‘Soliloquies of suffering and consolation’: Fiction as elegy and refusal

by John Burnside

04 Dec 2017
Digital Object Identifier

Abstract: Susan Stewart has said that in ‘writing soliloquies of suffering and consolation … elegists have discovered … a powerful means of addressing the tensions between grief’s inchoate emotion and social rituals of mourning.’ Using work by Graham Swift, Adam Thorpe and Michael Bracewell, I will argue that such elegies have informed one important strand of British fiction over the last thirty years, where the growth of ‘cultural totalitarianism’ (cf. Jonathan Franzen) has engendered, on the one hand, a primal impulse to preserve individual integrity against societal control, and on the other, a profound grief for the consequent loss of communal and ritual life, as well as for the land itself, which has suffered significant degradation and damage over the same period, damage catalogued by a number of important eco-critical observers, with specific reference to Graham Harvey.

Keywords: British fiction, eco-criticism, grief, community, Graham Swift, Adam Thorpe, Michael Bracewell, Graham Harvey.

Lecture on the Novel in English, read 23 May 2017 (audio recording)

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