Fools and heroes
: The changing representation of the novelist-character

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis analyses the representation of the novelist as a fictional character in British and Irish literary fiction from the late 1920s, when the character first began to appear concurrently in the work of numerous authors, until the end of the twentieth-century. In the twenty-firstcentury the character has retained its prominence, which is why selected supplementary novels written post-2000 have been included in the early chapters (although not the case studies)
in order to demonstrate ongoing critical issues and suggest opportunities for further study. The most recently written novel to appear centrally – that is as a case study – is William Boyd’s Any Human Heart – which was actually published in 2002. However, as Logan Mountstuart was originally conceived as part of Boyd’s 1998 Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928-1960, I believe that Logan’s inclusion is justified within the twentieth-century time frame. Although the specific novelist-character (as opposed to the more general artistcharacter)
does feature within the nineteenth-century British novel, notably in Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield (1850) and George Gissing’s New Grub Street (1891), the character only begins to appear with increased regularity at the end of the 1920s with Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point (1928) and W. Somerset Maugham’s Cakes and Ale (1930). The aim of this thesis is to interrogate the variety of metafictional purposes and metaphorical which the
novelist-character can serve within the narrative, and to explore a range of critical issues that the presence of this character raises. This thesis also argues that the specific novelist-character is subject to a more cynical portrayal than the idealised artist-character/hero found in eighteenth and nineteenth-century novels, and examines causes behind this contrasting treatment.
In order to qualify as a novelist-character, the character in question must identify or define themself explicitly as a novelist rather than as any other kind of writer or artist. They must also demonstrate evidence of (or a preoccupation with) undertaking the process of writing a novel, and awareness of their position as a novelist. Many of the novelist-characters looked at are also the first person narrators of their novels; however it does not necessarily follow that
all first person narrators are also novelist-characters. Although first person narrators may be seen to be telling a story, the novelist-narrators selected for this thesis explicitly identify as novelists, and repeated references are made throughout the novel to their own writing. In several instances they also appear to author some or all of the narrative in which they feature.
Post-WWI, instances of generally artistic protagonists diminish, whilst the novelist-character begins to proliferate and continues to do so throughout the twentieth-century and into the twenty-first. This thesis will look at a range of historical, critical, and cultural reasons to sug-gest why this shift – from artist to novelist-character – occurs and why the novelist-character comes to be represented in such a distinct way. Depictions of the novelist-character are seen to be influenced by various, often contradictory, theoretical and historical thinking on the fig-ure of the novelist, in comparison with the figures of the artist, the author, and the writer. These are explored in Chapters One and Two.
Preliminary study indicated that there was no true progressive chronological deterioration of the novelist-character. Although appearances of the character in the 1980s-90s are seen as increasingly ambiguous, the character’s representation does not necessarily become more negative towards the end of the century. Instead it becomes apparent that the character was, from the outset, typically depicted with derision – in fact the earliest novel looked at, Hux-ley’s Point Counter Point, contains one of the most negative portraits. Whilst this does not preclude the impact of certain historical factors upon the portrayal of the novelist-character it dictated a thematic rather than chronological organisation of the case studies, which make up Chapters Three, Four, and Five. The scope of this study, along with the lack of preceding work on the analysis of the novelist-character, has necessitated the wide range of novels ex-plored within this thesis. Each of the case study chapters focuses on a particular purpose which the novelist-character is seen to serve within the novel and examines it along with similar or comparative utilisations of the character. The three different aspects of the novelist-character’s function explored in Chapters Three-Five are (i) autobiographical – in which the writer utilises their own biographical material in the depiction of the novelist-character; (ii) framing device – in which the novelist-character is employed as part of a metafictional frame narrative; (iii) metaphorical – in which the novelist-character is seen to perform a role which acts as a metaphor for the function of the novelist.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorRichard Kirkland (Supervisor) & Clare Pettitt (Supervisor)

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