This article reports the findings of the first large-scale study into how dementia is depicted in the minds of fictional characters. Dementia is increasingly prevalent and, in the absence of a cure, requires better societal and cultural awareness. Literary representations offer readers the opportunity to ‘try on’ fictional minds, and better understand alternative cognitive experiences. Stylisticians have explored the ‘mind styles’ of characters with various illnesses, characteristics and behaviours, but this is the first comprehensive study of dementia mind styles, and indeed, any one syndrome. A substantial corpus of contemporary fiction depicting the internal perspectives of characters and narrators with dementia was compiled. The data is analysed qualitatively and quantitively, embracing a methodological eclecticism suited to understanding the patterns in characters’ cognitive experiences across texts. The results are presented thematically, demonstrating the enduring significance of features traditionally associated with mind style (underlexicalisation, diminished sense of cause and effect, and pragmatic difficulties), as well as a wide range of new features. These include discourse presentation, sensory descriptions and conceptualisation of the self and others. By exploring the mind styles of many characters with dementia, this research not only widens the application of the concept, but also the range of features associated with its creation and, importantly, offers a theoretical redefinition: mind style is redefined as an iconic representation of fictional cognition, offering a simulated experience for readers.
- fictional minds
- mind style