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Pastiche

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Pastiche

Have you ever read a book and thought ‘I wish I’d written that!’? The next best thing is to write something in the style of that book - it could tell you something about your own style of writing. There is an expression, ‘Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’, and in a sense, this is what pastiche is: an imitation of an author you admire. Let’s look at it in a bit more detail.

Pastiche meaning

The word derives from the Italian word 'Pasticcio', (a pasta dish like lasagna) - the nearest rough translation is hotch-potch, a mixture of ingredients. Musically a ‘pasticcio’ is similar. It refers to an opera made up of parts composed by different authors.

Other words for pastiche include mix, hotch-potch, medley, miscellany, imitation, and copy.

An author can write a pastiche that references other authors and their styles. This can actually lead to new voices and genres. There are several authors whose works have become the subjects of multiple pastiches, owing to their popularity.

Arthur Conan Doyle

Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald is an inversion of the Sherlock Holmes world created by Conan Doyle. Gaiman then combines this with the Lovecraftian universe. In the story, the reader is led to believe they are reading a story narrated by Watson about Sherlock Holmes investigating the death of a prince. As the story progresses, however, details of the Lovecraftian setting seep through, with the implication that the narrator is Moran (ex-military, like Watson) who is assisting Moriarty. The suggestion is that in this world, roles are reversed, with Sherlock Holmes being the fugitive after murdering a monster whose blood runs emerald green.

Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey (1817) is itself a pastiche of the Gothic novel, so perhaps Miss Austen would not be very put out by contemporary imitations. The novel’s heroine, Catherine Morland, is an avid reader of gothic novels, who sees everything tinged with Gothic Romanticism. She also has a very active imagination. A humorous series of misunderstandings follow, leaving Catherine a little wiser than before.

Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2003) is about a young girl (Briony) whose over-active imagination causes chaos in a similar way to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. McEwan references Northanger Abbey with a quote from it:

'Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained.'

- Epigraph, Atonement by Ian McEwan

This is Henry Tilney advising Catherine against believing everything she reads in gothic novels. In Atonement, McEwan uses this as a warning to the reader not to believe everything they read in his own novel.

Other pastiches of Jane Austen’s novels include:

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (2009), Ben H. Winters

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009), Seth Grahame-Smith

Death Comes to Pemberley (2011), P. D. James

Coining the term 'Pastiche'

In 1919, Proust’s Pastiches et mélanges was published: a collection of articles and parodies. The parodies were written in the style of Flaubert, Balzac, and other French authors. Proust also referenced Ruskin in the second part (mélanges). He uses a mixture of styles and references, or pastiche intertextuality.

Pastiche intertextuality

Intertextuality refers to the ways in which one literary work may adapt, imitate, or allude to another text.

T.S.Eliot - The Wasteland (1922)

Terry Pratchett - Moving Pictures (1990)

Eliot’s The Wasteland is a 5-part poem that emphasizes the futility of war, with a wide range of references. There are quotations from other authors including Webster, Dante, Verlaine, and Kyd, as well as nursery rhymes and references to the Hindu philosophy texts, the Upanishads. Eliot’s intertextuality relies on using quotations and references.

Terry Pratchett is a good example of postmodernist (see below) intertextuality. His pastiches include Shakespeare, popular culture, mythologies, ancient civilisations, and philosophies. He also references authors such as Vonnegut and Lovecraft.

His Moving Pictures (1990), a take on Hollywood (called ‘Holy Wood’), references a wide range of topics including literary sources, the natural sciences, and cartoons. He borrows Lovecraft's Necronomicon and modifies its name to Necrotelicomnicon (also known as The Book of Yellow Pages), which is a directory for calling up gods, demons, and monsters. One of his most terrifying monsters, a massive, tentacled mass called Bel-Shamharoth, references Lovecraft’s own monstrous creations, including the similarly-named Shub-Niggurath.

Note: Necronomicon was the title of a fictional book invented by Lovecraft, also known as Book of the Dead, and it is a great book of spells, or grimoire. Both Necronomicon and grimoire have become popularised in fantasy fiction and films.

Pastiche Postmodernism

Postmodernism as a literary movement is characterised by fragmentation, intertextuality, and metafiction. Fiction works published after 1945 are considered postmodern, though there are exceptions. Pioneers of postmodernism believe that contemporary society isolates individuals, who lead fragmented lives due to living in a fragmented society.

