The internalized narrative: A study of lyricism and irony in the novels of Anita Desai and Anita Brookner

Manini Nayar Samarth, Purdue University


The subject of an internalized novel is the writer's flow of consciousness, rather than action in time and space. Since the subject is the writer's inner life, the themes explore her psychological and spiritual development. Consequently, when read in chronological order, the works by Desai and Brookner dramatize and mirror the novelist's evolving sense of selfhood. The evolution of the self is specifically reflected through the novelist's 'persona,' her female protagonist, who grows through emotional conflict into enlightened awareness. Desai's fiction is lyrical, because, as in lyric poetry, it combines the self (the writer/protagonist) with society through epiphanic insight. The achievement of selfhood is therefore defined by a sense of mystic unity or belonging to a stable and known world. In contrast, Brookner's ironic novels express the failure of a self/world synthesis in an arbitrary and amoral wasteland. Selfhood is defined by the ability to confront and resist the corrosive effects of abandonment and homelessness. These diametric responses to alienation lead to two affirmative modes of closure. In Desai's lyrical novel, the self rests in grace attained through vision. In Brookner's ironic novel, it generates the courage to survive isolation through stoical acceptance or by the creation of a private fiction. Either way, both modes of closure denote a triumph of character over situation, of will over circumstances, thereby establishing the resilience and creative power of the spirit. Finally, the writer's quest for selfhood in her fiction proves analogous to her political struggle to assume a coherent identity within the constraints of a patriarchal tradition. Thus these novels, though not overtly feminist, may be categorized as female existential fiction--implying that existentialism, like every socio-political tradition, includes its gender prerogatives.




Adler, Purdue University.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

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