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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more


A Problem of Her Own

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I am reading A Literature of Their Own. Elaine Showalter has justed quoted George Egerton (aka Mary Chavelita Dunne) complaining philosophically about the challenge of writing as a woman in an established male-dominated genre. Quite conventionally, she complains that:
I realised that in literature, everything had been better done by man than woman could hope to emulate. There was only one small plot left to tell: the terra incognita of herself, as she knew herself to be, not as a man liked to imagine her - in a word, to give herself away, as man had given himself away in his writings
And then this irony, apparently inintentioned, bursts into her essay:
Unless one is androgynous, one is bound to look at life through the eyes of one's sex, to toe the limitations imposed on one by its individual psychological functions. I came too soon.
Poor lady! Though this seems a candid admission of a sexual problem of prematurity, in fact she intends, rationally, to suggest how she is an historical anachronism, as she goes on to note how her late nineteenth-century novels with their stories of repression neatly predict the analyses of Freud.

The double-entendre is the stuff of Shakespeare and Donne, but it is wholly incongruous when encountered in a work of literary criticism. Written in 1932 (in "A Keynote to Keynotes"), it is all the more humorous when it so sharply illuminates the reserved innocence of a pre-war age, against the lewd sexualisation of the dirty minds of the twentieth century, of which mine is clearly no exception. But although "cumming" may seem a stock phrase of the modern porn writer, and hardly to be expected in a novelist seventy years ago, in fact the word has a 350 year old etymology as another meaning for orgasm, though it seems this was not the significance Egerton meant the word to assume here.

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