Literary term...
August 30, 2006 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Is there a literary term for a fictional work in which the author and protagonist/narrator are (fictionally) one and the same?

I suppose I'm talking about a sort of psuedo-autobiography, i.e. the protagonist keeps a diary, and the novel IS that diary.
posted by Acey to Writing & Language (41 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
first person?
posted by muddylemon at 3:43 PM on August 30, 2006

posted by gnomeloaf at 3:50 PM on August 30, 2006

gnomeloaf: metafiction seems to be fiction that reminds the reader that is is fiction... I was thinking of something more the other way - immersive and almost alternate-reality-like.
posted by Acey at 3:56 PM on August 30, 2006

Interesting nonetheless, I should add.
posted by Acey at 3:57 PM on August 30, 2006

Epistolary works are told through a series of in-character letters, diary entries, and other documents.

Author Surrogates--characters that are essentially direct mouthpieces for the author's opinions and personality--are also somewhat like what you're looking for.
posted by Iridic at 4:01 PM on August 30, 2006

I don't know the term you're looking for but it sounds like the general device used in Richard Powers' Galatea 2.2. The protagonist's name is the same, he is an author, and in a similar situation. Though the actual story is fiction, there are certainly autobiographical elements.
posted by tip120 at 4:06 PM on August 30, 2006

are you thinking of something like everything is illuminated?
posted by sdn at 4:10 PM on August 30, 2006

or bret easton ellis's lunar park, which is meta in the extreme?
posted by sdn at 4:11 PM on August 30, 2006

Thanks for the answers so far. To clarify: the style I am referring to is certainly autobiographical, but totally fictional at the same time. It could be as though the book itself is part of the fictional universe. Examples are very helpful too, thanks for those. I'm starting to wonder if such a term even exists, but anything close is useful anyway.
posted by Acey at 4:24 PM on August 30, 2006

Trying to be clear what you mean (sorry if this question is dense): do you mean this: if the author of the book is (really, in real life) John X. Johnson, then the protagonist is also called John X. Johnson and the experiences he has are purported, in the fiction of the book, to be those of the author?
posted by londongeezer at 4:26 PM on August 30, 2006

In reference to a novel such as Tristram Shandy it is considered self-reflexive.
posted by ptm at 4:28 PM on August 30, 2006

londongeezer: more the other way around - John X. Johnson would be the protagonist and, if you wanted to reinforce the idea, the (false) author name. Therefore, when you read John's book about what it is like to live in, say, 1930s NYC, you really feel that it could be real, as opposed to just fiction.
posted by Acey at 4:37 PM on August 30, 2006

I don't quite understand what you're asking. Is this something like Nabokov's Pale Fire?
posted by Durin's Bane at 4:39 PM on August 30, 2006

Durin's Bane: from the Wiki article, I would say that it displays the idea in the sense that it passes off fiction as reality, at least enough to confuse some readers... bear in mind that I haven't read the book, but that was just from the Wiki entry.
posted by Acey at 4:43 PM on August 30, 2006

I think I know what you mean. Like the book claims to be written by the main character of the book "I'm writing this in hopes that people in the future will understand blah blah" but that character is someone who doesn't really exist. It's sort of... first person where the account is relayed by a book that the main character is supposed to have written, as opposed to a voiceover type narration.

Like... "Dear Mr. Henshaw" by Beverly Cleary?
posted by RustyBrooks at 4:46 PM on August 30, 2006

RustyBrooks: I think you get me... the wikipedia article seems to be along the right lines. Thanks!
posted by Acey at 4:50 PM on August 30, 2006

Are you thinking of stories where the author is a real person and claims to have had these obviously false adventure?

like Baron Munchausen or Richard Marcinko?
posted by Megafly at 4:51 PM on August 30, 2006

Like RustyBrooks explained: the book is supposed to have been written by the main character, but it is all fictional.
posted by Acey at 5:03 PM on August 30, 2006

What about Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra?
posted by Pigpen at 5:16 PM on August 30, 2006

And if Sleepers qualifies, then so would Go Ask Alice, and then I believe the term you are looking forwould be something like "supposed true story".
posted by Pigpen at 5:24 PM on August 30, 2006

There's some similar aspects in Jonathan Strange and M. Norrell, an amazing novel. The book is a novel that reads like a history or reference book (of fantastical matters and worlds), with footnotes to prior (fantastical) sources. I looooooooved it.

