This project was the focus of my post-doctoral dissertation (Habilitation), completed at the University of Freiburg and published in 2008 in the “Frontiers of Narrative” series at the University of Nebraska Press.
The book proposes a new interdisciplinary theory for the analysis of fictional time and space, integrating input from narrative theory and the cognitive and psychological sciences. The study’s theory is designed to register diachronic variations in the representation of plot in narrative fiction; it highlights key phases in the development of prose fiction from the Renaissance romance through to contemporary fiction by analysing the evolution of innovative narrative strategies which create immersive states in the reader. These strategies are, notably: the creation of narrative suspense; the construction of the connective patterns of causation, kinship, and analogy; the representation of fictional space, of alternate versions of events, and of character consciousness.
The study’s theoretical model is applied by tracing the historical evolution of two historically recurrent plots - coincidence and counterfactuality. These plots are constructed around key moments when characters’ life trajectories, or sometimes the paths of history, converge or diverge. In the history of narrative fiction, the plots of coincidence and counterfactuality have been continuously reinvented, both through the development and refinement of key narrative strategies and, particularly from the late nineteenth century to the postmodernist period, through the creation of new subgenres of narrative which move beyond narrative realism.
In highlighting key stages in the historical development of narrative fiction, the study pinpoints the innovative role played by particular authors in this evolutionary process. It provides new readings of works by, among others, Sir Philip Sidney, Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Philip K. Dick, Jeanette Winterson, Julian Barnes, Peter Ackroyd, Don DeLillo, and Paul Auster. In addition, the study’s transhistorical focus reveals how narrative traditions and genres such as romance and realism, or science fiction and historiographic metafiction, are not separated by clear boundaries but are in a continual process of interaction and crossfertilization.
In 2010 Coincidence and Counterfactuality won the Perkins Prize, awarded to the book making the most significant contribution to the study of narrative.