‘A cheerful paper about a depressive writer’s life and work’
Almost twenty years ago, in a magazine article in The New York Times, James Atlas defined the contemporary literary scene as the “Age of the Literary Memoir” as proven by the publications of people such as Mary Karr, Susanna Kaysen and William Styron (Atlas 1996). Atlas perceives this trend as a pervasive one in the history of American fiction, which he labels the “literature of the self”, a subject now offered on many university courses, and which is, of course, one of the themes of this volume. This literature does not have to be limited to fiction and memoir writing, as Atlas mentions the philosophical essays of Emerson and the confessional poetries of Walt Whitman and Robert Lowell. Whatever the genre or mode of literature employed, Atlas’ contention is that the current confessional culture is a distinctly American one, and is a key feature of all American literature. Gwyneth Lewis’ memoir of depression, Sunbathing in the Rain, then, is an honourable exception, due to her Welsh background. The fact that she is bilingual, and writes in both Welsh and English, also has a significant impact on her confessional status, as a confession written in Welsh is not likely to attract the “audience of voyeurs” seen by Atlas as ubiquitous in the modern digital age. On the other hand, Lewis’ memoir is a perfect example of what Atlas designates, in acknowledgement to a term of Joyce Carol Oates’, as “autopathography”, which he, possibly disparagingly, refers to as “dwelling on...
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