I think the diary example you mention appears often in "young adult fiction." E.g. Go Ask Alice. (Not to mention Bridget Jones's Diary.)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:32 PM on August 30, 2006

This is interesting. It made me check out "Literary technique" in Wikipedia.

Don't know if it's what your thinking but "Story within Story" might be close. Also, "False Document".

And not applicable but intriguing is "Unreliable Narrator"
posted by donp17 at 5:33 PM on August 30, 2006

Novels told through letters are common, again with "young adult" literature. I remember Daddy Longlegs as one. . Griffen and Sabine give you "real" letters telling a story ...
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 5:42 PM on August 30, 2006

I quit Christianity before I acquired the maturity and determination to really get far in C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, but I believe that might fit the style you're looking for.
posted by The Confessor at 5:43 PM on August 30, 2006

"Time for the Stars" is told entirely in first person by the character "Tom Bartlett". The book is a series of journal entries written by him. ("Podkayne of Mars" is also a personal journal.)

Two of the Sherlock Holmes stories were written by Holmes himself rather than by Watson.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:45 PM on August 30, 2006

Nabokov's "Pale Fire" is a great example of this (and of an unreliable narrator, incidentally).
posted by myeviltwin at 6:04 PM on August 30, 2006

A memoir is a fictionalisation in the first person of what are assumed to be first-hand experiences of the author.
posted by unSane at 6:27 PM on August 30, 2006

House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski


The book purports to be the revised "second edition" of an earlier version, originally loosely bound and passed along an Internet-savvy counterculture. The edition you are now reading has been "professionally edited," binding together the work of two "authors," the late Zampanò and his accidental protégé, Johnny Truant.
The bulk of the novel is Zampanò's critical explication of a fictional documentary film. Called The Navidson Record[.]
Like Danielewski's novel, Zampanò's book about The Navidson Record is also called House of Leaves, and is a masterpiece of inflated academic pomposity, riddled with personal observations, obscure reference material, and countless footnotes.
Zampanò's work was left uncompleted at his mysterious death, however, which is an ingenious device for bringing in a third level of narration, that of Johnny Truant. Brought to Zampanò's death-room by a friend, Truant is amazed at the hermit's collection of weird antiques, his mania for isolation, and especially his final end: Zampanò was discovered on the floor, with deep claw marks gouged into the surrounding wood. Also of interest is a large trunk, where Truant finds the manuscript fragments of House of Leaves scrawled across reams of paper, napkins, envelopes, matchbooks, and anything else Zampanò could find. Intrigued, Truant quickly becomes obsessed with the project, and begins the tedious process of assembling the fragments into a coherent work. As he does so, he adds his own layer of footnotes; perhaps better described as intensely personal digressions. These long passages tell Truant's story, a parallel tale of alienation, of creeping madness, and even the doubt he feels regarding the Zampanò manuscript -- in Truant's universe, as in ours, there has never been a film called The Navidson Record!

It's a great book, too. I've no idea what the technique is called, but I think this book is an ideal examination of the concept.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:52 PM on August 30, 2006

Empire of the Sun, by J G Ballard, is an autobiographical novel of Ballard's experience growing up in a Japanese POW camp. Ballard describes it as fictional in the sense that he's an adult reimagining what he experienced as a child.

I suppose autobiographical novel is as good a term as any, in that it acknowledges the fundamental conceit of reinterpreting one's own life in hindsight.
posted by SPrintF at 6:53 PM on August 30, 2006

In his classic The Rhetoric of Fiction, Wayne Booth called these books with "self-conscious narrators" -- narrators who are aware of and call explicit attention to the fact that they are creating the narrative that you are reading, generally with various references to the material circumstances of that creation. So you might call these "self-conscious narratives."

