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Name of course: Dead or Alive: The Contemporary British
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Date of
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Joris Schröder

 

Student
number: s4573471

Joris
Schröder, s4573471

Dead or Alive: The Contemporary British
Novel

U.Wilbers

25-01-2018

 

 

Fingersmith

a)
As discussed in class, Fingersmith is a popular and successful example of
Neo-Victorian fiction. Explain how the novel can be situated in this genre and consequently answer the
question: what insights does the novel generate about the 21st
century?

Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith is one of the various
Neo-Victorian novels that have been shortlisted for the Man-Booker prize, other
examples are David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Andrea Levy’s The Long Song. Although these novels all
vastly differ, they can all be considered
Neo-Victorian. Neo-Victorianism has also increasingly become a genre of
scholarly research. Although the basic
definition of Neo-Victorianism is “resembling, reviving, or reminiscent of, the
Victorian era”1,
there are problems with defining what Victorian is as the Victorian era was
extremely long and eventful, spanning over 60 years. Thus, Neo-Victorian could
imitate the early Victorian era, 1830’s, or the late Victorian era, 1890’s. Nonetheless, there are certain stereotypes we
associate with the Victorian era, most importantly perhaps is moral prudery2. For
example curvy piano legs had to be covered with cloths as these could arouse
men.  

In
class, there was a discussion on whether Fingersmith fell into the category of debunking
or nostalgia within Neo-Victorian fiction. This is, however, a difficult
question to answer as Fingersmith
contains elements of both sides. The start of the novel is very ‘Dickensesque’
they even visit a production of Oliver Twist. Yhe fingersmiths give this lower class nostalgic feeling as opposed to
a high-class nostalgia associated with fiction such as Downton Abbey whilst Maud’s
story is more upper-class. The novel, however, does not ignore the bad things
that happen, an example of this is that women are treated poorly. Maud is
forced to write pornography by her uncle, Susan is locked up in a mental
institution simply because ‘her husband’ says she is insane. The novel’s usage
of language is also interesting. When characters speak directly the language
somewhat changes. Words like ain’t are often
used by the lower class character’s such as Mrs. Sucksby, whilst seemingly
modern words such as fuck are also used which are not associated with
the proper and uptight ideas of the Victorian era, the word fuck was even
banned from print in the UK in 18573. However, this is also part of the idea that the
novel does not live up to this moral prudery, the class discussion also
resonated this idea that this kind of vulgar language does not necessarily make
the novel less realistic. There is an aspect of simplicity to this novel. The
early life of Susan with Mr. Ibbs and Mrs. Sucksby seems simple and peaceful, they do
not have a lot of worries and this also creates a feeling of nostalgia. The
relation between Susan and Maud is also very simple, it is just there. There
are no big reveals or scandals around
there relation and it fits perfectly into the story. Whilst in modern fiction
same-sex relations, especially between women, are often fetishized and
oversexualized, this does not happen in Fingersmith.
Another way in which nostalgia is created in the novel is Pastiche. Pastiche is
the imitation of another work, artist or
period.4
Fingersmith does this by splitting the novel into three parts, in the Victorian
era many novels were published in this fashion often called the triple-decker
novel. As the novel is set is the Victorian era it indirectly gives insights into the 21st
century. One of the most important aspects that this novel gives us an insight into is same-sex relations. Because the novel
does not make a big deal out of their relationship it seems very normal and it
appears to be completely accepted, whilst
even now many countries do not allow for same-sex marriage and some countries
even outlaw homosexuality with a possible
punishment of death. The novel shows that there is nothing abnormal about these
relations and that even during the morally
prude Victorian era it was not frowned upon. Even within countries where
same-sex marriage is allowed, such as the UK, there is still a large amount of
homophobia and related hate crime5 and
stigma’s related to homosexuality.

Combining
both the interest and nostalgia that readers have for the Victorian age with Modern
themes and ideas is what sets Fingersmith apart from other works of fiction and
it is thus no surprise that is both critically acclaimed and well liked. (682)

 

How to be Both

Compare
and contrast the narrative perspective (i.e. first / third person narration;
narrative voice; use of present / past tense) of George and Francesco. How does
Smith’s use of these techniques serve the
function of each narrative?

 Shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize in 2014 and the Folio Prize in
20156, Ali
Smith’s How to be Both is a critically acclaimed novel split into two different
parts. One about George, a 16-year-old girl living in modern-day England, the other about Francesco del Cossa an Italian
painter. Interestingly depending on the version, one read, they will either get
Francesco’s story or George’s story first. This creates two different
perspectives on the stories that are told as reading one story will give a
certain perspective on the other story. Thus, a reader who started with
Francesco will likely observe George’s story different from someone who starts
with her story.

Regarding narration,
the two parts of the novel differ vastly. Both parts start with a different
image, as discussed in class these images are representative of the style of narration of that part. George’s part
starts with a camera and is narrated by a third person narrator, whilst Francesco’s
part starts with eyes and has first-person
narration. One of the themes of the novel is that one disappears when none sees
them anymore, we can see this in the novel when Francesco’s spirit/ghost
returns when George starts looking at his fresco’s often. When a camera record’s
footage it is possible for that footage to remain forever, to be seen forever
and thus those on the recording will exist forever. As previously mentioned the
novel is split into two parts and depending on the version can start with
either. Thus, Francesco could be the narrator of George’s story, Francesco’s
story starts off with them looking at George who is looking at their work. The
narrator, however, is able to look into
George’s mind and read some of her thoughts and feelings.

Although the stream
of consciousness is normally used in combination with the first-person narrator, there is a certain
element of the stream of consciousness in
George’s part, the narrator seems to be all over the place, flashing back or
forward in time. Whilst full stops and commas are used normally the punctuation
and font used is sometimes also strange writing appears in italics “-Semper is always, George writes.”7 However
there are many parts that are between brackets someone’s thoughts, or writing
this is clearly indicated, thoughts are often within brackets “(Point taken,
George thinks now, on New Year’s Morning.)”8 There
is no clear reason as to why this is, sometimes these are thoughts, sometimes
flashbacks, other times it appears that the narrator is speaking directly to
the reader “(thought the subtlety of this pretty much went over Henry’s head”.
These often seem to be short
interjections that are somewhat irrelevant at that moment and appear as a form
of a stream of consciousness.  This is one of the reasons why How to be Both
can be classified as a (Neo-)modernist novel. In Francesco’s part, the punctuation seems to be unclear as
well. The sentences are often extremely long, interjected with a colon now and
then, there also appears to be normal punctuation when people other than Francesco
speak. This also relates to the stream of consciousness as it feels as if this
is simply what is running through Francesco’s mind. At the very start and end
of their part, the text appears to ‘float’
in as if the text itself were a spirit too.

Another difference between these two parts is the tense
in which they are written. Whilst George’s part, even the flashbacks, is
written in the present tense, Francesco’s part is written in both, present
tense when he appears in the present and looks at George and past tense in his
memories.

Whilst
the subject matter and the plot of Smith’s award might be seen as somewhat lackluster,
she truly innovates when it comes to her writing style it is thus no wonder
that the novel has garnered much critical acclaim. (681)

 

The sense of an ending

a)
Explain the function of water as a metaphor that runs through The Sense of an
Ending. Where in the novel does it occur and what may Barnes’ overall argument
be? Please cite from the novel wherever
you can.

Julian
Barnes won the Man Booker Prize in 2011 with his novel The Sense of an Ending. The novel’s protagonist Tony Webster
reminisces about his past life, relations and most importantly his friend
Adrian Finn, who has committed suicide. The most important themes of the novel
are Memories, time and death.

The
opening lines of the novel are all about water, which are linked to different memories. “I remember in no particular
order – A shiny inner wrist; – Steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan
is laughingly tossed in it; – gouts of sperm circling a plughole before being
sluiced down a full length of a tall house; – a river rushing nonsensically
upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams; – another river broad and grey, the direct of its flow
disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface; – bathwater long gone cold
behind a locked door. The last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end
up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed”9

