Verdonk, Peter (2002) Stylistics. Oxford University Press, xiv+124pp, paperback ISBN 0-19-437240-5. Oxford Introductions to Language Study
Patrick Studer, University College, Cork, Ireland
The book reviewed here has been published by Oxford University Press in their series Oxford Introductions to Language Study under the general editorship of H. G. Widdowson. With the topic of stylistics, Verdonk adds to the diversity of contributions to the series which ranges from Pragmatics, Historical Linguistics, to Language Acquisition.
The books of this series have all been cut to the same format, with four respective sections called Survey, Readings, References, and Glossary. The Survey (75 pages) is the main summary part of the book in which the basic concerns and key concepts are introduced. This general part is followed by a section called Readings (29 pages) which offers discussion material for the more advanced reader and references to specialist literature. In addition to the literature in the Readings section, an annotated bibliography is provided in the References part of the book (7 pages) which lists books and articles for further reading. Terms that appear in bold in the main section are explained in the Glossary (4 pages) at the end of the book. This step-by-step introduction has been designed for readers who are not familiar with stylistics as a linguistic discipline yet.
In the following, I will focus on the main part of the book, the survey, but I will make occasional reference to the readings section where appropriate. The survey extends over 75 pages and divides into the following seven chapters: (1) The Concept of Style; (2) Style in Literature; (3) Text and Discourse; (4) Perspectives on Meaning; (5) The Language of Literary Representation; (6) Perspectives on Literary Interpretation; (7) Stylistics and Ideological perspectives. I am going to discuss each of these chapters in turn, trying to highlight their merits and shortcomings.
Based on the example of a newspaper headline, the author opens the discussion with a working definition of stylistics, which is followed by a short comment on the relevant questions that emerge in this context - style as motivated choice, style in context, and style and persuasive effect. This introductory chapter, though very short, is didactic and instructive and seems to lend itself to classroom reading with undergraduates.
The second chapter, Style in Literature, addresses the notion of genre and text type and the expectations that are connected with these concepts in literature. While what is mentioned in this chapter is presented in a logical and understandable way, very little is said about how expectations towards a specific text are raised or met on the part of the reader. One might at this point have introduced the idea of basic literary or textual functions and referred to the many traditional and historical genres. The further reading section does not offer further elaboration on these issues either.
More substance is provided in chapter (3), Text and Discourse, which may be seen as the follow-up to the previous chapter. Here the author stresses the importance of relating text to its context of use and produces a list of relevant text external factors that need to be taken into consideration for stylistic analysis. What then follows is an elaboration on the communicative situation in literary discourse based on a poem by John Betjeman. The discussion of a concrete piece of literature in this context seems to be a very useful and practical way of dealing with these, sometimes diffuse, linguistic concepts and can be applied to other literary texts as well. The further reading section provides ample material for classroom discussion.
Chapter (4), Perspectives on Meaning, introduces the reader to the stylistic meaning of perspective and to the tools the analyst has at his or her disposal in identifying the point of view of a text. These tools are the various textual cues and signals that refer to in and outside the textual body. In addition to deictic features, aspects of information structuring may help to show different perspectives in a literary text. Moreover, cues that signal modality contribute to the attitudinal positioning, i.e. the ideological perspective, of the passage or text under consideration. This chapter very neatly brings together some of the core problems and aspects of perspective, insinuating the complexity of the issue.
In chapter (5), the author shifts from first person perspective to other modes of representation in literature, introducing the notion of an omniscient and omnipresent narrator before continuing with different modes of speech and thought representation (direct v. indirect speech and thought, etc.). The chapter concludes with a look at Joyce and his stream of consciousness technique to illustrate how narrative elements can combine into an actual writing style. It is obvious that much more could be said at this point, but the chapter presents a self-contained and well-structured whole of ideas which is useful both to teachers and students.
Chapters (6) and (7) conclude the circle of the stylistic discussion by pointing beyond the analysis of isolated passages and by touching upon literature or texts as social constructs. In chapter (6), the author presents a complete poem (''Clearances'' by Seamus Heaney). The analysis of a complete piece of literature now brings together all the different aspects introduced in the previous chapters and puts them into a logical order impression, substantiation, intertextuality, genre. Needless to say that all of these interpretive levels in actual practice go hand in hand. The final chapter then directs attention to the social meaning and significance of literature in that it proposes the existence of a dominant reading of a text which reflects the ideological framework within which it was produced.
At the beginning of the book, the author asks himself why/if there is a need for yet another introduction to a field which is well served with introductory studies. While, indeed, there are many books available that deal with the topic, there is a strong advantage of this type of introduction over other I have consulted so far its ''style''. The chapters are fairly short and easily manageable. For further reading, one can always refer to the readings or references section. This is an intelligent way of organising a complex field such as stylistics, and it allows the reader to pick and choose what s/he finds interesting or relevant.
Another merit of this introduction is its wise selection of topics. Verdonk is careful to mention the key areas of stylistics only, and, in so doing, never goes beyond the bounds of the problem, avoiding redundancy and unnecessary overlaps with other fields (e.g. literary analysis, classical rhetoric, history of linguistics, etc.).
At the same time, though, we may get the impression that the main survey tends to be a little too short and that it might run the risk of oversimplifying linguistic problems in favour of brevity. One may be wondering if students are aware of all the subtleties and small details insinuated by the text, which are immediately understood by the linguist. This, of course, raises the question as to which approach is best taken to introduce a novice to the field. Verdonk (ix) believes that it is an advantage to have a ''broad map of the terrain sketched out'' before attending to details. If this is considered the best approach, then the book undoubtedly offers a valuable and practical guide to the subject matter.
I tried the textbook on a final year undergraduate stylistics class and can recommend the following chapters: Chapter (1) because it raises some preliminary issues in defining stylistics and opens the ground for the historical dimensions of the discipline; chapter (3) which emphasises the various levels of context in literature; chapter (4) as it discusses aspects of (ideological) positioning in a text; chapter (6) which applies the analytic tools to a complete literary text.
Generally, I consider the book more suitable for classroom reading with a tutor than for self-study; for the former purpose, it provides more than ample material for stimulating discussions.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Patrick Studer currently works as a lecturer in linguistics at the German Department of the University College Cork, Ireland.