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Art and Life in the Novels of Anita Brookner

Reading for Life- Subversive Re-Writing to Live

Eileen Williams-Wanquet

This book treats all of Brookner’s twenty-two short novels as one monolithic fiction. The autobiographical element in this controversial author’s fiction is taken as a starting point to explore the complex interplay of art and life. Autobiography, as a form of emplotment of life, is the creative matrix governing the whole œuvre, which is realistically rooted in time and space.
The study draws on narrative theory, contemporary theories of fiction and recent feminist and ethical criticism. It shows how Brookner’s work combines and opposes both realistic and modernist modes of writing and their philosophical underpinnings. The novels, too often misread as anti-feminist and resolutely pre-modern, appear to be more essentially postmodern than is usually acknowledged, through a heightened awareness of the role played by narrative in constructing our sense of reality and of self. The pervasive intertextuality, habitually ignored or taken to be simply a form of intellectual snobbery, is the key to understanding how the novels tackle questions of moral life as encoded in narrative discourse and fine art. In addressing the question of how life should have been lived, Brookner’s self-reflexive and ironical fiction subversively rewrites the traditional moral codes embodied in romance and which have determined the behaviour of women. Finally, this study examines the function of writing as a performative act and the role played by repetition.
Contents: Novels realistically rooted in autobiographical space and time – Realistic modes of characterisation and determinism – Moral luck – Retrospective narrative techniques – Relational self produced through ideological formations – Behaviour as a result of moral codes embodied in art forms – Literature as a laboratory for life – The use of irony to subvert the philosophical underpinnings of realism and of romance – Satire aimed at modern Western society – Feminist deconstruction and reconstruction – Intertextuality – Ethics – Postmodernism – Repetition – Writing as performative.