Both
the Shiny inner wrist and the bathwater could refer to Adrian’s suicide. A cut
wrist that is shining with blood, the bathwater has gone cold because he has
been lying in there for multiple days. However the Shiny wrist could refer to
something else as he mentions that he did not actually see the bathwater, he
does, however, remember it. This line is very important for establishing the
ideas that Barnes tries to convey about memory. Memory is the most important
theme of the novel, we follow Tony’s memories and that conveys the story to us.
However, as he admits on the first page, memories are not necessarily true. He
remembers something he has not witnessed the idea that memories are not always
true resonates through the entire novel.
In class, we discussed whether this makes
Tony a trustworthy narrator as the stories he tells are based on his memories,
which are flawed. Why they are flawed is also uncertain, as Tony is already
retired one could assume that his memory is simply flawed due to old age or
possibly Alzheimer’s. However, it is also
possible that Tony has, consciously or unconsciously, repressed or altered the
memories possibly because of a guilty
conscience. The cold of the bathwater could also refer to something that has
been forgotten, it is no longer warm and fresh but has gotten cold and is no
longer usable. It is also linked to death as it is most likely the scene from
Adrian’s suicide, as Tony says he did not witness this himself, he does
remember it as the suicide of a good friend would likely be something one would
remember.

The
Steam rising from the sink could refer to happier memories, the pan is
laughingly tossed into the sink. This could perhaps be a memory from his
student days. However like the water in the sink evaporates into thin air, his
memories are fading away.  

There
are multiple possible interpretations of
these memories. The 4th memory, however, is a foreshadowing of the end of the novel. Adrian remembers are
bunch of seemingly unrelated and unimportant things such as frying eggs, kids
in Trafalgar square, however the last of these memories refers back to the very
beginning “And I thought of a cresting wave of water, lit by a moon, rushing
past and vanishing upstream, pursued by a band of yelping students whose torchbeams criss-crossed
in the dark,”10

The
fact that these water-related memories
appear at the very start and very end of the novel are also significant. As the novel is largely a collection of
Tony’s memories these memories start and end with water. Like water through a
river, the memories float through his mind. Memories can change, they can
quickly rush through the mind or evaporate into thin air. Water is also
essential for life, but it also signifies death, Adrian committed suicide in
the bathtub, the sperm, which had the potential to become life, is flushed away
by water. Everything starts and ends with water.(682)

Never
let me go

b)
As discussed in class, Never Let Me Go leaves a substantial amount of
information unsaid, as Kathy does not question the implications of her
existence as a clone. Explain what crucial information Ishiguro leaves out of
the narrative and how this fits within the aims of dystopian fiction.

Shortlisted for The Man
Booker Prize in 2005 Ishiguro’s Never Let
Me Go is often classified as dystopian. Simply put a dystopia is a place
where everything is terrible it is the opposite of a utopia, where everything
is perfect. Dystopian fiction often revolves around a corrupt, totalitarian and
classist government, where a small group of people holds power over the entire population, an example of this would be Susanne Collins The Hunger Games series. Because of series like this dystopian
fiction has become increasingly popular among young adults1112.

In
class, We discussed whether the novel was
actually dystopian or not. There are many differences between the dystopian world
that Never Let Me Go sketches and
those commonly found in young adult novels. As far as we, as readers, know
there is no palpable evil organization who controls the facilities that the
clones live in, the world has not been ravished by some kind of plague or
natural disaster. There is none to blame for what happens to Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. Another difference is that there is
usually a very small group of people who hold the power. From what we know from
the book, there is no corrupt totalitarian government, there is only a very
small group of oppressed people, the clones.        One
of the aspects that does make this novel
dystopian is the fact that the clones know almost nothing or things they know
turn out not to be true. The interesting thing, however, is that the same holds
true for the reader. At the very start of the novel,
Kathy talks about “Carers” and “Donors”. At this point, Kathy already knows that she is, in fact, a clone and that
the donations refer to organ donations that the clones make. The reader,
however, does not know this at this point in the novel. The reader goes into
the novel without the slightest idea that there is something, arguably, morally
wrong going on, they could simply assume that Kathy is some sort of nurse. The
reader learns some things same time as Kathy
when Miss Lucy tells Kathy and the other students at Hailsham that they were
created to donate their organs. Whilst the average reader will likely be
shocked by this, Kathy does not seem to care. In a more regular dystopian novel, one might expect an uprising by the oppressed classes, the clones, this,
however, does not happen. It is not until halfway through the novel that we
learn yet another truth, one which was known by Kathy for a longer time, they
are in fact clones.

Whilst
the reader now knows that they are clones and are more or less organ farms,
that is the extent of their knowledge of the world of the novel. There is no explanation
to why this happens, there could be some horrible disease that makes organs
deteriorate quickly which means that the real humans need their clones organs
in order to survive. The ‘possibles’ could each have their own clone, meaning
that their body would not reject the organs as they are their own. However, there is no way of finding this out as
there is no information given about this whatsoever. The novel keeps the reader
in the dark about the how and why, what we do know is that there are multiple
cloning facilities and that Hailsham was an experiment to test whether clones
had souls, the used art classes to try and prove that the clones do(not) have
souls. This lack of knowledge serves the novels dystopian genre. The reader is
left questioning why these things happen and in what dire state the world must
be that such an abhorrent solution is needed.

