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Flat Protagonists

A Theory of Novel Character

Flat Protagonists by Marta Figlerowicz
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We've all encountered protagonists who, over the course of a novel, turn out to be more complicated than we thought at first. But what does one do with a major character who simplifies as a novel progresses, to the point where even this novel's other characters begin to disregard him? Flat Protagonists shows that writers have undertaken such formal experiments-which give rise to its titular "flat protagonists"-since the novel's incipience. It finds such characters in British and French novels ranging from the late-seventeenth to the early-twentieth century by Aphra Behn, Isabelle de Charrière, Françoise de Graffigny, Thomas Hardy, and Marcel Proust.Marta Figlerowicz argues that these uncommon flat protagonists challenge our larger views about the novel as a genre. Upending a longstanding tradition of valuing characters for their complexity, Figlerowicz proposes that novels, and their characters, should be appreciated for highlighting the limits to how much attention any particular person's self-expression tends to garner, and how much insight anyone has to offer her community. As invitations to consider how we might come across to others, rather than merely how others come across to us, flat protagonists both subvert and complement the more conventional approach to novels as, at their best, sites of instruction in interpersonal empathy.
Oxford University Press; November 2016
208 pages; ISBN 9780190650360
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Title: Flat Protagonists
Author: Marta Figlerowicz