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    ‘The spectres of past lessons, imperfectly erased’: queer history and the palimpsest in the fiction of Sarah Waters

    Easton, Rosalind (2021) ‘The spectres of past lessons, imperfectly erased’: queer history and the palimpsest in the fiction of Sarah Waters. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    This thesis examines the queer historical fiction of Sarah Waters through the metaphor of the palimpsest. Waters’ fiction is specifically concerned with female same-sex lives in the past, with a historical focus ranging from the mid-nineteenth century in her earlier novels to the post-WWII period in her more recent work. Critics have examined Waters’ engagement with queer history in relation to the gender and sexual politics of her novels and the contribution they make to the development of the historiographic metafiction genre. I turn to the notion of the palimpsest –now well established as a literary and cultural metaphor –to theorise Waters’ approach to the past, arguing that it complicates our understanding of the historiographic work she undertakes in her fiction. In Chapter 1, I develop the concept of the ‘damaged palimpsest’, considering how the preoccupation with domestic decay and neglect in her more recent novels The Night Watch (2006), The Little Stranger (2009) and The Paying Guests (2014) can be understood in relation to late twentieth-and early twenty-first century queer shame discourses. In Chapter 2, I frame a discussion of palimpsestic processes of cataloguing and collecting around my original archival research into the nineteenth-century bibliography of pornography represented in Fingersmith (2002). Chapter 3 considers the overlap between the textuality and materiality of history in Waters’ twentieth-century-set fiction to examine how history is sedimented in a number of objects that move through time and space in these novels. Finally, in Chapter 4, I develop the concept of the three-dimensional ‘liquid’ palimpsest to explore Waters’ representations of darkness in Tipping the Velvet (1998), Affinity (1999), The Night Watch and The Paying Guests, arguing that while accounts of queer lives and experiences can sometimes be sunk and submerged rather than merely lost, queer history also has its own blind spots. In the conclusion, I turn to the stage and screen adaptations of Waters’ work to highlight how her novels continue to be caught up in palimpsestic processes of the sedimentation and compacting of their own histories.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 06 Oct 2021 11:45
    Last Modified: 06 Oct 2021 11:45


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