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Review of  Stylistics

Reviewer: Patrick Struder
Book Title: Stylistics
Book Author: Peter Verdonk
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Ling & Literature
Issue Number: 13.3355

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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
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
concerns and key concepts are introduced. This general part is
followed by
a section called Readings (29 pages) which offers discussion material
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

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)
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

The second chapter, Style in Literature, addresses the notion of genre
text type and the expectations that are connected with these concepts
literature. While what is mentioned in this chapter is presented in a
logical and understandable way, very little is said about how
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.
further reading section does not offer further elaboration on these

More substance is provided in chapter (3), Text and Discourse, which
be seen as the follow-up to the previous chapter. Here the author
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
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
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
core problems and aspects of perspective, insinuating the complexity
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
of speech and thought representation (direct v. indirect speech and
thought, etc.). The chapter concludes with a look at Joyce and his
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

Chapters (6) and (7) conclude the circle of the stylistic discussion by
pointing beyond the analysis of isolated passages and by touching
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
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
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
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
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
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
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

I tried the textbook on a final year undergraduate stylistics class and
can recommend the following chapters: Chapter (1) because it raises
preliminary issues in defining stylistics and opens the ground for the
historical dimensions of the discipline; chapter (3) which emphasises
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.

Patrick Studer currently works as a lecturer in linguistics at the German
Department of the University College Cork, Ireland.

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