Homage or damage - the scope and limitation of autobiographical fiction

Eckstein, Sue (2011) Homage or damage - the scope and limitation of autobiographical fiction. Doctoral thesis (DPhil), University of Sussex.

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The thesis comprises a novel – Interpreters and a critical commentary.


The novel explores the notion of identity, the interpretation of the past, the secrets and lies inherent in families, the parent/child relationship and the collective and personal guilt of a generation who grew up in Nazi Germany. It is a work of fiction that has grown out of memory and imagination, informed by original research, family memoirs, and oral history. Interpreters tells the story of Julia Rosenthal, a successful anthropologist, who returns to the suburban estate of her 1970s childhood. During her journey, both actual and emotional, the unspoken tensions that permeated her seemingly conventional family life come flooding back. Trying to make sense of the secrets and half truths, she is forced to question how she has raised her own daughter – with an openness and honesty that Susanna has just rejected in a very public betrayal of trust. Meanwhile her brother, Max, is happy to forge an alternative path through life, leaving the past undisturbed. In a different place and time, another woman is engaged in a painful dialogue with an unidentified listener, struggling to tell the story of her early years in wartime Germany and gradually revealing the secrets she has carried through the century.

Critical commentary

Autobiographical fiction as a genre can be laden with moral and ethical issues, and I have made their examination the centrepiece of my critical commentary.
I have focused on the contractual understanding of the relationship between the author, reader and those written about, the issue of who “owns” memory, and issues relating to a writer's responsibility – and the limits of that responsibility – to their sources. I have examined the tension between “truth” and “fiction” and whether this is something that is particularly problematic in the writing and reading of autobiographical fiction. I have also considered what happens to the writer and the reader when the rules are broken by fake memoir, particularly fake memoir related to recent history and, most particularly, to the Second World War and its aftermath. My reflections on my own novel and its genesis are complemented throughout by discussions of other, mostly twentieth century, authors' and critics' works.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Business, Management and Economics > Centre for Community Engagement
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN3311 Prose. Prose fiction > PN3427 Special kinds of fiction. Fiction genres > PN3448.A8 Autobiographical fiction
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR6100 2001-
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 15 Dec 2011 13:56
Last Modified: 24 Aug 2015 13:30
URI: http://srodev.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/7583

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