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Dreams, Nightmares and Empty Signifiers

The English Country House in the Contemporary Novel

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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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General Conclusion

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As an example of a single world looked at synchronically, imagine a museum hall where exhibits from different periods are on display, along with inscriptions in known and unknown languages, and instructions for decoding them; besides there are the explanations composed by the museum staff, plans for tours and rules for the behaviour of the visitors. Imagine also in this hall tour-leaders and the visitors and imagine all this as a single mechanism (which in a certain sense it is). This is an image of the semiosphere. Then we have to remember that all elements of the semiosphere are in dynamic, not static, correlations whose terms are constantly changing.

Yuri Lotman Universe of the Mind

As Yuri Lotman’s metaphor of the museum suggests, any attempt at casting a synchronic look at actual literary processes entails facing the heterogeneity of the semiotic space in which cultural processes are immersed. At any given moment of time, newly emerging voices, texts and codes come upon and enter a dialogue with narratives of the past, which continue to exist in different forms and shapes and affect the process of semiotization. Literary texts and languages are accompanied by critical and theoretical discourse, offering explanations, rules and instructions for their decoding. The increasingly self- and theory-conscious contemporary novel can be said to be particularly responsive to the polyphony of voices, texts and languages that make up the semiosphere; it is in dialogue with different meanings and associations that suffuse the...

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