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This paper examines the narrative and aesthetic strategies of John Fowles and Graham Swift as they deal with the theme of post-Darwinian anxiety and loss of faith, Darwinism being used both in its literal meaning and as a metaphor for social evolution. The contention is that Swift’s literary treatment allows for the creation of a trauma narrative conducive to reader empathy and identification, while Fowles precludes any possibility of empathy through the use of postmodernist distancing and frame-breaking. Other neo-Victorian novelists are evoked for purposes of comparison, notably A.S. Byatt, Liz Jensen, and A.N. Wilson, whose novels are characterised by a mainly ludic and comic tone. The essay analyses the specific effects created by the insertion of rare moments of sombre sobriety devoted to the telling of trauma within ironic and/or parodic neo-Victorian works.

In: Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma
Author: Kate Mitchell

Kate Grenville’s The Secret River (2005) enacts a narrative return to the violent trauma of Aboriginal dispossession and destruction upon which Australia is founded, situating its reader complexly, as both witness to and complicit in the events it retells. Her use of fiction to represent this trauma made Grenville the focus of heated public debate about the role of fiction in representing the past, a debate that repeatedly cast her project as historically dubious. However, rather than approaching the novel as a corrupted form of history’s reconstruction of past events, it seems more useful to situate this text as an act of memory in the present, which shapes both past and future. Even as it represents the past, Grenville’s novel addresses a present both deeply divided and in danger of forgetting its history. It uses the affective power of fiction to reinscribe and reactivate Aboriginal Australian history in the contemporary historical imaginary.

In: Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma

Increasingly, the nineteenth century has become a significant locus of investigations into historical trauma, in terms of the retrospective analysis of actual catastrophic events and their long term after-effects, as well as their fictional re-experience and belated ‘working through’ in literature. The neo-Victorian phenomenon both reflects and contributes to crucial developments in trauma discourse and cultural memory, both at national and global levels, constructing competing versions of the past that continue to inform the present. Crucially, the neo-Victorian also problematises the politicisation and appropriation of trauma and resulting ethical dilemmas vis-à-vis the suffering other, especially relating to the notion of trauma’s unrepresentability and the figurative language used to convey the central paradox of the unspeakable.

In: Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma
In: Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma
Author: Ann Heilmann

Traumatic experience is often related to a sense of belatedness, only graspable through geographical and temporal distance, as in the case of the self-exiled Irish narrator of Nuala O’Faolain’s My Dream of You (2001), who returns to her native country to research a nineteenth-century House of Lords divorce case for a planned novel. In her mourning for her closest friend, the protagonist Kathleen’s investigations become an attempted working-through of her own traumas as well as of her cultural heritage: the final years of the Great Hunger, the setting of the affair which led to the historical 1856 Talbot case for ‘criminal conversation’ brought by an Anglo-Irish landlord against his wife and their Irish coachman. Confronting character and readers alike with the unwieldiness and instability of legal and documentary evidence, the novel problematises conceptualisations of authenticity, appropriation, textuality, and genre (autobiography, historiography, neo-Victorianism, the postmodern text), dramatising the conjunction of eros and thanatos, femininity and famishment.

In: Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma
In: Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma
The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering
This collection constitutes the first volume in Rodopi’s Neo-Victorian Series, which explores the prevalent but often problematic re-vision of the long nineteenth century in contemporary culture. Here is presented for the first time an extended analysis of the conjunction of neo-Victorian fiction and trauma discourse, highlighting the significant interventions in collective memory staged by the belated aesthetic working-through of historical catastrophes, as well as their lingering traces in the present. The neo-Victorian’s privileging of marginalised voices and its contestation of master-narratives of historical progress construct a patchwork of competing but equally legitimate versions of the past, highlighting on-going crises of existential extremity, truth and meaning, nationhood and subjectivity. This volume will be of interest to both researchers and students of the growing field of neo-Victorian studies, as well as scholars in memory studies, trauma theory, ethics, and heritage studies. It interrogates the ideological processes of commemoration and forgetting and queries how the suffering of cultural and temporal others should best be represented, so as to resist the temptations of exploitative appropriation and voyeuristic spectacle. Such precarious negotiations foreground a central paradox: the ethical imperative to bear after-witness to history’s silenced victims in the face of the potential unrepresentability of extreme suffering.

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004) opens with a 39-page neo-Victorian section that suddenly ends in mid-sentence, after which the novel progresses through various temporal settings before returning to the initial narrative frame. The reader is invited to follow the clues that bind the whole together, a technique reliant on the thread of trauma that links distinct historical sufferings in interwoven virtual pasts, presents, and futures. This chapter investigates how Mitchell’s starting-point, a travelogue of an American notary in the Chatham Islands in the mid-nineteenth century, informs the rest of the novel, introducing its main themes: the relations between powerful and powerless, memory and forgetting, free and slave, and how these traumatically translate into physical and mental violence. Mitchell’s Darwinian-inflected vision plays with ideas of fitness and dominance, altruism and the survival of individuals and cultures, both as he looks back to Darwin’s day and as he explores how these ideas continue to inform our present and a future that may or may not become our own.

In: Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma

This essay investigates the usefulness of trauma theory for the study of neo-Victorian fiction. Historically, mid nineteenth-century England transported its traumas, first to the Americas and then the antipodes, to rid the nation of an increasingly criminalised working class, ignoring its colonial subjects’ collective traumas. Yet Charles Dickens understood the Victorian individual’s experience as fundamentally traumatic, and riddled with guilt and shame, like the protagonist of Great Expectations (1860-61), who is haunted by repressed psychic trauma. Lloyd Jones’s and Peter Carey’s postcolonial neo-Victorian rewritings of Dickens’s novel represent trauma as a symptom of the real. Mister Pip (2007) and Jack Maggs (1997) immerse their readers in the colonial scene of trauma or the metropolitan scene of return; by deferred action, each submits readers to the hypnotic imitation of reading and forces them to bear affective and ethical witness to traumatic suffering.

In: Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma
Author: Mark Llewellyn

Like her earlier novel Possession: A Romance (1990), A.S. Byatt’s novella ‘Morpho Eugenia’ (1992), a tale of science and incest, has become a key item in the growing canon of neo-Victorian literature. This interests me because of my own work towards a monograph on the cultural history of incest in the nineteenth century. Between the 1835 Marriage Act and the 1908 Punishment of Incest Act, various sites of Victorian knowledge – politics, theology and religion, anthropology, classical studies, philosophy, economics, social commentary, eugenics, even visual arts and music, not to mention pornography – were the location of a heated debate around the issue of incest as a concept. This has received little sustained critical attention compared to the periods immediately preceding and following the Victorians. The fact that contemporary women writers should use the incest trope as part of the neo-Victorian aesthetic is intriguing, particularly in the varied and divergent approaches taken towards incest as trauma. In this essay, I discuss Byatt’s novella and her more recent novel The Children’s Book (2009) in order to suggest ways in which their metapoetics both make explicit and yet inadequately account for the Victorians’ own traumatic pathology of incest. In the second part of the chapter, I bring these issues into a new reading of the trauma contained within Sarah Waters’s novel Affinity (1999).

In: Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma