Considering the example H.G. Wells’ Kipps and Charles Dickens’ Pip there are obvious parallels between these characters and their respective stories. (For example, both are orphans brought up by relations, both inherit large sums of money which have transformative actions upon both their lives and lifestyles).

But, are there immutable literary laws for making the assertion (with varying degrees of strength) of mild parallels, significant similarities, close correlations, or downright derivativeness?

Are there constraining criteria for drawing these deductions or do we have a continuum where we are left at liberty to infer an infinity of independent inferences ranging from parallel likeness to plagiarism?

Can we narrow down the relationship of Kipps and Pip to one another and bearing in mind the foregoing and explain the basis for the conclusion?


1 Answer 1


You use the tag yet you avoid the term intertextuality in your writing. There is little in literature and in the practise of criticism or analysis that is "immutable" and amounts to being "laws". The various concepts of intertextuality that were put forward since J. Kristeva coined the term address your concerns. Manfred Pfister proposes, for example, the following criteria of intensity:

  • Referentiality (quoting; offering critical commentary etc)
  • Communicativity (intensity of being conscious of intertextual relationships, regarding both author and audience)
  • Author's reflexivity
  • Structurality (structural parallels, matches, identity of pre-text and text)
  • Selectivity (level of abstraction; selection of single, isolated aspects vs larger similarities)
  • Dialogicity (semantic and ideological contrasts)

Other structural or post-structural flavours of theories of intertextuality (e.g. By G. Genette) may use different terms.

When thinking about intertextual relationships between texts we usually deal with a "continuum" or a "spectrum", sometimes even in extreme cases. Taking the list of criteria above, plagiarism, for example, would score very highly on the structural criterion, yet extremely low on the communicative one, since plagiarists usually do not communicate the fact that their text was copied verbatim from somewhere else.

You are certainly left at liberty to discuss the degree of intertextuality between texts and make a case for a strong or a weak relationship, for one that operates on significant levels or one that operates on mere "echoes" or incidental parallels as long as you can back up your views with evidence from the text(s).

Also note, that regarding the intertextual "afterlife" of literary characters, there is also a sister concept: Interfigurality

  • Thank you for the answer which goes a long way towards adressing the issues riased , the apposite references I will gnaw at over time .There is a class of recurrent questions on SE - literature that become amenable to solution with just such a handy framework.
    – schweppz
    Nov 9, 2023 at 19:55

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