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The Occasions of Narration in Ian McEwan´s Enduring Love: Or, Love, Logic, Madness, Contagion, and Narrative Structure

October 23rd, 2012

This lecture has a theoretical and an interpretive component. The main theoretical component develops the explanatory value of the concept of “occasion” in the rhetorical definition of narrative: somebody telling somebody else on some occasion and for some purposes that something happened. In particular, I will consider the ways in which the occasion of narration in fiction functions to help communicate authorial purpose. The interpretive component follows from this theoretical component and in turn leads to another set of theoretical claims. I consider the three occasions of telling by three different tellers in McEwan’s novel: that of Joe Rose’s character narration that constitutes the main narrative; that of the scientific essay on erotomania that constitutes the first Appendix; and that of Jed Parry’s unsent letter to Joe, written from a mental institution considerably after the events in the main narrative. I argue that the latter two occasions shed considerable light on the occasion of Joe’s narration and that such light in turn illuminates Joe’s purpose and its differences from McEwan’s. This analysis of occasion and its consequences leads to some reflections on the relationships between reliable and unreliable narration.


James Phelan is Humanities Distinguished Professor in theDepartment of English at Ohio State University. Born in Flushing, NY in 1951, he received his BA from Boston College (1972) and his MA and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1977). He began as an Assistant Professor at Ohio State in 1977, was promoted to Associate Professor in 1983, to Professor in 1989, and to Humanities Distinguished Professor in 2004. He served as Department Chair from 1994-2002.
Rather than working in only one historical period, Phelan gravitates toward theoretical issues or problems, most often connected with the genre of narrative, and pursues them in texts from different periods. His recent work, however, has focused primarily on twentieth-century British and American narrative, and he now claims the twentieth-century as a specialty. He has written about style in Worlds from Words, about character and narrative progression in Reading People, Reading Plots, about technique, ethics, and audiences inNarrative as Rhetoric, about character narration in Living to Tell about It, and about reader judgments in Experiencing Fiction. He has also published the autobiographical journal Beyond the Tenure Track and has edited, with Peter J. Rabinowitz, Understanding Narrative, and the Blackwell Companion to Narrative Theory. With Gerald Graff, he has edited Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy, which was awarded the 1997 Nancy Dasher Award by the College English Association of Ohio as the best book on pedagogy from an Ohio faculty member for 1994-96, and The Tempest: A Case Study in Critical Controversy.
Since 1992, Phelan has been the editor of Narrative, the journal of the Society for the Study of Narrative Literature and winner of the 1993 CELJ Award for Best New Journal. Since 1993, he has been co-editor, with Peter J. Rabinowitz, of the Ohio State University Press series on the Theory and Interpretation of Narrative.  He is currently working on several manuscript projects and preparing for his 2008 NEH Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers on “Narrative Theory: Rhetoric and Ethics in Fiction and Nonfiction.”