Legacies of Loss: Traumatic Aftermaths in Twentieth-Century Literature Open Access

Johnson, Stephanie (2017)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/pc289j40k?locale=en


"Legacies of Loss" investigates literary texts written in response to major violent events of the last century, including World War II, South African apartheid, and the Northern Irish Troubles. This dissertation traces conceptions of trauma, loss, and mourning from mid-century modernist texts to contemporary literature. In particular, I ask how writers intervene in political and judicial efforts to remember and redress traumatic histories, including war crimes trials and truth commissions. To address this question, I explore several texts through a comparative framework, from Elizabeth Bowen's and Rebecca West's reflections on the Second World War, to South African poets Antjie Krog's and Ingrid de Kok's writings on apartheid, and Irish novelist David Park's The Truth Commissioner, a fictional account of a Northern Irish truth commission based on South Africa's. This dissertation shows how these authors challenge consolatory discourses of mourning, framing the response to trauma not as the acceptance of loss but as a melancholic resistance to closure. In addition to conveying the difficult process of working through a traumatic past, these melancholic texts have political implications, refusing closure as a way of acknowledging the injustices of the past and forestalling cultural amnesia. By examining a broad topography of political conflicts, the dissertation not only asks how various cultural and political contexts inform literary responses to trauma, but also reveals linkages across literary traditions within the globalizing twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Trauma, Witnessing, and "Some Stories"

Chapter 1 30

The "Impossible" Acts of Reading and Writing:

Trauma and Experience and Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day and

Rebecca West's Nuremberg Essays

Chapter 2 77


The Poetry After Apartheid in Antjie Krog's Country of my Skull

Chapter 3 127

Breaking the Script:

Discourses of Disease and Healing in David Park's The Truth Commissioner

Chapter 4 177

"Some Blessed Hope":

Elegiac Inheritance in the Works of Ingrid de Kok and Sally-Ann Murray

Afterword 230

Bibliography 237

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