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Dreams, Nightmares and Empty Signifiers

The English Country House in the Contemporary Novel


Urszula Terentowicz-Fotyga

Dreams, Nightmares and Empty Signifiers is the first study of contemporary literary representations of one of the most iconic topoi in English literature and culture – the country house. The book analyses nine contemporary novels, including Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, by situating them in a broader context of manorial literary tradition. Analysing the different traditions of the novel of manners, gothic fiction and postmodern metafiction, the book identifies three principal variants of the manorial topos, which expound the country house as the locus of varied, often contradictory meanings.
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CHAPTER TWO: The Palace of Art: Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty


Chapter TwoThe Palace of Art: Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty

Alan Hollinghurst’s 2004 novel The Line of Beauty charts some of the same social territory as Snobs yet looks at it from a very different angle. In terms of the time of the action, Hollinghurst takes us a few years back, into the heyday of the Thatcher era. The novel is framed by the elections of 1983 and 1987; it opens with the landslide victory of the Tories and ends four years later, when the grimmer aspects of the era are becoming increasingly evident. Like Snobs, the novel aims at portraying the country’s elites, though its net is cast much wider. The ruling class is defined by money rather than birth; in the establishment, the aristocracy intermingles with politicians, tycoons, bankers and movie stars, capturing the Thatcherite reconceptualization of English identity in terms of heritage and enterprise. While at the centre of the plot is the Fedden family, a Tory politician and his aristocratic wife, the novel’s main character, appropriately named Nick Guest, moves between different classes and social worlds. If Hollinghurst does not focus on what made the core of Fellowes’s social landscape, namely the minute differences separating the different layers of the ruling class, it is partly because the “incalculable ironies of different kinds of rich people about each other” (49) escape the interloper Nick.13

Like the unnamed narrator of Snobs, Nick is eager to belong, yet unlike him, he cannot produce noble...

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