There is often an underlying current of disconnect and randomness in postmodernism, which mirrors everyday life. Due to its features of intertextuality and metafiction, pastiche is also recognised as a postmodern mode of writing.

Postmodern pastiche is born out of the realisation that everything has been done before. As Frederic Jameson points out in 'Postmodernism and Consumer Society' (1983):

'the writers and artists of the present day will no longer be able to invent new styles and worlds... only a limited number of combinations are possible; the most unique ones have been thought of already.'

As a result, many postmodernist writers grab a mix of styles from the past instead of focusing on one unique voice.

Metafiction refers to moments in fiction when the author breaks the illusion of the fictional world to reveal the constructed nature of fictional worlds. Characters of metafictional texts often speak to the audience. Edmund Crispin does this in his Gervase Fen detective novels. The characters either refer to the author by name or mention how far they are in the book.

Other examples of metafiction include Laurence Sterne, who directly speaks to the reader in his novel Tristam Shandy (1759–67), telling them off for not paying attention to a clue he had placed in a previous chapter.

Difference between pastiche and homage

Pastiche is written in imitation of another author, out of admiration for the original author's style.

A homage instead is an act or work that offers respect to an event or (celebrated) person(s). A literary homage will be intentionally written in honour of a respected author, not in imitation of their style.

Purpose of pastiche

Pastiche can be seen as a form of praise and respect for another author. Supposing your favourite Shakespearian play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1605). Something in the story, or a quote from the play, stays in your memory and gives you an idea for another story. You admire the style, or a character, and you ‘borrow’ these from the play in your next work. It’s not a parody because you’re not making fun of it, and it's not plagiarism because you don’t conceal the fact you’re copying from the play.

By imitating a style, clearly using or adapting elements from a work we admire, we show that we hold that work in some esteem. It means it has resonated with us. It is also helpful as a way of adding colour and musicality to a text and is a great way of building a writer’s own voice. Like artists who copy the Old Masters, writers can learn about technique and style through imitation.

Pastiche - Key takeaways

  • A pastiche is a work written in the style of another author, or that references other authors.
  • Proust coined the term for literary works in 1919 with his Pastiches et mélanges.
  • Pastiche Intertextuality refers to the ways in which one literary work may adapt, imitate, or allude to another text.
  • Postmodern pastiche is a mix of styles from the past instead of focusing on one unique voice.
  • Pastiche can be seen as a form of praise and respect and can add colour and musicality to a text.
  • A pastiche is a copy, while a literary homage will be an original piece written in honour of a respected author.

Frequently Asked Questions about Pastiche

Pastiche is the imitation of another author’s style. 

Pastiche is a form of praise; it also offers variety and colour.

A mixture of styles and formats.

Pastiche is a form of admiration, whereas homage is a form of respect.

Proust with his Pastiches et mélanges (1919).

Final Pastiche Quiz

Question

What is Pastiche?


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Answer

Pastiche is an imitation or copy of another author’s style. 

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What is the purpose of pastiche?



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Pastiche is a form of praise; it also offers variety and colour to a text.

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What is pastiche in postmodern literature?


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A mixture of styles and formats.

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What's the difference between pastiche and homage?


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Pastiche is a form of admiration, homage offers respect.

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Who coined the term pastiche?


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Proust with his Pastiches et mélanges (1919)

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Complete: The word derives from the Italian word …, ( a pasta dish like lasagna) - the nearest rough translation is …


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The word derives from the Italian word Pasticcio, ( a pasta dish like lasagna) - the nearest rough translation is hotch-potch.

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Complete: Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967), which is part parody, part pastiche. Stoppard borrows two characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet in an absurdist work about death, fate and free will.

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Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1967), which is part …, part pastiche. Stoppard borrows two characters from Shakespeare's … in an … work about death, fate and free will.

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Complete: Intertextuality refers to the ways in which one literary work may …, imitate or … to another text.


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Intertextuality refers to the ways in which one literary work may adapt, imitate or allude to another text.

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Postmodernist literature can also involve:

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Parody

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Choose: Many postmodernist writers grab a mix of styles from the past instead of focussing on one unique voice; popular formats are:


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the gothic novel


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True or False? Homage is another kind of pastiche.

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False: A pastiche is a copy, while a literary homage will be an original piece written in honour of a  respected author.

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Choose: Terry Pratchett’s pastiches include 


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Answer

Shakespeare

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