Theses Doctoral

All Along…! The Pre-History of the Plot Twist in Nineteenth-Century Fiction

Terlunen, Milan

The plot twist is a complex narrative surprise in which a revelation retroactively transforms readers’ understanding of the preceding events. Readers discover belatedly that the situation depicted in the narrative had all along been quite different from what they thought. Although the term “plot twist” was first used in the early twentieth century, many of the best-known works of fiction of the nineteenth century were revealed, in retrospect, to be twist narratives. This dissertation studies twist narratives and their readers in the period before the plot twist became a known device.

Through case studies of Jane Austen’s Emma, Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace” and Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the chapters investigate what kinds of knowledge-making practices readers engage in during first-time readings and rereadings of twist narratives, as well as before and after reading. Across these chapters I make the case that twist narratives demonstrate the crucial and interconnected roles of knowledge and temporality in any narrative experience. What we know, and when, and especially what we don’t (yet) know, is crucial to how narratives work and why we enjoy them.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Dames, Nicholas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 3, 2022