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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Intertextual echoes : violence, terror, and narrative in the novels of Ian McEwan and Graham Swift Padwicki, Robyn Sharlene


Numerous studies have pointed to the historiographic and metafictional aspects of Ian McEwan’s and Graham Swift’s fiction, although few have examined the connections between McEwan and Swift. This study develops from that work by proposing that McEwan’s and Swift’s fictions explore similar themes, beyond those of just history and metafiction. By situating McEwan and Swift as postmodern writers who are strikingly intertextual, in the sense initially coined by Julia Kristeva, this study will show that both authors are deeply concerned with the violence of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and the role that violence has played in the failure of metanarratives, as well as the resulting terror subjects face as they seek replacements for the personal authenticity, legitimacy, and meaning once provided by totalizing metanarratives. This study also illustrates that McEwan and Swift recognize the persistence of the metanarrative of science, as well as the psychic violence inherent in trying to replace metanarratives with received literary traditions. By developing on these ideas, this thesis argues that McEwan and Swift are actively engaged not only in exploring the anxiety subjects face as they realize there is nothing left upon which they can base their personal legitimacy, but also that the authors are suggesting there is no easy replacement for the lost, albeit fictitious, authenticity once situated in metanarratives and received genres. Finally, this paper will demonstrate that while these two contemporary novelists significantly problematize narrative and narrative frameworks, McEwan and Swift ultimately convey only one sure method to cope with the mourning and terror of the postmodern condition: continue writing.

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