Research Article


DOI :10.26650/LITERA2018-0008   IUP :10.26650/LITERA2018-0008    Full Text (PDF)

How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Nicola Angeli

Narratological studies on “unreliability” have become even more relevant in an epoch in which the term post-truth was coined. The topic has indeed generated over the past years a large number of investigations, ranging from disquisitions on the very definition of “unreliability” to more practical, but not less complex, debates on how to detect an unreliable narrator (Shen, 2015). Taking Agatha Christie’s detective novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926/2006) as a case study, this paper attempts to argue that the narrator’s strategies to produce an unreliable account could be theoretically framed by the “synthetic approach,” formulated by Nünning (2005). To support this point, the analysis of the narrator’s unreliability is based on close readings of the text and is divided into two sections. The first aims to highlight the rhetorical elements, while the second attempts to point out the cognitivist/ constructivist ones. The paper concludes that, coherently with Nünning’s synthetic approach, the narrator’s self-presentation as reliable suggests a conception of unreliability as a textual property encoded by an authorial agency (rhetorical approach) and, simultaneously, as a result of an interpretive negotiation between readers and texts (cognitivist/constructivist approach).

DOI :10.26650/LITERA2018-0008   IUP :10.26650/LITERA2018-0008    Full Text (PDF)

Comment devenir un narrateur non fiable : Le cas du Dr Sheppard dans Le meurtre de Roger Ackroyd d’Agatha Christie

Nicola Angeli

Les recherches narratologiques sur la « non-fiabilité » sont devenues encore plus pertinentes à une époque où le terme « post-truth » a été inventé. Le sujet a en effet généré au cours des dernières années un grand nombre d’enquêtes, allant des recherches sur la définition même de la « non-fiabilité » à des débats plus pratiques, mais non moins complexes, sur la manière de détecter un narrateur non fiable (Shen, 2015). Prenant comme étude de cas le roman policier d’Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926/2006), cet article tente de soutenir que l’approche synthétique formulée par Nünning (2005) pourrait encadrer les stratégies du narrateur pour produire un récit non fiable. Pour étayer ce point, l’analyse du manque de fiabilité du narrateur repose sur des lectures étroites du texte, divisées en deux parties. La première vise à mettre en évidence les éléments rhétoriques, la seconde à mettre en évidence les éléments cognitivistes / constructivistes. L’article conclut que, de manière cohérente avec l’approche synthétique de Nünning, la présentation de soi du narrateur comme « fiable » suggérerait une conception de la non-fiabilité en tant que propriété textuelle encodée par une agence auteurielle (approche rhétorique) et, en même temps, en tant que résultat d’une négociation interprétative entre lecteurs et textes (approche cognitiviste / constructiviste).


EXTENDED ABSTRACT


Narratological studies on “unreliability” are arguably even more relevant in an epoch for which the term post-truth was coined. The topic has indeed generated over the past years a large number of investigations, ranging from philosophical disquisitions on the very definition of “unreliability” to more practical, but not less complex, debates on how to detect an unreliable narrator. Broadly speaking, academic perspectives on the matter can be distinguished into two categories: the “rhetorical approach” and the “cognitivist/constructivist approach” (Shen, 2015). The first considers unreliability as an intrinsic textual property, encoded by the implied author for the implied reader to detect. The second approach focuses instead on the agency of the actual reader, framing unreliability as a subjective product of the interpretive negotiation processes that the reader engages in via a text. Within this theoretical landscape, Ansgar Nünning’s essay “Reconceptualizing Unreliable Narration: Synthesizing Cognitive and Rhetorical Approaches” (2005) seems to represent a turning point. Nünning proposes to combine the two approaches in the conviction that “unreliable narration is not only a structural or semantic aspect of the text but also a phenomenon that involves the conceptual frameworks readers bring to it” (p. 95). Drawing upon his reconceptualization, this paper proposes to adopt his “synthetic” approach as an analytical tool to explore the strategies implemented by the narrator of Agatha Christie’s classic novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The novel arguably constitutes a valid corpus. Dr. Sheppard, the narrator, presents himself as a trustworthy doctor who faithfully writes down the intricate case of his friend’s assassination, Roger Ackroyd. However, under the inescapable pressure exerted by Hercule Poirot’s “little grey cells,” the narrator is forced in the last chapter, written as a sort of suicide note, to disclose the “truth”: he declares himself the actual murderer and openly discusses the narrative strategies that allowed him to “lie” all along. This paper focuses on Dr. Sheppard’s metanarrative hints in the attempt to argue that his concealment strategies signal a substantial parallelism with Nünning’s combined approach, containing both rhetorical and cognitivist elements. To make this argument, the paper divides the analysis of the narrator’s unreliability, based on close readings of the texts, into two sections. The first intends to demonstrate that Dr. Sheppard intervenes on the narration by removing “fragments” of facts, quantitatively limited but qualitatively crucial for successfully encoding in the text his fictitious “reliability.” The second section emphasizes the way Dr. Sheppard seems to consciously craft his own image as a rational, well-mannered country doctor, so as to cast on his narrative voice an aura of respectability that could resonate with the general readers’ socially accepted norms. The paper concludes by noticing that Dr. Sheppard, in order to produce an unreliable narration, seems to have mobilized elements ascribable to both the rhetoric and the cognitivist/constructivist approaches. His self-presentation as a reliable narrator arguably indicates a conception of unreliability as a property textually encoded by an authorial agency and, simultaneously, as a result of an interpretive negotiation between reader and text.


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References

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APA

Angeli, N. (2018). How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, 28(2), 117-130. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0008


AMA

Angeli N. How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies. 2018;28(2):117-130. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0008


ABNT

Angeli, N. How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, [Publisher Location], v. 28, n. 2, p. 117-130, 2018.


Chicago: Author-Date Style

Angeli, Nicola,. 2018. “How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 28, no. 2: 117-130. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0008


Chicago: Humanities Style

Angeli, Nicola,. How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 28, no. 2 (Dec. 2022): 117-130. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0008


Harvard: Australian Style

Angeli, N 2018, 'How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie', Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 117-130, viewed 2 Dec. 2022, https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0008


Harvard: Author-Date Style

Angeli, N. (2018) ‘How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie’, Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, 28(2), pp. 117-130. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0008 (2 Dec. 2022).


MLA

Angeli, Nicola,. How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.” Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, 2018, pp. 117-130. [Database Container], https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0008


Vancouver

Angeli N. How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies [Internet]. 2 Dec. 2022 [cited 2 Dec. 2022];28(2):117-130. Available from: https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0008 doi: 10.26650/LITERA2018-0008


ISNAD

Angeli, Nicola. How to Become an Unreliable Narrator: The Case of Dr. Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie”. Litera: Journal of Language, Literature and Culture Studies 28/2 (Dec. 2022): 117-130. https://doi.org/10.26650/LITERA2018-0008



TIMELINE


Submitted19.09.2018
Accepted30.10.2018
Published Online01.12.2018

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