Action and event

Paul Simpson, Patricia Canning

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The present chapter focuses on the representation of action and event in literature and explores the methods in style used by writers to encode the ‘goings on’ experienced in, and of, a fictional world. In its pursuit of a serviceable framework for action and event, the chapter takes as its principal point of departure a model of analysis that has enjoyed widespread and sustained application in stylistics. The shorthand term for this model is transitivity, although we want to stress at the outset that the concept has a markedly wider compass than its traditional grammatical definition as a verb that takes a direct object. Since the early 1970s, there has been a significant body of research in stylistics that has employed some form of the transitivity framework to reach insightful interpretations about patterns of meaning in fictional prose. The particulars of the model will be addressed shortly, but the chapter has a number of additional aims and goals. Our core analysis is a stylistic exploration of a passage from Joseph Conrad’s novel Chance, although the chapter broadens in scope as it progresses by considering the representation of action and event in a range of literary writing. It also incorporates parallel, but more recent, developments in stylistics that intersect with, and usefully line up with, the core tenets of the theoretical model that underpins this chapter. Whereas the transitivity framework accounts for the ‘happenings’ portrayed in literary texts, and seeks to explain how these happenings are the buttress of both plot and characterisation, one of our aims here is to account for the non-happenings, the imagined happenings and, for that matter, the imagined non-happenings in literature. To this extent the chapter develops a ‘transitivity-plus’ approach by locating the framework in a more broadly conceived tradition of stylistic research.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Stylistics
EditorsPeter Stockwell, Sara Whiteley
Place of PublicationCambridge, UK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781139237031
ISBN (Print)9781107028876
Publication statusPublished - 8 May 2014
Externally publishedYes


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