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Literary narrative enchants us through its development of plot, but plot tells its own story about the making of narrative. Through readings of King Lear and Crime and Punishment, Belknap explores the spatial, chronological, and causal aspects of plot, arguing that plots teach us novelistic rather than poetic justice. Operating according to their own logic, they provide us with a compelling way to see and order our world.

Table of Contents

Preface Introduction, by Robin Feuer Miller Part I. Literary Plots Deserve Still More Study 1. Plots Arrange Literary Experience 2. Plot Summaries Need More Serious Study 3. The Fabula Arranges the Events in the World the Characters Inhabit; the Siuzhet Arranges the Events in the World the Reader Encounters in the Text 4. Authors Can Relate One Incident to Another Only Chronologically, Spatially, Causally, Associatively, or Narratively 5. Plots are Fractal, Formed from Incidents That Are Formed from Smaller, Similarly Shaped Incidents 6. The Best Authorities Consider Plots and Incidents to Be Tripartite, with a Situation, a Need, and an Action 7. But Siuzhets and the Incidents That Form Them Have Two Parts: An Expectation and Its Fulfillment or Frustration Part II. The Plot of King Lear Operates Purposefully But Also Reflects the Creative Process 8. For Integrity of Impact, Stages, Actors, and the Audience Need a Unity of Action 9. Shakespeare Replaced the Greek Unity of Action with a New Thematic Unity Based on Parallelism 10. Shakespeare Uses Conflict, the Righting of Wrongs, the Healing of an Inruption or Disruption, and Other Standard Plotting Devices, But His Recognition Scenes Move Us Most 11. Shakespeare Prepares for His Recognition Scenes with Elaborate Lies 12. In King Lear, Shakespeare Uses Elaborated Lies to Psychologize the Gloucester Subplot 13. Tolstoy and Tate Preferred the Comforting Plots of Lear's Sources to Shakespeare's, But Shakespeare Had Considered That Variant and Rejected It Part III. The Plot of Crime and Punishment Draws Rhetorical and Moral Power from the Nature of Novel Plots and from the European and Russian Tradition Dostoevsky Inherited and Developed 14. European Novelists Elaborated or Assembled Incidents into Plots Long Before Critics Recognized the Sophistication of the New Genre in Plotting Such Subgenres as the Letter Novel and the Detective Novel 15. Dostoevsky Shaped and Was Shaped by the Russian Version of the Nineteenth-Century Novel 16. In Reinventing the Psychological Plot, Dostoevsky Challenged the Current Literary Leaders 17. The Siuzhet of Part 1 of Crime and Punishment Programs the Reader to Read the Rest and to Participate Actively in a Vicious Murder 18. The One-Sidedness of Desire and Violence in Crime and Punishment Is More Peculiar to Dostoevsky's Plotting Than Dostoevshchina 19. Critics Often Attack Crime and Punishment for a Rhetoric That Exploits Causality in Ways They Misunderstand 20. The Epilogue of Crime and Punishment Crystallizes Its Ideological Plot 21. The Plots of Novels Teach Novelistic Justice, Not Poetic Justice Bibliography Index Works by Robert Belknap

About the Author

Robert L. Belknap (1929-2014) was professor of Slavic languages and a former dean of Columbia University. He authored two major studies of Dostoevsky's masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov: The Structure of "The Brothers Karamazov" (1989) and Genesis of "The Brothers Karamazov": The Aesthetics, Ideology, and Psychology of Making a Text (1990).


Plots is an almost perfect book by one of this country's great scholar-teachers on why the literary art of arranging episodes matters to us. Not only luminously smart but also perfectly plotted (Robert L. Belknap's model plot-mongers are Shakespeare and Dostoevsky), each detail of the book's structure, chronological argument, and diction conspire to create that rare work of criticism: a story we cannot put down. -- Caryl Emerson, Princeton University Plots is a brilliant piece of work, well-written, and insightful-a sheer pleasure to follow. Belknap's definitions of the terms of Russian formalism are clearer than anyone else's, and his sense of what they suggest is richer. -- Gary Morson, Northwestern University Plots has an adamantine quality, as if decades of thought and teaching were being crystallized and enormously compressed... Plots reveals that with Belknap's death, we lost a critic and literary historian of great power and considerable ingenuity. -- Scott McLemee Inside Higher Ed You may never look at a story the same way again after reading Robert Belknap's incisively clear and illuminating book, titled simply, Plots. The Fictional 100 A valuable addition to the scholarship on plot and narration Choice

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