‘Kardinia’: a novel and exegesis

Harris, Catherine (2015) ‘Kardinia’: a novel and exegesis. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


This doctoral thesis is concerned with two interrelated components exploring literary form and style as they relate to the reading and writing of unsympathetic characters. Section one (30%), the analytical written component, examines these themes in light of three novels that have influenced my creative work: The member of the wedding (Carson McCullers), After leaving Mr. Mackenzie (Jean Rhys) and The driver’s seat (Muriel Spark). These novels have all been criticised for formal considerations, often attributed to socio-cultural qualities such as the authors’ gender, ethnicity, and/or personal histories, that inhibit readers’ engagement with the narrative. Rather than looking to reconcile these elements, this exegesis aims to find a theoretical bridge that enables a complementary analysis of the texts without resorting to essentialism. Douglas’s notion of dirt as “matter out of place” and Kristeva’s use of abjection present as useful analytical terms, but key components of their frameworks limit their applicability across place and time. Duschinsky’s “purity discourses” remedies these limitations, incorporating dirt and abjection into a flexible, nonessentialist, ideologically contingent theoretical mechanism. This mechanism is overlaid across Douglas’s three-part description of the process of dirt (from ‘safe’ non-differentiation, to differentiated and ‘dangerous’, to a return to indiscriminate formlessness) allowing a three-part analysis of the novels, whose narrative arcs conform to this same pattern. Section two (70%), ‘Kardinia’ (the creative component), a novel about a young man caught between two worlds, mirrors the three-part structure of the novels from the exegesis (from ‘safe’ dirt, Harry becomes differentiated and ‘dangerous’, before returning to indiscriminate formlessness), intentionally manipulating reader engagement and sympathies, taking a character with an abject status and resolving his trajectory in a story of unexpected salvation and hope. Each of these four novels demands an engagement with the “in-between, the ambiguous and the composite” (Kristeva 1982, p. 4). This engagement challenges the hegemony of a narrative form reliant on easy relateability and comfortable resolutions, thereby contributing to the diversification of our expectations of the role and structure of fiction.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/32530
Subjects Historical > FOR Classification > 1904 Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Historical > FOR Classification > 2005 Literary Studies
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > College of Arts
Keywords Carson McCullers, Jean Rhys, Muriel Spark, novels, literature, fiction, exegeses, ambiguity, comfort, likeability
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