In literature, polyphony (Russian: полифония) is a feature of narrative, which includes a diversity of points of view and voices. The concept was introduced by Mikhail Bakhtin, based on the musical concept polyphony. Bakhtin claimed that polyphony and heteroglossia are the defining features of the novel as a literary genre.
For Bakhtin the primary example of polyphony was Dostoevsky's prose. Bakhtin argued that Dostoyevsky, unlike previous novelists, does not appear to aim for a 'single vision' and goes beyond simply describing situations from various angles. Dostoevsky engendered fully dramatic novels of ideas where conflicting views and characters are left to develop unevenly into unbearable crescendo (The Brothers Karamazov).
Modernism and contemporary examples
- Virginia Woolf — Mrs Dalloway
- James Joyce — Ulysses
- William Faulkner — As I Lay Dying
- William Faulkner — Absalom, Absalom!
- Melvin Burgess — Junk, Doing It
- Alexander Prokhanov — 600 Years after the Battle
- Irvine Welsh — Trainspotting
- Malorie Blackman — Noughts & Crosses
- Derek Walcott — Omeros
- Eoin Colfer - Artemis Fowl (series)
- Paulo Coelho — The Witch of Portobello
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn — Cancer Ward, The First Circle The Red Wheel series
- E.M. Forster - A Passage to India
- Tad Williams - The Dragonbone Chair
- Herman Wouk - The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, The Hope, The Glory
- Roberto Bolaño — The Savage Detectives
- Paul Auster — Sunset Park
- Fred D'Aguiar — The Longest Memory
- Steven Erikson — The Malazan Book of the Fallen
- Alice Munro — Fiction (2007 / 2009)
- Orhan Pamuk — My Name is Red
- George R.R. Martin — A Song of Ice and Fire
- Mikhail Bakhtin — Problems of Dostoyevsky’s Art: Polyphony and Unfinalizability
- Townsend, Alex, Autonomous Voices: An Exploration of Polyphony in the Novels of Samuel Richardson, 2003, Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt/M., New York, Wien, 2003, ISBN 978-3-906769-80-6 / US-ISBN 978-0-8204-5917-2
- R. Wellek Bakhtin’s view of Dostoevsky: "polyphony" and "carnivalesque"
- R. Clark Literary Encyclopedia Polyphonic novel (membership needed to read the full version)
- Brothers Karamazov likened to polyphony in a Bach fugue [Shockwave Player required]