"A blur of potentialities": The Figure of the Trickster in the Works of Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark
Wilkinson, Lorna Christine Rose
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
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Reason for embargo
I intend to publish material from the thesis as articles within the next 18 months.
This thesis explores the figure of the trickster in the works of Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark. By looking at these writers’ treatment of elusive, illusive and allusive characters, the thesis argues that they each incorporated what can be read as “trickster” figures in their fiction as a means of addressing anxieties about art, society and the self. The trickster is a character-type found in narratives from a multitude of cultures and eras, and is typically characterised by his subversive presence, his boundary-crossing and his role as a healer of predicament. While the trickster is often perceived as a universal phenomenon arising from a collective unconscious, this thesis instead focusses on writers’ intentional inclusion of trickster characters in literature as a way of thinking through specific problems. Bowen, it will be shown, interpolated tricksy characters drawn from myth and fairy-tale into her fiction in order to expose a perceived rift between art and academia; Taylor used the trickster to think about the construction of identity in post-war Britain; Murdoch took models from Shakespeare to create tricksters that helped her explore the ethics of writing fiction; and Spark’s tricksters allowed her to conceptualise truth and lies, and good and evil. Concentrating on four mid-century writers whose works have been seen to vary in genre and style, this thesis demonstrates that a trickster paradigm emerged in mid-twentieth-century British fiction – a period not previously associated with the trickster. Influenced by converging strands of trickery and allusion in art through the early decades of the twentieth century, notable mid-century British writers used outsider characters to probe social and artistic shifts in a landscape fractured by war and to reach for a sense of healing. By identifying such characters as trickster figures, this thesis sheds new light on patterns of subversion, healing and character in mid-century fiction. It explores the particular affinity the trickster had with women’s writing, and illustrates how the trickster was important to twentieth-century concerns surrounding metafiction and the role of the reader.
PhD in English