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PaSty talk by Catherine Emmott (Glasgow): Rhetorical Strategies and the Art of Deception in Crime Fiction

Date: 19 March 2014 Time: 4.00-5.00 pm

Venue: Bowland North SR 25

Crime fiction provides researchers in cognitive stylistics with a prime example of how an author can use rhetorical strategies to cognitively misdirect readers for plot purposes. Aspects of a story may be made more or less prominent through the use of foregrounding and burying devices. Psychology research shows readers to be highly selective in focusing their attention on specific aspects of a text and not noticing other aspects. The normal expectation of readers is that foregrounding will be used to highlight significant information and that the relatively insignificant parts of a text will fall into the background. Nevertheless, for plot purposes, the reverse may often be the case. In crime fiction, the objective is to deceive the reader about the significance of information in both the foreground and background of a text, hence creating a puzzle which can subsequently be solved in a surprising way. I demonstrate how reader attention can be manipulated by foregrounding plot-insignificant items and burying plot-significant items in the background. I will look particularly at the work of Agatha Christie who has been described as the 'Queen of Crime'. The research is relevant to a wide range of detective, mystery and twist-in-the-tale stories and any story which is heavily plotted.


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Linguistics and English Language


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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