This article analyses John Banville’s novel Shroud as the protagonist’s autobiography which both follows and resists the confessional mode. Axel Vander, an ageing famous academic and champion of deconstruction, faces the necessity to confront his real self, although he spent his entire academic life contesting the concept of authentic selfhood. Alluding to the infamous case of Paul de Man, whose deconstructionist theories have been reinterpreted in the light of the revelation of his disgraceful wartime past, Banville’s novel presents a man who veers between the temptation to fall back on his theories in order to uphold a lifelong deception, and the impulse to reveal the truth and achieve belated absolution. The article examines Vander’s narrative as an attempt at a truthful account of his life, combined with the conflicting tendency to resist self-exposure. Despite the protagonist’s ambivalent and selfcontradictory motivations, his account of his life belongs to the category of confessional writing, with its accompanying religious connotations. It is argued that the protagonist’s public denial of authentic selfhood is linked to his private evasion of moral culpability.
This article argues that in his collection of short stories England and Other Stories (2014), as in most of his fiction, Graham Swift is preoccupied with the limits of language, with what remains unsaid or is poorly communicated. In this volume, the writer’s focus on private, domestic and ordinary lives corresponds to his representation of the language of everyday interaction as essentially non-creative and formulaic. Swift’s deliberately clichéd language reflects what, as contemporary studies of discourse reveal, is a standard mode of social interaction. For example, Roberta Corrigan et al. affirm that linguistic formulae should be considered as yet another manifestation of behavioural routines (xxiii-xxiv), while Alison Wray claims that the reliance on formulaic language “predominates in normal language processing” (Formulaic Language 101). A range of uses of formulaic language is analysed in selected stories from the collection. It is demonstrated that, typically, characters choose prefabricated language for the paradoxical purpose of establishing and maintaining a degree of contact with others while avoiding in-depth interaction.
This paper analyses Richard Flanagan’s novel Wanting (2008) as a narrative informed by a revisionary and critical attitude to nineteenth-century ideologies, which is common to, and, indeed, stereotypical in much neo-Victorian fiction. Drawing on the biographies of two eminent Victorians: Charles Dickens and Sir John Franklin, Flanagan constructs their fictional counterparts as split between a respectable, public persona and a dark, inner self. While all the Victorian characters are represented as “other” than their public image, the focus in the novel, and in this paper, is on Dickens’s struggle to reconcile social propriety with his personal discontent. Flanagan represents this conflict through Dickens’s response to the allegations that starving survivors of Franklin’s ill-fated Arctic expedition resorted to cannibalism. The zeal with which the Victorian writer refuted such reports reveals his own difficulty in living up to social and moral norms. The paper argues that the main link between the different narrative strands in the novel is the challenge they collectively pose to the distinction between the notions of civilization and savagery.
This article argues that David Mitchell’s novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010) represents a new variation of the genre of historical fiction. The historical novel in Britain has risen to prominence since the 1980s and in the twenty-first century this strong interest in the past continues. Placing David Mitchell’s book in the context of recent historical fiction, the article takes account of Joseph Brooker’s hypothesis that, together with Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet may be indicative of an emergent trend in the contemporary English historical novel. The purpose of the article is to identify and explore Mitchell’s key strategies of writing about history. It is argued that, departing from the prevalent mode of historiographic metafiction, Mitchell’s book adheres to some of the traditional tenets of the genre while achieving the Scottian aim of animating the past in innovative ways. The analysis leads to the conclusion that the use of the present tense, the subjective perspectives, and the exclusion of foreknowledge lend the novel dramatic qualities.