ELCH - Studies in English Literary and Cultural History - Vol. 32

ELK - Studien zur Englischen Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft - Band 32

Dorothee Birke

Memory's Fragile Power -
Crises of Memory, Identity
and Narrative in Contemporary British Novels


Autobiographical memory is an ambivalent faculty: it plays an important role for the stabilisation of personal identity, but it can also fail to provide stability or even turn out to be a destructive force. This study pursues the question of how contemporary British novels engage with ‘memory’s fragile power’ (D. Schacter), in a time when identity formation has come to be seen as an especially precarious endeavour. In particular, it shows how the texts, by employing specifically aesthetic strategies, take up, question and even transform notions about memory and identity. By drawing on concepts from cognitive and literary theory, the study develops an innovative theoretical framework for examining the complex interplay between crises of memory, identity and narrative and their literary staging as ‘crises of form’. Detailed analyses of four novels – by G. Burt, E. Figes, K. Ishiguro and P. McGrath – explore a wide range of different ways in which the identity and memory crises of literary characters are represented. A literary-historical dimension is sketched in chapters on two ‘milestones’ in the representation of memory in the British novel: C. Dickens’ David Copperfield and V. Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. These classics are read as examples for two distinct models of staging the nexus between memory and identity and provide first building blocks for an ‘archaeology of forms’ of the representation of memory contemporary works.


ISBN 978-3-86821-032-3, 230 S., kt., € 24,50 (2008)


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