Polyphony (literature)

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Main article: Mikhail Bakhtin

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, using a metaphor based on the musical term polyphony.

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. Instead, according to Bakhtin, Dostoevsky aimed for fully dramatic novels of ideas in which conflicting views and characters are left to develop unevenly.

In 2015, Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature «for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time»[1]


  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1984), Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1968) "Rabelais and His World". Trans. Hélène Iswolsky. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Bakhtin, M.M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin and London: University of Texas Press.
  • Townsend, Alex, Autonomous Voices: An Exploration of Polyphony in the Novels of Samuel Richardson. Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt/M., New York, Wien, 2003, ISBN 978-3-906769-80-6 / US-ISBN 978-0-8204-5917-2


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