Jasper Fforde is a relatively unknown Welsh author. Since 2001 he has written five books belonging to the Thursday Next series: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, and First Among Sequels. While Fforde has not been subject to large scale studies, some articles dealt with specific aspects of the first two novels of his Thursday Next series. Both Erica Hateley and Martin Horstkotte asserted the novel postmodern tendencies, the latter one taking it as one example for the postmodern fantastic. The problem with Postmodernism and similar constructs – for as a discursive construct we should take it – is that there is no strictly objective definition; in fact there are various postmodernisms that are sometimes acknowledged in a single work. What we shall do is not defining postmodernism once more in yet another necessarily subjective and selective way which would then doubtlessly posit Fforde’s series at the centre and select features appropriate to the task. Rather, we shall look at to what effect postmodern strategies are employed in Fforde’s novels. Withhout defining postmodernism there is now the problem of which those features are, so we will need a short explanation for the selected ones in a minute. Generally, though, this dimension remains the least stressed in this work and its belonging to the postmodern movement be seen as the background noise which accompanies our analysis. One thing will be obvious pretty soon: the quality of this series, operating in an overtly comical mode, is drastically different from the authors that are commonly cited as the primary examples for postmodernism. Those are Donald Barthelme, Kurt Vonnegut, Robet Coover, David Pynchon, William H. Gass, Italo Calvino and others. Their fiction is oftentimes disturbing and some – even college professors – regard them as absolutely unreadable. One will have noted that none of the above authors is British: the ‘prime examples’ of postmodernism seem to mostly come from the North American continent; Europe is occasionally mentioned, Britain rarely, except for John Fowles. Ulrich Broich concluded that this is due to a ‘muted postmodernism’: British postmodernist fiction tends to be less radical than the American counterpart. If we assume this distinction to be correct – inaccessible American postmodernism and accessible British/European postmodernism – we already incorporate the position of the reader into our view. We will have to ask in how far the reader is absorbed into Fforde’s novel and in how far the work remains inaccessible. As a British (Welsh) author, the suggestion stands that the text will be accessible. The same suggestion is supported by the novels being published by Hodder and Stoughton, a publishing house that caters to mass audiences, for example in the English translation Asterix & Obelix. The question remains, whether or not to define postmodernism (anew). If we define, the result will be criticised as streamlining and too restrictive, undoubtedly. If we do not, there seems to lack something, even if it has been asked if postmodernism exists at all. Brian McHale faced these accusations. After his first ‘streamlined’ work which proposed clear-cut differences in the transition from modernism to postmodernism, McHale decided to present a second view, consisting of several essays of his own who were not planned in this way but contradict each other oftentimes. If even a single critic cannot get to a uniform conclusion (nor wants to in the case of McHale), the implications for hundreds of critics are clear: there will not be a postmodernism; there will be postmodernisms. Finally, I have decided to not dedicate a chapter specifically to any specific view or array of views on postmodernism. Rather, I feel that central concepts of this period are mirrored already in the title as well as in various chapter headings and further connections will become explicit at their proper place. Two critics linked the texts to postmodernism, after all, and at least one translator felt the urge to add the very adjective, postmodern, to the German translation of Fforde’s fourth novel. Erica Hateley, moreover, suggests reading it as “parody of the postmodern novel itself” as well as being a postmodern parody itself. Thus we will look at how this postmodernism, Hateley’s or Fforde’s, is portrayed and parodied. Nevertheless, even if decide against a conclusive overview, we need to look at what we defined as central concepts. The ones in the title are metafiction and intertextuality; a third is no defining property of postmodernism, although it has been variously linked to it even to – faulty – equation: the Fantastic.
