Literary Names: Personal Names in English Literature

Colin Burrow writes:

More than most literary phenomena, names in fiction seem very straightforward until you start to think about them. The simple question, ‘why does a name sound right?’ leads to a whole range of questions. If there are general principles to literary naming, and yet everybody does it differently, then it may turn out to be a practice as mysterious as language use and as idiosyncratic as aesthetic appreciation: there may well be underlying principles, but variations may be so extensive that instance and rule are always pulling against each other. One of the many things Alastair Fowler shows in the course of this fantastically learned and occasionally perverse book is that to think about literary names you have to think about more or less the whole literary system; and when you do so, individual instances of literary names rarely turn out to exemplify general tendencies.

(LRB 22 November 2012)

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