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A Shadow in the Glass: The Trauma of Influence in Contemporary British Women's Writing

WOZNIAK, AGATA,URSZULA (2015) A Shadow in the Glass: The Trauma of Influence in Contemporary British Women's Writing. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis investigates literary relationships between three contemporary women writers—Jeanette Winterson, Pat Barker and Hilary Mantel—and their proposed female precursors—Virginia Woolf and Muriel Spark. Analysing the usefulness of the most influential theories of intertextual relations—Harold Bloom's "anxiety of influence", T. S. Eliot's model of tradition and the post-structuralist notion of intertextuality among others—the thesis proposes a revised model of literary influence, drawing on the concept of psychological trauma as developed in writings of psychologists and trauma theorists since the (re-)invention of the category of post-traumatic stress disorder by the American Psychiatric Association (1980). The thesis seeks to demonstrate the numerous ways in which a vocabulary taken from contemporary trauma theory can shed new light upon the phenomenon and paradigms of literary influence, as well as upon the specific literary relationships under investigation here. While there are many differences between literary influence and traumatic experience, the thesis argues that the former can be seen as a threat to the writer's uniqueness, literary identity and the integrity of his or her text, in ways analogous to how trauma itself can be defined as a threat to the subject's psychological and often bodily integrity. Relying on the elaboration of an idea of the 'trauma' of literary influence that draws on the psychological research on trauma, the thesis examines, through the analysis of Winterson's, Barker's and Mantel's respective fictions, a number of possible new approaches to the study of intertextual relationships in women's writing with potential to extend beyond the focus of the thesis. The discussion of Winterson's engagement with Virginia Woolf's work foregrounds the issues of writerly self-promotion and self-invention and connects Winterson's reliance on Woolf's fiction and essays with the concept of narcissism as elaborated by the self-psychologist Heinz Kohut. By contrast, the investigation of Pat Barker's very different engagement with Woolf's oeuvre draws attention to the highly ambivalent nature of her return to Woolf's fictional and critical work and incorporates the horizontal dimension of sibling relationships, thus emphasising the desirability of combining vertical and horizontal approaches in the study of literary influence. Finally, the analysis of Hilary Mantel's engagement with Spark's work illustrates the difference between a 'traumatic' and a 'non-traumatic' return to the work of a particular predecessor and demonstrates the applicability of the concept of anorexia to the study of intertextual relations. Through its emphasis on the connections between literary influence and the concept of psychological trauma, and its creation of new sub-models of intertextuality, the thesis attempts to demonstrate not only the necessity to construct ever new theories of literary relationships, but also the flexibility and the wide applicability of a modified 'trauma' model of literary influence.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:influence, intertextuality, trauma, narcissism, siblings, anorexia, women's writing, Virginia Woolf, Muriel Spark, Jeanette Winterson, Pat Barker, Hilary Mantel
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:27 Apr 2015 09:00

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