Critical enchantments: reading fictionality in the contemporary novel

Terrell, Charlotte (2018) Critical enchantments: reading fictionality in the contemporary novel. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

[img] PDF - Published Version
Download (2MB)


This thesis examines the resurgence of an enchanted idiom in the contemporary novel and shows how it frames questions about the type of enchantment that reading fiction can lay claim to, ranging from unresolved mysteries to authors who call themselves mediums. With reference to novels by J. M. Coetzee, Toni Morrison and Ali Smith, Critical Enchantments makes an intervention into the study of contemporary writing by reinstating the importance of the distinction between ‘the novel’ and ‘fiction’ at a time when the critical and political function of fictionality is deeply contested.

In the introduction I delineate the logic that enchantment and fictionality share – their invitation to recognise artifice and yet maintain a readerly investment in the artwork. The project is then organised around three lines of enquiry. Chapter one surveys the recent re-enchantment of literary reading practices: through a discussion of the recent work of critics such as Rita Felski and Timothy Bewes (and their Ricourean, Lukácian forbears), I locate an idiom of mystery and magic that structures Smith’s experiments with the idea of too-close reading as surveillance. The second chapter appraises the construction of fictional ‘belief’ that figures centrally both in Coetzee’s late fiction and, with recourse to novel and narrative theories of fictionality (particularly Catherine Gallagher’s), illustrates how concerns about belief find articulation in Coetzee’s recurring figure of the secretarial reader. The final chapter reads Morrison’s fiction alongside the reflexive critical trends that have formed in response to her creative and critical corpus; reversing my previous focus on fictional readers, I demonstrate the enchanting effects that Morrison’s extra-fictional anticipation of being read has on her readers.

Taken together, these scenes of critical enchantment tell a story about how the contemporary novel trades on the genre’s tradition of engaging with the mystifying effects of fiction on both readers and writers, and reveals how this mystification is indexical to a performance of authorship that anticipates critically adept readers.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Media, Arts and Humanities > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0750 Prose > PR0820 By form > PR0821 Prose fiction. The novel > PR0825.5 Special topics > PR0830 Other special topics, A-Z > PR0830.M94 Mystification
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 05 Feb 2019 14:50
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2022 15:48

View download statistics for this item

📧 Request an update