chapter
Introduction
WithWill McMorran
Pages 11

This book explores the fictional topographies generated by digressive strategies in a selection of early modern comic fictions. Just as in the 'adventure novel of everyday life', as Bakhtin terms Apuleius' The Golden Ass and Petronius' Satyricon, each of the texts examined here generates narrative through the mobility of its central character, recording his progress in a varied series of travelogues. Even when the physical errancy of the protagonist is invaded by the intellectual errancy of the narrator, a phenomenon of which Tristram Shandy is only the most extreme example, the same collection of topological and topographical markers persist. Bakhtin identifies such fiction as being based upon a chronotope of the road, in which the course of an individual's life is fused with his actual spatial path. 1 While he alludes to a number of other chronotopes, from the castle of Gothic-fiction to the salon of the great realist French novels, the nearest he comes to mentioning the inn is a fleeting reference to 'the edge of the road'. 2 The inn, however, constitutes a highly magnetic chronotope in its own right; perfectly placed as a setting for chance encounters and thus for internal storytelling between characters, it plays a pivotal role in the structuring of digressive fiction in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The relationship of the road to the inn provides a paradigmatic expression of the tension between progression and digression in the early modern novel, as leaving the road repeatedly implies leaving the main plot behind.