Parrot, Parrotry and Truth in Flaubert’s Parrot


  • Lixia Liu Yanshan University


In the studies on contemporary British writer Julian Barnes’s novel Flaubert’s Parrot, the early dominating postmodern trend is increasingly challenged by the explorations of the humanistic concerns. To continue this dialogue, this paper examines parrotry—a special kind of intertextual relationship Barnes engages in the novel so as to probe his views on the relationship between language, representation and truth. I argue that Barnes creates an “in-between” area between Flaubert’s modernist exploration of the possibility of language as a representation of truth and the poststructuralist conviction that language mediates all value constructions and constitutes their essence. The argument is developed by elaborating on the two dimensions of parrotry—the direct quotations of words, phrases or passages of Flaubert and other critics as well as the protagonist Geoffrey Braithwaite’s interpretation of his life in light of Flaubert and his works. In this analysis, Barnes’s resonance with Flaubert is revealed through the double connotation of parrotry: on one hand, it shows Barnes’s celebration of the evocative power of Flaubert’s words; on the other hand, it echoes Flaubert’s criticism of clichés and stupidity as a result of his sense of the inadequacy of words to express human feelings. By cross-examining the dynamic interaction between life and art, Barnes presents a more complicated picture of this relationship and the third dimension of truth: the experiential truth realized in the inter-illumination between art and life.

This paper is based on a section of the author’s in-progress Ph.D. thesis and is financed by Yanshan University project “Truth in Between: Cross-Generic Writing of Julian Barnes” (No. 15SKA003).

The author would like to thank Yahua Wang (Beijing Language and Culture University) and Paul Sheehan (Macquarie University) for their valuable suggestions in the creation of this paper. Thanks also go to the two anonymous reviewers for their appreciation and kind advice.

Author Biography

Lixia Liu, Yanshan University

Associate Professor, English Department


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How to Cite

Liu, L. (2018). Parrot, Parrotry and Truth in Flaubert’s Parrot. Humanity. Retrieved from