True-speaking flattery. Narrativity and authenticity in the sonnet sequence

  • Buchbinder D
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In La Vita Nuova, Dante established a model whose features include a narrative frame and a set of reading codes that require the prose narrative to be read as autobiographical, and the poems as veridical (truth-telling). Petrarch affirmed these reading codes in his sonnet sequence, but removed the prose narrative frame, leaving the narrative account implicit. As later sequences, Sidney's Astrophil and Stella and Shakespeare's Sonnets are capable of being read formally and intertextually as fictions and as exercises in a genre. However, the persuasive codes of the Dantean model invite the reader to construct and attribute to these sequences a narrativity which in fact remains only implicit. The Dantean codes of autobiography and veridicality thus become conflated with more general formal and fictional codes, inviting a reading of the sequences as authentic autobiographical narratives. This assumption of authenticity is sustained by a particular kind of poem which functions parodically to expose various devices of the sonnet-sequence model. The reader is prompted thereby to misread the exposure of the textuality of the sequences and the deconstruction of their implicit narrativity paradoxically, as validation of their biographical and historical truth. © 1988.

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  • David Buchbinder

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