This article argues that studies of fictional dialogue have hitherto neglected the specific dynamics of multiparty talk. I will contend that this neglect contributes to the perpetuation of an “ideal” of conversation that allows no space for either the frustrations and inequalities of such encounters or the unique pleasures they may bring to the reader. I urge the importance of distinguishing between group talk, in which there is some element of cohesion and shared goals, and multiparty talk, in which the representation foregrounds fragmentation and explores the often subtle power games played by the participants. Focusing on a scene from Evelyn Waugh'sBlack Mischief (1986 [1932]), I argue that Waugh is sensitive to the dynamics of multiparty talk while orchestrating the representation for comic effect. I propose that analyzing such scenes of multiparty talk must make us reassess not only how we theorize fictional dialogue, but how far our models of everyday speech serve to privilege and universalize certain conversational practices and mechanisms based almost exclusively on the duologue.

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