Can the Preface Broker a Realist Pact in Fantastic Fiction?

Imogen Mathew


This paper takes as its primary concern the relationship between prefaces, realism, and what Tzvetan Todorov terms “fantastic fiction.” I use a close reading of the paratextual apparatus of two canonical works of fantastic fiction, Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White (1860) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), to argue that the preface plays a crucial role in establishing a realist pact with the reader before the narrative proper commences. Many critics have convincingly shown that literature of the “fantastic” exhibits, somewhat incongruously, a strong reliance on the realist mode: in order to have a highly improbable tale accepted as “true” and read as credible, it is incumbent upon authors such as Collins and Stoker to establish a realist pact with the reader. While this paper relies on precisely this insight, it extends the analysis by drawing on Gérard Genette’s influential 1987 monograph Seuils (translated as Paratexts in 1997) to theorise the role of prefatory discourses in the creation of textual meaning and a realist pact.


Preface; Paratexts; Genette; Wilkie Collins; Bram Stoker; The Woman in White; Dracula; Realism; Fantastic

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