The Life Cycle Of A Fictional Character - An Alternative History Of The Novel

Episodes

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01The World2011022120120528

Critic James Wood explores aspects of novelistic technique through a fictional character.

A young man or woman walks along the street of a modern city. There are all kinds of sensations, apprehensions, and calculations. Buildings, cars, people - the entirety of modern life, at speed - rush at us, and rush past us. Exactly what does this person hear and see and feel, and how is this represented in the modern novel?

A young man or woman walks along the street of a modern city.

There are all kinds of sensations, apprehensions, and calculations.

Buildings, cars, people - the entirety of modern life, at speed - rush at us, and rush past us.

Exactly what does this person hear and see and feel, and how is this represented in the modern novel?

James Wood on the novelistic technique of having characters walking along city streets.

02Thought20110222
02Thought20110222

Critic James Wood explores aspects of novelistic technique through a fictional character

Our hypothetical fictional character does not merely experience the fleeting sensations of urban life. He or she must think - she has a past, and thus a memory; and a mind engaged in purposeful thought about the future. She has regrets and hopes, exuberance and shame; she has siblings and parents, perhaps a spouse or lover. She may believe in God (a significant origin of the stream of consciousness is the Biblical psalm). How does the novelist represent this kind of thought on the page? The novel's ability to depict such thought has "improved" over the last two hundred years, as surely as the combustion engine has become more efficient -- what are the elements of this progress?

03Speech20110223
03Speech2011022320120530
20120530 (R3)

Critic James Wood explores aspects of novelistic technique through a fictional character.

Our fictional character is not alone - few novels can be made out of absolute solitude. At some point, he or she will interact with someone else: a stranger, a spouse, a parent. What do writers do with dialogue?

Critic James Wood explores what writers do with dialogue in novels.

04The Self2011022420120531

Critic James Wood explores aspects of novelistic technique through a fictional character.

Is our fictional character a coherent self? Up till now, we have assumed so. But why? The thrust of twentieth-century philosophy and cultural theory, not to mention the latest findings of neuro-biology, all work to suggest, instead, the incoherence of the self, the self's relative lack of autonomy.

05Death20110225

Critic James Wood explores aspects of novelistic technique through a fictional character.

We have talked a lot about life, and its crucial nutrients - thought, talk, sensation, knowing others, our sense of self. How does the novel deal with the end of life, and the absence of all this?

Presenter

James Wood was the tyro lead fiction reviewer on the Guardian for several years. He now is a professor at Harvard.