Examining Narrative Form in The Scholars

In: Journal of Chinese Humanities

In Wu Jingzi’s (吳敬梓) The Scholars (Rulin waishi 儒林外史), the narrative is constructed through the characters’ descriptions of themselves as well as “character zones” reconciled within the dialogue, resulting in a distinctive narrative form. This article rationalizes inconsistencies in narrative time not as the product of false authorship but, rather, as the product of Wu Jingzi’s narrative style. Furthermore, because these inconsistencies are found primarily in dialogue, solving the mystery of narrative time gives us an unparalleled opportunity to examine the novel’s narrative form. Wu’s writing style is perhaps best described as laissez-faire: weaving personal experiences together with anecdotes and rumors drawn from his social circle, he fashions a character-driven narrative form that mixes different perspectives and voices. More importantly, his narration illuminates the world of the Qing-era literati, reflecting the oral and written narrative cultures of the Confucian elite.

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  • 7

    Jiang Shiquan 蔣士銓“Baoyi xiansheng zhuan 寶意先生傳,” in Zhongya tangji jiaojian 忠雅堂集校箋 ed. Shao Haiqing 邵海清校 (Shanghai: Shanghai Chinese Classics Publishing House 1993) 4: 2093-2094. However the characters and punctuation used here are not necessarily consistent with this cited work.

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  • 13

    HeRulin waishi renwu benshi kaolüe42-51.

  • 16

    Tan“Rulin waishi chuangzuo shijian guocheng xintan” 241-242.

  • 19

    HeRulin waishi renwu benshi kaolüe23-30.

  • 20

    Zhao Shenzhen 趙慎畛“Yuchao zazhi 榆巢雜識,” in Qingdai shiliao biji congkan 清代史料筆記叢刊 (Qing Dynasty Sketches of Historical Material) ed. Xu Huaibao 徐懷寶點校 (Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company 2001) 1: 30.

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  • 24

    Ruan Kuisheng 阮葵生“Chayu kehua 茶餘客話 (Tea Guests’ Remarks),” in Yi hai zhu chen 藝海珠塵 Tingyitang edition 聽彝堂藏板 comp. Wu Shenglan 吳省蘭 12 8: 5-6.

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  • 28

    Ibid.506.

  • 29

    Ibid.610-611.

  • 30

    Wang Youzeng 王又曾“Shu Wuzheng jun minxuan xiansheng 〈Wenmushanfang Shiji〉 Hou Youxu 书吳征君敏軒先生〈文木山房詩集〉後有序,” in Rulin waishi yanjiu ziliao 儒林外史研究資料 (Studies on The Scholars) ed. Li Hanqiu 李漢秋 (Shanghai: Shanghai Chinese Classics Publishing House1984) 16-18.

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  • 31

    HeRulin waishi renwu benshi kaolüe10.

  • 34

    See M.M. Bakhtin“Discourse in the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin (Austin: University of Texas Press1988) 259-422. See also Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1989).

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  • 35

    See ShangLi yu shiba shiji de wenhua zhuanzhe234-265.

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