Neither of this concepts is new; all are well-known and can be traced for centuries. The question then is what is different about them. Answers come in terms of quantity and quality. Metafiction, fiction about fiction, has been part of the novel tradition since Cervantes’ Don Quixote but its quantity rose drastically in the 1950ies and 1960ies. McHale’s prime example of a postmodern text which is both story and description, Max Apple’s “Post-Modernism”, begins which such a gesture. Metafiction in general points to its own artificiality and often “include[s] or constitute[s] [its] own first critical commentary”. This we shall see in Fforde, although the critique does not target his own text specifically but rather the set of all (fictional) texts of which his own work is an example that fits the descriptions he gives excellently. Metafiction also is “a term given to fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artefact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality”. It provides a structure in which “[t]he author and the reader communicate within fiction and have set up ‘mirrors’ to the writing process and the outer world”. Here we find another point that we shall look into in detail later: the reader gets involved strongly in metafiction: his usual expectations – generally assumed to be those of ‘realist’ fiction – are disappointed and challenged. The reader needs to deal with unfamiliar reading situations that are imposed upon him. “[T]he lowest common denominator of metafiction is simultaneously to create a fiction and to make a statement about the creation of that fiction”. This inevitably leads to the selection of specific aspects, which are generally “some aspects of the writing, reading, or structure of a work that the established canons of standard (realistic) practice could expect to be backgrounded”. With this we find a qualitative breach with the dogmatic literature of the 20th century, which is realism. Jasper Fforde utilises metafiction in grand scale with the creation of the BookWorld. This is the world of all texts in which the figures of our novels, plays and other texts – even washing manuals – live. Their life is not confined to their actual novels whose visible plot we know. Rather, the characters can jump into other books. The portrayal of this world allows Fforde the portrayal of literary clichés, of methods and devices prominent in fiction; of explanations how things (allegedly) work. Eventually, he presents a fantastic theory of the creation, construction, and working of literary works. The fantastic properties of the world are obvious: we find all our books there, even those that are not yet written or completely lost. All fiction encompasses a multitude of genres and some do not admit the ordinary laws of physics, which further ‘disturbs’ realist expectation, yet remains, in a way, familiar. But even the ‘real’ world of the novel is saturated with the fantastic: the world of Thursday Next is not our own and defamiliarised in various aspects; the BookWorld is inherently familiar and yet awkwardly weird – it is a work made solely of text, governed by pan-determinstic narrative laws and necessities. A blurring of the borders of those worlds starts in the first novel as the reader learns that Thursday Next (supposedly a ‘real’ character from the ‘real’ world) has accessed fiction physically: the border of those worlds is not as clear as we would generally assume. Thursday’s reality is close enough to ours to accept it as reality in general; we will deal with the problem of worlds last, as it provides a junction point for the other findings we shall make (cf. 2.4).
A world made of all the books we know already introduces the second big dimension: intertextuality. Intertextuality as a term has been coined by Julia Kristeva in 1966 and since seen lots of changes that mostly aim to make it applicable to the study of a specific text. Those changes narrow down intertextuality to a re-occurrence of a pretext inside a newly made posttext. Kristeva’s original idea linked closely to Bakhtin’s idea of dialogicity and realised the whole world as interchanges of different ‘texts’. If everything is text, though, and in the line of tradition every new text depends in some way on all the previous texts, the concept is inapplicable. On the other hand, intertextuality can be reduced to mere ‘source- influence’ studies as Kristeva and others complain: like many French terms it has become a vogue word with which to upclass one’s own writing. Even today there is a clash between three groups: “progressivists” try to reinterprete Kristeva’s statement; “traditionalists” try to maintain the original emphasis and “anti-intertextualists” accuse the first group of being not understandable and the second group of just doing what has always been done. The first group, the progressivists, so Plett, include those who call themelves “postmodernist”. This line of tradition rediscovered parody, pastiche and and similar techniques as intertextual devices and aims at “dislodge[ing] the academic teaching from its traditional moorings”. Intertextuality was already abounding in modernism – one needs only remember T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and similar poems – but it continues to be prominent in postmodernism as well. There must be a difference in degree, then. Manfred Pfister attempts an answer: “My thesis is: Postmodernist intertextuality is the intertextuality conceived and realized within the framework of a poststructuralist theory of intertextuality “. This means that postmodern intertextuality is “is not just used as one device among others, but is foregrounded, displayed, thematized and theorized as a central constructional principle”. Linda Hutcheon adds a similar view: intertextuality or parody does neither merge nor cancel but is “repetition with a critical difference”. Fforde’s BookWorld seems to realise this concepts as “a literal form of intertextuality”, taking up tropes, clichés and practices of the literary circus that become physical reality in this fantastic world. It is a world of text – of all the texts – and its being text is never forgotten. In the creation of this world, Fforde merges metafiction and intertextuality; both operate on and by each others: through