Before and After Chekhov: Inference, Interpretation and Evaluation

Billy Clark (Editor)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

This chapter considers some of the inferential processes involved in reading, understanding and evaluating Anton Chekhov's story 'The lady with the Little Dog' (Chekhov 2002, originally 1899/1903). This story has been very highly valued over the years but many readers report thinking it unimportant or even banal on first reading. The discussion here aims to account for some of the specific inferences involved in understanding the story and also to consider two things which have not been much discussed in previous pragmatic stylistic work: differences between inferences made after first and subsequent readings of a text and the role inferential processes play in evaluating texts. It also aims to consider to what extent an account of reader inferences can account for the fact that many readers report being puzzled by the story on first reading and then go on to value it very highly.

This chapter begins by summarising the plot of the story and describing some responses and partial interpretations, based partly on my own intuitions and partly on remarks made by critics and commentators. It then describes some initial conclusions developed partly from class-room work, including the conclusion that the approach developed here can go some way towards explaining not only how readers respond to the text but also why it has been valued by individual readers. The next section develops discussion of how the story has come to be valued by individual readers, both formally and informally, and considers how a focus on inferential processes might contribute to a fuller account of how works come to be culturally valued. A key aspect of this is the assumption that individual readers will value work more highly if they find themselves spontaneously thinking about that work again after they have read it. The section also suggests that an account of how a text is culturally represented and valued can make use of Dan Sperber's (1996) work on how cultural assumptions are (meta)represented and his notion of an 'epidemiology of representations' which aims to explain how cultural assumptions develop and spread among populations. A general conclusion is that work which focuses on inferential processes can make a significant contribution in understanding how works come to be valued formally and informally, by individuals and by cultural groups more widely.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPragmatic Literary Stylistics
EditorsSiobhan Chapman, Billy Clark
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Chapter4
Pages55-69
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-02327-8
ISBN (Print)978-1-349-43812-9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2014

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Pragmatics, Language and Cognition
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan

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