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Politics, history and personal tragedies: the novels of Jonathan Coe in the British historical, political and literary context from the seventies to recent years

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posted on 2023-06-08, 18:48 authored by Francesco Di Bernardo
The thesis focuses on the representations of British political history in the last five decades in the works of Jonathan Coe in comparison with other contemporary British authors who deal with the same historical issues. Specifically I discuss how the transition from the post-war consensus politics and the welfare state to neoliberalism is represented, and how these transformations British society has undergone are the subject of political commentary and criticism in the works of Coe. I discuss the different stylistic approaches deployed by Coe to deal with history, framing my analysis in the context of a discussion around the genre of the historical novel. The comparative approach of my thesis serves the purpose of both providing a wider depiction of the historical period taken in consideration and provides a broader critical evaluation of recent trends in the genre of the historical novel. My thesis is divided in three chapters, each focusing on the representation of a specific historical period, namely: the 1970s and the erosion of the social structure of the welfare state, the 1980s and Thatcherism, and ultimately the 1990s, New Labour's reformulation of neoliberalism, Cool Britannia, and the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the society of the 'precariat'. My argument is theoretically is inscribed in the framework of the discourse around postmodernity. My interpretation of postmodernism relies heavily on Jameson's analysis of post-industrial, late-capitalist society from the 1970s onwards and is intended to contribute to recent arguments about neoliberalism and the novel. The definition of postmodernity is also drawn from Harvey, Lyotard, Eagleton, Baudrillard, Bauman, and Hutcheon. The theoretical discussion around neoliberal consumerist society is framed in the discourse of excess of desire production and constructed lack, and therefore I use the concept of schizophrenia as theorised by Deleuze and Guattari, drawn from the Lacanian tradition. Z?iz?ek's analysis of the last developments of the neoliberal society also contributes to the theoretical and interpretative framework of my thesis. My exploration of Coe's novels, The Rotters' Club, What a Carve Up!, The House of Sleep, The Closed Circle and The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, in relation to other contemporary works by Amis, Hollinghurst, McEwan, Barnes, etc. reveals the ways in which Coe's historical novels of the late 20th/early 21st century rework the realist novel tradition in light of a postmodern (or schizophrenic) late capitalist society.


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