This article outlines a systematic theory of style that aims to combine “social formalism” with narratology. Beginning with a reading of a little-known essay by Raymond Williams on the history of English novelistic prose, the article argues that Williams’s insights into the social preconditions of modern style can be suggestively combined with Mikhail M. Bakhtin’s theory of the inherent multiplicity of novelistic discourse and Richard Walsh’s pragmatic theory of narrative “voice” to produce a core definition of style. Style is (1) a linguistic mode of social relation; (2) one of several subordinated, relatively autonomous linguistic operations or “substyles” (Walsh’s instance, idiom, interpellation); or more properly, (3) the total mode of configuration of these substyles. The article then proceeds to embed this definition within a broader critical poetics. It argues that stylistic production in the novel is literally “in-formed” by several factors, for example, the “linguistic situation” (the state of language as a writer would have experienced it, including its inner tensions and social stratifications), “stylistic ideology” (the self-conscious stylistic projects that writers develop), and the linguistic proprieties of inherited novelistic genres, types, and forms (which are themselves mediations of sociality). These categories are exemplified through an analysis of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927).

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