Can the Preface Broker a Realist Pact in Fantastic Fiction?




Mathew, Imogen

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Australasian Victorian Studies Association


This paper takes as its primary concern the relationship between prefaces, realism, and what Tzvetan Todorov terms “fantastic fiction.” Understood as the “hesitation experienced by a person who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event” (Todorov 25), the fantastic may be found in many nineteenth-century fictional genres, from the novel of sensation to imperial gothic, colonial romance, mystery, science fiction, detective fiction and horror. Scholars have convincingly shown that the fantastic exhibits a strong reliance on realism: in order to have its highly improbable tales accepted as “true,” authors of fantastic fiction must first establish a realist pact with their reader (Brantlinger; Pykett The Sensation Novel; Spencer). However, these findings tend to be premised on close readings of the main text, rather than close readings of the preface or other paratextual elements. Indeed, few studies have been devoted to understanding the role of prefatory material in nineteenth-century English literature. The present study proposes an examination of two canonical works of fantastic fiction, Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (1860) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). 1 I analyse the ways in which the paratextual apparatus plays a crucial role in establishing a realist pact with the reader before the narrative proper commences.





Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies


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