taking up prior texts, the intertextual dimension is present; furthering the stories of those narratives and even shedding light ‘behind the scenes’ at the same time involves metafiction. Nevertheless I opted to part the two dimensions below as they fulfil some distinct functions and have divergent effects on the reader, which then combine to an overarching effect. The fantastic has remained unmentioned so far. According to Todorov, the Fantastic relies on a state of hesitation: the reader is not completely sure if an event or object is real. In the end he has to decide whether it is of his world (delegating it to the uncanny) or if it belongs to another reality (delegating it to the marvellous). I specifically mentioned his world rather than this. Todorov poses our empirical reality as sole ground to meet the other. Durst already pointed out that this is too restrictive and that worlds that are clearly not our reality can very well encounter the other in yet another world. Martin Horstkotte even stays with Todorov’s model of the other’s intrusion in our world, but suggests that postmodernism turns the concept around by portraying us as the other’s other. The other’s position then becomes the prevailing one on postmodern writing. Fforde’s ‘real’ world employs devices that are empirically non-existent; they are perfectly normal in that ‘real’ other world and yet make them fantastic in the context of ours. The connection with the BookWorld finally establishes another other that borders on the marvellous. Rather than exhausting the problem of these worlds now, we shall wait until we are more familiar with the different worlds and their functioning, as problems will be a lot clearer then. For now, we will agree to call our world the empirical reality and to refer to the real world of the novel as the ‘real’ world while the BookWorld remains described as such. The status of these worlds is further complicated by their blending into each other: as with metafiction and intertextuality a total separation is simply not possible, which is, as we shall find, an essential part of the worlds’ interplay. The Fantastic furthermore forms a natural union with metafiction and in some ways is closely linked to the notions of playfulness that are again associated with postmodernism. This brief survey of the main attributes is by no means exhaustive. This is no basic study but one that focuses on a specific work. While we progress we will inevitably have to come back to some theories but we will do this as far as they are of importance to us only, rather than attempting a complete portrayal, which is doomed to fail in one if not all parts.
The interest for this text originates from a rather naïve point: they are good novels, have seen multiple print runs and rather fast translations. The immediate question, why?, does not yield a good point to go on, so we have to look at what is supposedly central to the book. At this point, we are in an academic vacuum of sorts: only the first two books of the Next series have been exempt to academic analysis. One was rather specialised focussing on the relation of The Eyre Affair to Jane Eyre. Its findings provide some thoughts that were unanswered by Erica Hateley and that we can attempt finding answers to with the background of four additional novels. Furthermore, some of the features Hateley mentions apply equally well to later novels. Above all, though, we have the opportunity to monitor changes and shifts of emphasis in the novels’ dealing with different topics which gives answer to some of Hateley’s speculations. Martin Horstkotte thematised The Eyre Affair in an article about the Fantastic Other and again in his work about the postmodern fantastic, together with Lost in a Good Book. He will provide us with some ideas and glimpses on the treatment of the fantastic and the fantastic other in Fforde in contrast to earlier writers. His focus is different, though, aiming to describe a complete mode’s appearance within a certain period, modernism. As such it also provides background information and comparison but does not offer much on the treatment of the specific features and what differentiates Fforde from other writers. The core thematics have been outlined above and follow the assertion that the novels present a rather “bookish” or “literarish” world we shall look at this first – what makes the world a literary world?
In order to analyse the work as whole, we shall proceed in four steps, each of them begun by another short introduction to the specific theme. We begin with intertextuality (2.1) and first look at which texts provide the basis for Fforde’s novel: do they belong to a specific period or group of authors? Do they address specific readers and are those the same readers Fforde aims it? Can the text be grouped in another specific manner? The dominant texts will prove to be canonical texts of Western society. There is, however, a slight shift in the portrayed texts across the series which we shall also monitor. This is closely linked with our next step, in which we ask how exactly those texts are treated, once for the works of the canon (2.1.2) and once for the ‘low’ cultural text, the other literature that does not belong to the canon and that seems at first conspicuously absent (2.1.3). In contrast to both these literatures we will deal with a world in which books are a forgotten medium, which is portrayed only in the fifth novel and hinted at slightly before (2.1.4). This will shed valuable information on how we can put ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture together: are they portrayed in antagonistic or rather symbiotic relation to each other? The title “Closing the Gap” – taken up from Leslie Fiedler – already suggests that the two kinds of literature will show a movement towards each other; indeed we will see two different movements here (2.1.5). Dealing with texts, we inevitably have to wonder about their authors: after all, we frequently refer to “in Shakespeare…” as I have before often done with Fforde. What importance does the author have in the world of the novel and what in the BookWorld? Some incidents go hand in hand with the treatment of the canon but we will find that authors are strangely absent except for their names on the title page (2.1.6).
