New Critical Perspectives
‘Once Upon a Time’: Fabulists and Storytellers in Clare Boylan’s Fiction Emma Brown (2003), Clare Boylan’s last novel, is in many ways a novel about telling stories. Out of the few existing pages of a fragment by Charlotte Brontë, Boylan developed a complex story with many secondary characters and dense subplots. The plot centres around the revelation of the secrets of three major characters. ‘I have a strange story to relate’, says Mr Ellin to Mrs Chalfont (Boylan 2003: 87) and each character in turn tells a story, a fragment from his or her own past. In several of Boylan’s other works too, storytelling functions as a catalyst. It is part of the plot and of the structure of her novels and stories and it constitutes a recurring motif with multi- ple implications. Boylan’s fiction has been appreciated for its humour and sarcasm, for its attention to the world of children and ‘the pain of growing up’ (Gray 1984: 18) and for dealing with ‘abiding preoccupations’ such as ‘marriage’, ‘the relationship between mothers and daughters’, and ‘the pros- pect of old age’ (Kelly 1999: 209). Yet, as I hope to show in this chapter, an analysis of her treatment of storytelling can provide further insights into the whole corpus of her stories and novels. The recurrence of storytelling and storytellers in Boylan’s fiction is particularly striking when one considers the realistic stance of her writing. In general, her work portrays a hostile environment in which the relations between men and...
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