In which I ask where the heck that started
April 27, 2007 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Where, exactly, did the rhetorical device of framing a sentence with "In which _____ does _____" come from originally? I'm pretty sure it was a famous book that I will smack myself for not remembering as soon as you tell me. Because of the simplicity of the term tracking the answer down on Google has failed, and it's been bugging me for a while now.
posted by XQUZYPHYR to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have no idea when it started by I seem to recall that 50's and 60's tv shows were subtitled like this. "In which our hero is imprisoned by the dastardly Senor Herzog", etc.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:59 AM on April 27, 2007

At the very least, Chapter 1 of Winnie the Pooh is titled with such a formulation, as is Book 5, ch. 4 of Henry Fielding's 18th Century novel The History of Tom Jones.

So I doubt you're going to track it down to a single Ur-reference. Though I can't remember many more specific examples than the ones I just linked, I got the feeling (during my English-major studies of early novels) that it was an old fashioned - like, 19th c. and earlier - way to hook the reader into a chapter of a novel, and uses since then have predominantly been whimsical throwbacks (see Pooh) or self-conscious ironic invocations (see, entire Internet).
posted by rkent at 9:00 AM on April 27, 2007

Also, Uncle Tom's Cabin. So yeah, early novel chapter-titling device.
posted by rkent at 9:01 AM on April 27, 2007

I wish I could give a more astute and academic answer - with citations! - than this, but it goes back to Victorian-era literature at least. At the head of each chapter in many novels there would be a little preview of what was coming in the narrative and writers used that construction. No idea who used it first.
posted by contessa at 9:02 AM on April 27, 2007

This is a convention that is all over 18th century novels, even the early ones, making it just about as old as the English novel itself. I'm working from memory here, but I'm relatively sure it's found in 17th and 18th century philosophical works. No one source, I'm afraid.
posted by kosem at 9:16 AM on April 27, 2007

See also, Don Quixote, published in 1605. Spanish list of chapter descriptions.
posted by kosem at 9:22 AM on April 27, 2007

And just to hang a frame on the significance of the Quixote, the early English novelists, especially Fielding, were heavily influenced by Cervantes's narrative style. This may not shed any light on the rhetorical device you're asking about, but it may explain the thought "well, my novel damned well better behave like Don Quixote."
posted by kosem at 9:27 AM on April 27, 2007

Note also the related phenomenon of listing the contents of a chapter at its start (implying, but probably not including the actual words "in which"). For example, from Three Men in a Boat :
Kingston. - Instructive remarks on early English history. - Instructive observations on carved oak and life in general. - Sad case of stivvings, junior. - Musings on antiquity. - I forget that i am steering. - Interesting result. - Hampton Court Maze. - Harris as a guide.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:45 AM on April 27, 2007

In the Dickens era, it was common to serialize novels in periodicals. Then, later, they would be published as books. I'm wondering whether this construction was used as some sort of introduction/advertisement to grab readers attention with each new installment.
posted by Clay201 at 9:50 AM on April 27, 2007

Moll Flanders, commonly regarded as the first English novel, was first published in 1722 with the full title

"The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, Etc. Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums."

It doesn't use the phrase "in which" but the spirit of the phrase is there, i.e., telling the reader up front the gist of the plot, particularly as centered on the activities of the protagonist.
posted by jedicus at 10:41 AM on April 27, 2007

It is almost certainly based on Don Quixote, which probably takes the convention from the "knight errant" books the story pokes fun at.
posted by scodger at 3:42 PM on April 27, 2007

Gargantua and Pantagruel and then I think even earlier the King Arthur stuff (Thomas Malory)
posted by Buck Eschaton at 4:38 AM on April 29, 2007

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