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Redefining the Self:
Life Writing, Fairy Tale and Fantasy Fiction in
Amélie Nothomb's Métaphysique des tubes.

THOMAS, AMANDA,ANN (2012) Redefining the Self:
Life Writing, Fairy Tale and Fantasy Fiction in
Amélie Nothomb's Métaphysique des tubes.
Masters thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis primarily focuses on Amélie Nothomb’s Métaphysique des tubes (2000), an autobiographical rewriting of her earliest childhood in Japan. However, elements of other her novels are considered where relevant, in particular Le Sabotage amoureux (1993) and Biographie de la faim (2004). The work begins by analysing the literary genres of autobiography, ‘autofiction’ and the autobiographical novel, examining the blurred boundaries between these. I compare how various scholars, including but not limited to Laureline Amanieux, Mark Lee and Susan Bainbrigge, come to classify Nothomb’s Métaphysique des tubes as belonging to one of these above genres, before discussing why the novel evades a single definitive literary classification. Nothomb’s fractured sense of self, studied at length throughout this thesis, is mirrored into the foundational structure of the novel, as Nothomb combines fragments of each genre, mixing in fairy tale and fantasy fiction to secure her own idiosyncratic literary style. I proceed in the second chapter to compare Nothomb’s work with Beaumont’s version of La Belle et la Bête, highlighting echoes between characters in both tales and introducing the significant Nothombian themes of hyperbolic beauty, the presentation of the Beast in all its guised forms, as well as the central role of water. I also examine psychological devices of the fairy tale as explained by Bruno Bettelheim and Adam Phillips, how these aid childhood development, and potential reasons for their inclusion in Nothomb’s writing. In the third chapter I undertake a short comparative study of Métaphysique des tubes and Barrie’s Peter Pan to reveal that what appears to be an idyllic childhood is in fact tainted by loss and mourning. The lexis of adventure fuses with destruction as it becomes apparent that both Pan and Nothomb as protagonist have paradoxically lost their true childhood by attempting to remain eternally in it. In relation to this, I look at the salvational role of storytelling in both novels, and provide evidence to suggest that Nothomb as both author and protagonist come to find, understand and stabilise their identity through reading and writing literature. The conclusion begins by asking whether there are additional literary genres into which scholars have placed Nothomb’s autobiographical works, leading me to analyse briefly the possibility of postmodernist and feminist writing in relation to her work. Nothomb does not merely rediscover and redefine herself through literature, but she also questions modern society’s standards concerning physical appearance. Previously studied themes of hyperbolic beauty, ugliness and eating disorders come back into play when I re-examine these themes in connection with Nothomb’s challenging of the contemporary ideals of beauty. At this stage I consider similarities in Angela Carter’s postmodernist approach to literature and its significance to and similarities with Nothomb’s work. Furthermore, I provide additional examples of these themes relating to beauty by turning to Nothomb’s newer novel, Une forme de vie (2010), which grapples with obesity, depression and suicidal ideation, all of which appear, to varying degrees, in Métaphysique des tubes. My thesis intends to show that Nothomb intentionally writes Métaphysique des tubes so that it defies one clear-cut classification. Her work grows in richness and depth precisely through her playful de- and reconstruction of various literary genres, sub-genres and movements, as well as pastiching of fragments of fairy tales and fantasy fiction. Métaphysique des tubes becomes at once beautiful and beastly as she creatively redefines her own identity and successfully questions contemporary society and culture in a novel that all the while refuses to be tamed.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Keywords:Amélie Nothomb
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Modern Languages and Cultures, School of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Sep 2012 12:29

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