Models of Authentic Inner-voice as Social Critique in the Post-war Novel

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis reads interior monologue as a literary form that that has an ultimately dialogical aim: to engage the reader in social critique. A historicised close reading of key models of inner-voice narration explores how social critique is achieved by the distinctive dialogic melding of consciousnesses involved in the reader’s encounter with forms of interior monologue.

The novels subjected to this close reading span the period from 1938 to 2013. Taken together, I explore their contribution to the novel’s capacity to enable a challenge to the dynamics of social exploitation and the limits placed on individual freedom. The novels explored are unified by their problematising of ‘authenticity’ as a way of conceptualising both consciousness and aesthetics. Throughout, the thesis draws upon and extends key scholarship on interior monologue narratology.

A range of archetypally ‘authentic’ inner-voice forms are considered – the ‘voices’ of writers and children, vagrants and artists. Jean Paul-Sartre’s Nausea (1938) and Samuel Beckett’s Molloy (1951) are discussed as modernist innovators of the form and its modes of critique. James Kelman’s How Late It Was, How Late (1994) involves a political characterisation of inner-voice narration which I argue makes the reader ‘complicit’ in the idiolect of a person of low socio-economic status. Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing (2013) provokes the question of whether witnessing a claustrophobically traumatised inner voice prohibits a reader’s empathic response, or encourages it. The narratological strategies of Leaving the Atocha Station (2011) by Ben Lerner are considered in relation to how ‘true’ political selfhood might be articulated as interiorised essence.

These novelists’ experimentation with forms of inner-voice narration runs counter to a common characterisation of the form as producing the solipsistic narrative of a fractured subject’s failure to self-transcend. The thesis notes the limits of this literary-historical understanding of interior monologue as a static monological method. Instead, the form is shown to interrogate the fault lines that border private and public interests. The thesis argues that interior-monologue forms of narration allow the reader to experience this conflict in its most condensed and personalised form, permitting the full tension and contradiction of the public/private relation to become revelatory. The innovators of post-war interior monologue present a freedom-orientated model of thought, where protagonists stoically preserve an unnegotiable ‘core’ of autonomy. This thesis shows that demands made on the reader to interiorise such a character’s interiority cultivates insights and modes of social critique unobtainable by other types of narration.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorCatherine Bergin (Supervisor) & Patricia McManus (Supervisor)

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