Therefore, this point is advanced in a chapter of its own. It also forms part of the postmodernist movement to celebrate the author’s ‘death’ in various ways. We will first look more specifically at how author figures are treated. This can be stripped down to a very brief lists: names of authors are dropped consistently but we actually face only very few authors in person – two actual ones plus one of debatable status and a few that are in the background and must be writing the actual texts that exist in Thursday’s world (2.2.1). Having then seen that the authors of Fforde’s series are comparatively weak ones and hardly able to write, we need to wonder how literature is produced. Fforde here presents a fantastic theory of the production of literature that leads us into metafictional dimensions: he presents fiction to be constructed inside the BookWorld – inside fiction itself. This section is subdivided into two passages as two metaphors govern the creation process: we will look at the construction of world and plots (2.2.2) and of the creation of characters (2.2.3). Here we will also find out what happened to some of the author’s aspects. The ‘death’ of the author will prove to be incomplete, yet his position is weakened more and more the further the series progresses. Instead of eliminating the author, though, he is ultimately counter-weighted by a position of equal if not greater importance: the reader. Still inbound in the fantastic model of text and meaning generation we will look at this entity in the literary communication (2.2.4). The reader at this point also provides another cue: as he is thematised himself, the reader of the actual novels has to react in a certain way. On the premise that recipient reactions are anticipated we shall wonder what this favoured position does to the reader reading it. We will already have looked at the involvement of the reader and his likely reactions in the first section and he will never totally leave us.
In the thirds section, we will deal with the broad metafictional model of Fforde. Majorly this involves the model of the BookWorld, the laws of her working, the interior of fiction. This can be loosely described as working with and through gaps, which makes a further call to the reader who is the only one to fill those actual gaps in fiction. Fforde creates a double fictivity instilling the figures with a second life after the novels have run their course – or even between the pages. Logic dictates that, as a book, Fforde’s novels must be found in the BookWorld as well. This is the case as we learn in First Among Sequels. In the major scope of the BookWorld, though, Fforde’s books are just some among many and only implicitly hinted at and not thematised. We shall therefore look at the instances of explicit self-reflexivity separately. This section also includes direct reader addresses and awareness of fictionality in the ‘reality’ itself (2.3.2). We will then come back to the BookWorld and its laws briefly, pointing to its governing principles. Finally we make a jump to another kind of metafiction, which does not work on the diegetic level but on the linguistic. This kind of metafiction realises words on the page as actual text, words whose meaning is not at all clear. It thus works on a sub-level of diegetic metafiction which is concerned with proper narrative. Again, we will have to ask about the role of the reader here as he is the one filling narrative gaps, having expectations to ‘proper’ literature (and what is proper literature anyway?) and making sense of words (2.3.4).
Finally we will look at the different worlds portrayed in the series (2.4). There are a number of worlds hinted at but the above trias is of the most concern. Another model of alternative realities is already introduced at the first page of The Eyre Affair: time travel. The ChronoGuard constantly changes the past and the future and thereby reality. Ironically, Fforde abandons the plot in First Among Sequels as being impossible from the very beginning, providing a link back to self-referentiality and the laws of fiction. What concerns us here is the relation of those worlds to each others and to ours: as we shall see, Thursday’s world is a parallel world to ours which can indeed be accessed through the works of the ChronoGuard (2.4.1). In succession to this we shall examine the three main worlds, the empirical reality, the fictional ‘reality’ and the BookWorld, together. The boundaries between all three worlds, we shall argue, is very weak and actually poses the question of which of the worlds is the real reality and furthermore which world is the most important (2.4.2). For this we will draw to an extent on material outside the books as Fforde actively tries to blur the boundaries between the empirical world and the world of the novel, by providing websites of fictional companies, photos from mentioned locations and actual updates to his novels. This will also put us in the direction of FfanFficiton and Fan work in connection with Fforde, which proofs to be quite different to other fan communities and rather draws forth the playfulness of language (note the double-f’s) together with the author than writing unconnected stories of their own. This last chapter will also draw together the findings of the previous chapters to come to come to a final conclusion which will also offer an outlook on open questions.
All points implicitly include the fantastic mode of the writing, to which special properties will be alluded in its proper place. At the end of each section we shall also stop to examine the employed methods’ effects on the reader. Generally, we surmise there to be an incorporating effect: intertextuality needs to be recognised by the reader; he provides the counterweight to the author; he needs to fill the gaps presented in a narrative; and he is the one providing the empirical frame of reference that is necessary for the fantastic. Some of the points, we will find, have no proper conclusions. Some are outright contradictory and moreover perhaps meant to be. We shall conclude with a statement about which readers are aimed at and what methods are employed to attract these specific readers to the series.