinction between fictional reality and narrative discourse or narrative style is often found problematic in poetry.To look at a short poem by Roethke:


The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,

My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty.

The half‐grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,

Up through the streaked glass,flashing with sunlight.

A few white clouds all rushing eastward,

A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses,

And everyone,everyone pointing up and shouting.

Like many others,this poem is marked by absence of temporal references and,as Widdowson observes(see 1975:54-57),the nominal groups which constitute this poem are characterized by the progressive aspect without tense-“billowing,”“crackling,”“staring,”“flashing,”“rushing,”“plunging,”“tossing,”“pointing”and“shouting”:

The effect of isolating aspect here is to make a statement about a sensation of ongoing movement which has no attachment to time.The boy is perched on top of a greenhouse,physically aloof from the world below and at the same time removed from the reality which it represents,detached from real time and aware only of a kind of timeless movement.(57)

The point is that the subjective impression as such which the poem records constitutes the very reality conveyed by the poem.Here,the reader is unlikely to draw a line between the fictional‘facts'which are necessarily transient and the narrative discourse;but rather,he or she would tend to take the fictional reality as one of ongoing movement with no attachment to time.Generally speaking,what matters in poetry is,as indicated here,the poet's personal vision or,in other words,a reality as perceived by the poet,whereas what counts in realistic fiction are both“the hard facts of action and character”and the author's vision of,or attitude towards,those facts.This distinction is of course not absolute,since in both cases fictional reality is derived from the conventional model of reality;and since in both cases reality is dissociated from an immediate social context,not being truth‐conditional.Yet the difference remains.It is quite inconceivable that a novelist would put down“I am the enemy you liked,my friend...”as Owen does in poetry.And if the lines quoted above were to appear as a description in a novel(where,however,the writer would have to provide more context of particularity),the reader would surely try to identify the fictional‘facts'in contradistinction to the I‐narrator's subjective impression.

In effect,I see in this difference one of the fundamental reasons which account for the fact that monism is happier with poetry and dualism with the novel.2 Given that linguistic form is typically used both in poetry and in the novel to convey the author's vision,in poetry,where the poet's personal vision of the reality tends to be or become the reality,the values generated by linguistic form,particularly in the case of figure of speech,tend to be inseparable from the reality conveyed.In the novel,however,the values generated by linguistic form,if operating at the level of narrative discourse,are normally distinguishable from fictional reality.But of course the explanation lies also in the obvious difference between the two genres in terms of verbal intensity or opacity:poetry as a genre often works by elegant concentration with foregrounding achieving“maximum intensity to the extent of pushing communication into the order to place in the foreground the act of expression,the act of speech itself”(Mukarovsky 1964:19);whereas the novel as a whole often works by exhaustive presentation,attracting much less attention to the linguistic medium.In the context of the novel,we can usually assume:

The fiction remains the invariant element:the element which,from the point of view of stylistic variation,must be taken for granted. But of course it is only invariant in a special sense:the author is free to order his universe as he wants,but for the purposes of stylistic variation we are only interested in those choices of language which do not involve changes in the fictional universe. (Leech&Short 1981:37;cf.the discussion of fictional reality in 2.2.2)

Although such a distinction between fictional reality and narrative discourse or narrative style is often found untenable in poetry,in terms of some kinds of linguistic form like poetic rhythm,alliteration,register,or certain surface syntactic choices,it is still plausible to draw a distinction between the values generated by linguistic form and“cognitive meaning”or“propositional content”(see chapters 3&4).If“stylistic value”is used to refer to the value attached to linguistic form and“content”used to stand for cognitive meaning or fictional reality,the total significance of a given sentence or text may be formalized with the following equation:


The plus sign,though,is potentially misleading since stylistic values function not only as semantic reinforcement but also as semantic modification(see 7.5.2 Shaping the fictional reality;also Widdowson 1975:39ff.).In the latter case,(total)significance typically comes from the paradoxical tension or interaction between content and stylistic value,in a form such as:


In fact,we may need some other formulations to formalize the relation between content and stylistic value as such.The two formulations above do not,for instance,apply to the first case analysed in Chapter Six,a case where Jane Austen manipulates linguistic form to create multiple ironic oppositions or contrasts between narrative style and fictional reality,with the narrative style embodying the author's viewpoint and strengthening the comic effect.Yet,in this case,the narrative style,instead of positively superimposing a meaning on fictional reality,is only to be rejected as being deceptive by the reader in his or her reconstruction of the experience conveyed.