One striking example I can think of is a very early 20th century science fiction novel called The Purple Cloud, by M. P. Shiel. It's an Armageddon story in which the narrator has accidentally killed everyone on earth by releasing an enormous cloud of poison gas from the North Pole. He's narrating the story from after the event, AND he's a self-conscious narrator, even though within the world of the text, there isn't anyone around to read what he's writing. So he makes various mentions of the point in the narrative where he finds the notebook in which he is now writing the story of what happened, and so on, and how he gets solace from writing it out even though no one will read it. (Later he finds someone... but she's not quite normal, herself.)

But the great thing is that the book also has a little framing narrative to explain to you, the reader, how you could read such an evidently unreadable artifact, predicating as it does that you, like everyone else, are dead. The whole end-of-the-world story is an enclosure in a letter, the transcript of a session with a medium who channels a spooky being who claims to be reading it as the man writes it. And this letter is actually ALSO framed by a tiny bit of self-conscious narrative at the very beginning of the book that says, essentially, "Hi, this manuscript you're reading consists of the contents of a letter I received; some of it was in shorthand, which I've deciphered for easier reading. Here you go." Neither this arranger figure, nor the letter-writer, nor the medium, ever makes another appearance in the book, not even at the end.
posted by redfoxtail at 7:23 PM on August 30, 2006

Given the best answer marked, my second guess is epistolary novels.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:16 PM on August 30, 2006

Just want to add Rushdie's "The Moor's Last Sigh" into this thread.
posted by of strange foe at 8:53 PM on August 30, 2006

Nabokov's "Pale Fire" is a great example of this (and of an unreliable narrator, incidentally).
posted by myeviltwin at 6:04 PM PST on August 30 [+fave] [!]

posted by nonmerci at 9:21 PM on August 30, 2006

"Epistolary novel" is not it, as that refers explicitly and solely to novels written in the form of a series of letters. If I understand the question correctly, the category in question embraces all novels in which the narrator explicitly represents him- or herself as writing a narrative which corresponds precisely to the book that you hold in your hands. E.g. Tristram Shandy.
posted by redfoxtail at 9:45 PM on August 30, 2006

Or there is Limony Snicket, who has his own website.
posted by Monday at 9:48 PM on August 30, 2006

Call me Ishmael. Call me Jonah. Call me a first-person protagonist. Or a protagonist-narrator.
posted by JekPorkins at 10:37 PM on August 30, 2006

Just adding another example: Les Liaisons Dangereuses (AKA Dangerous Liaisons), which is a collection of letters/correspondance, which as read in sequence unfurl the story.
You don't get that device so much in the movie version though :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:50 PM on August 30, 2006

I think we've hit the nail on the head here, thank you everyone... I doubt there is really a term for this technique, but the examples given will provide me with plenty of reading material, that's for sure!

Long live AskMe!
posted by Acey at 1:44 AM on August 31, 2006

Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor; Twain's Huckleberry Finn.
posted by cortex at 7:49 AM on August 31, 2006

Somerset Maugham, in The Razor's Edge, appears as a character in the book, and is the narrator. It is not written in a diary form, though. He is, in the story, a novelist, and he is telling you, the reader, about a bunch of people he meets and interacts with. Great book.
posted by booth at 8:07 AM on August 31, 2006

Philip Roth's Operation Shylock is a good and fun example.
Philip Roth's very literary novels, most famously Portnoy's Complaint, have always had the feel of confessional autobiography. Operation Shylock boasts not only a character named Philip Roth, a Jewish-American novelist, but an impostor who is claiming to be him. Roth's impostor causes a furor in Israel by advocating "Diasporism," the polar opposite of Zionism, encouraging Israelis to return home to eastern Europe. In Israel the real Roth attends the trial of a former Nazi, and also observes at a West Bank military court dealing harshly with young Palestinians. Through stark counterpoint between distorted doubles, along with his trademark bawdy humor, Roth comically explores the tensions of his identity as a writer, as a Jew, and as a human being.
posted by muddylemon at 12:22 PM on August 31, 2006

« Older Do younger people pay with folding money only?   |   Lemon tree blues Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.