Dystopian
fiction often aims to warn the reader. Never
Let Me Go can be interpreted as a warning for the advancement of
technology. As technology becomes more and more important and present in our
lives we do not know where it ends. Only a few weeks ago the first cloned
monkeys were born, meaning we are getting closer and closer to cloning humans. 13Whilst
technology can be used to gain information and is very useful in that regard,
the absence of information(about the future) is scary. By leaving out
information for both the reader and the protagonist of the novel, Ishiguro
forces the reader to create their own reasons for why these things happen which
enhances the feeling of dystopia. (751)

Bibliography

Campbell, Alex.
“Why is dystopian fiction still so popular?” The Guardian. November
18, 2014. Accessed January 25, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2014/nov/18/hunger-games-dystopian-fiction-appeal-to-teenagers-alex-campbell.

 

Barnes, Julian. The
Sense of an Ending. London: Vintage, 2012.

 

“Fuck (n.).”
Index. Accessed January 24, 2018. https://www.etymonline.com/word/fuck.

May Bulman Social
Affairs Correspondent. “Attacks on LGBT people surge almost 80% in UK over last four years.” The Independent.
September 06, 2017. Accessed January 24, 2018.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/gay-lgbt-hate-crimes-stats-rise-four-year-physical-verbal-homophobic-abuse-community-a7933126.html.

 

Moore, Grace.
“Twentieth-Century Re-Workings of the Victorian Novel.” Literature
Compass5, no. 1 (2008): 134-44. doi:10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00515.x.

 

“Neo-Victorian |
Definition of neo-Victorian in English by Oxford Dictionaries.” Oxford
Dictionaries | English. Accessed January 24, 2018.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/neo-victorian.

 

Smith, Ali. How
to be Both. London: Penguin Random House, 2015.

 

Storey, John. Cultural
theory and popular culture: an introduction. Harlow: Pearson, 2015.

 

Young, Moira.
“Why is dystopia so appealing to young adults?” The Guardian. October
22, 2011. Accessed January 25, 2018.
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/23/dystopian-fiction.

 

 

 

1
“Neo-Victorian | Definition of neo-Victorian in English by Oxford
Dictionaries,” Oxford Dictionaries | English, , accessed January 24, 2018,
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/neo-victorian.

2
Grace Moore, “Twentieth-Century
Re-Workings of the Victorian Novel,” Literature Compass 5,
no. 1 (2008): , doi:10.1111/j.1741-4113.2007.00515.x.

3
“Fuck (v.),” Index, , accessed January 24, 2018,
https://www.etymonline.com/word/fuck.

4
John Storey, Cultural theory and popular
culture: an introduction (Harlow: Pearson, 2015), 203-205.

5
May Bulman Social Affairs
Correspondent, “Attacks on LGBT people surge almost 80% in UK over last
four years,” The Independent, September 06, 2017, accessed January 24,
2018,
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/gay-lgbt-hate-crimes-stats-rise-four-year-physical-verbal-homophobic-abuse-community-a7933126.html.

6
Ali Smith, How to be Both (London:
Penguin Random House, 2015), cover.

7
Ali Smith, How to be Both (London:
Penguin Random House, 2015), 132.

8
Ali Smith, How to be Both (London:
Penguin Random House, 2015), 31.

9
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an
Ending (London: Vintage, 2012), 3

10
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an
Ending (London: Vintage, 2012), 149-150

11
Moira Young, “Why is dystopia so appealing to young adults?” The
Guardian, October 22, 2011, , accessed January 25, 2018,
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/23/dystopian-fiction.

12
Alex Campbell, “Why is dystopian fiction still so popular?” The
Guardian, November 18, 2014, , accessed January 25, 2018,
https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2014/nov/18/hunger-games-dystopian-fiction-appeal-to-teenagers-alex-campbell.

13
Helen Briggs, “First monkey clones created in Chinese laboratory,”
BBC News, January 24, 2018, , accessed January 25, 2018,
http://www.bbc.com/news/health-42809445.