In this chapter, Catherine Emmott applies her ‘contextual frame theory’ to a range of prose fiction in order to examine how readers make sense of plot reversals in narrative. She looks at two short stories by Roald Dahl, as well as a crime novel by Ian Rankin and a historical novel by Deborah Moggach. Emmott makes a number of new additions to her framework (Emmott 1997) during the course of this chapter. Her discussion is centrally concerned with the process of reading for pleasure and, as such, follows on well from some of the ideas put forward in Joanna Gavins’ analysis of Barthelme’s Snow White in the preceding chapter. Contextual frame theory itself can also be seen to have strong theoretical and methodological connections with both Text World Theory and the theories of mental spaces and possible worlds discussed by Elena Semino in Chapter 7.
Cognitive poetics aims to provide a model of reading that combines technical insights from psychology, artificial intelligence and text analysis, but also recognises the important fact that much fiction is read primarily for enjoyment. Stockwell (2002a: ch.11) explores this aspect of reading in relation to literary texts. This article will complement Stockwell’s analysis by examining stories that are not part of the literary canon, but are read for everyday entertainment. Since plot has a key role to play in many popular genres, I will focus here on how plot intricacies such as ‘twists in the tale’ and other such reversals may be comprehended. In particular, I examine examples from two Roald Dahl short stories, ‘Dip in the pool’ (Dahl 1990a) and ‘Taste’ (Dahl 1990b); a crime novel by Ian Rankin, The Hanging Garden (Rankin 2000); and a historical novel by Deborah Moggach, Tulip Fever (Moggach 2000). I will use contextual frame theory (Emmott 1997) as the main tool of analysis, developing aspects of it in order to account for plot understanding.