Revenants and Migrants: Hardy, Butler, Woolf, and Sebald

Tue 18 Nov 2003, 00:00

Re-appearances are the motor of many stories, both in fiction and history. Return may assuage or threaten, particularly the return of those believed dead. In the later nineteenth-century, re-appearance begins to be connected with theories of genetic memory, most notably in the work of Samuel Butler. In Thomas Hardy's poetry, also, long-ago episodes start up personified, their significance transformed, their dynastic as well as personal meaning re-imagined. Such realisations insist on troubling continuities and embodiments. What happens in the twentieth century where discontinuity is emphasised? Taking the examples of Virginia Woolf and W.G. Sebald, I shall explore the figure of the revenant when dispersal and migration make new shapes for memory.


Dame Gillian Beer FBA

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