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Marie-Luise, Kohlke, and Christian Gutleben, eds.
Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma: The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering

Michel Morel
p. 215-217
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Kohlke Marie-Luise, and Christian Gutleben, eds. Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma: The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2010. 412 p. ISBN 978-9042032309, 99 €

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1This is the first volume in Rodopi’s Neo-Victorian Series edited by Marie-Luise Kohlke and Christian Gutleben: twelve essays about 30 pages each (412 p.), in three parts—Crises of faith, Identity, Sexuality; Crises of Truth and Memory; Crises of Nationhood, Empire and Afterimages—with separate bibliographies and general index; a highly rewarding and enlightening ensemble that, beyond the varied cases investigated, will interest researchers and students in both fields of neo-Victorian fiction and the indispensable concept of trauma (163), not only from within the domain but in a critical approach inspired by neo-colonial studies.

2The writings analysed are those of Beryl Bainbridge, Charles Dickens, Robert Edric, John Fowles, Kate Grenville, David Mitchell, Nuala O’Faolain, Julian Rathbone, Graham Swift, Jane Urquhart. The domains investigated go from the individual to the collective: Incest (Mark Llewellyn), Darwinism (Georges Letissier, Catherine Pesso-Miquel); Mourning, the Victorian canon and Canada (Elodie Rousselot), the Neo-Victorian nation (Dianne F. Sadoff), the Colonial (Dianne F. Sadoff, Celia Wallhead with Marie-Luise Kohlke, Elisabeth Wesseling), Australia and the aboriginals (Kate Mitchell), The Indian mutiny (Marie-Luise Kohlke), The Great Hunger in Ireland (Ann Heilmann), The Crimean War (Vanessa Guignery), and postmodernism revisited (Christian Gutleben with Julian Wolfreys).

3Two directions of analysis are adopted, one from inside, the other from outside:

4First, ‘Trauma’ seen from the inside: Trauma criticism as the site of multi-viewed conflicted textual and critical interpretations, the special interest of the book being that it is conflicted in itself. Four most salient aspects come out. First, the notion itself: on the basis of Cathy Caruth’s definition of trauma as that which ‘continually returns, in its exactness, at a later time’ (362), with the key question: what exactly ‘counts as trauma’? (227). Second, the psychoanalytical approach (Freud and Lacan) mainly centred on the notions of mourning (345) and of the inexpressible (336), and more generally on the idea of the repressed and its return. Third, the relation between history and fiction (279), with the question of anachronism: the role of the novel as after-witnessing (244) v. reconstructing the past in reference to our mores; competing versions of the past in the case of historical catastrophes; commemoration v. forgetting; reconstruction v. voyeurism, the impossibility of representing extreme suffering. Fourth, the reader’s stance and quelled voyeurism alongside with the allied questions of trauma tourism (298 and 324), and conversely the romanticization of trauma as a transcultural and trans-historical bridge (188); the difficulty of communicating the traumatic experience, the notion of ‘empathic unsettlement’ (269) as the only answer to the risks of empathy (181).

5Second, ‘Trauma’ seen from the outside: a trans-ideological approach by a group of critics who seem to support a position clearly summarized by Stef Craps in the summer 2012 number of The Messenger (17-18), a most rewarding and promising line of interpretation based on key refusals and corresponding projects. Two major refusals: concerning first the limitations of the notion’s post-war foundations (232), and the still predominating Eurocentric vision amounting to the creation of a ‘new’ Orient (395), and second, the dangers of the tragic machinery in connection with the hypnotic fall-outs of empathy (hence the whole problem of narration), and possibly some aspects of the psychoanalytical approach itself. A series of proposals for a new trauma criticism: a decentring away from ‘othering’ in the direction of cross-cultural solidarity and the attendant conception of a radical otherness seized in its own context (395); the consequent opening of the notion, away from its Eurocentric origins and the normative assumptions ruling the ‘consumption of trauma by the academic world of trauma studies’ (344), hence its dominant version of trauma criticism; the orientation beyond its preferential aesthetic forms—mostly Modernism and fragmentation, and Postmodernism and indirection—toward open strategies of representation and resistance (Craps) aiming at the rendition of all types and forms of trauma and their very specificity.

6This is what the collection of articles put together and so felicitously introduced by Christian Gutleben and Marie-Luise Kohlke—the fourth part of this introduction devoted to narration is absolutely central for our studies—successfully contributes to: the fascinating adumbration of a matured and more open trauma criticism yet to be fully implemented in the distanced orientation here programmatically adumbrated.

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Michel Morel, « Marie-Luise, Kohlke, and Christian Gutleben, eds.
Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma: The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering
 », Études britanniques contemporaines, 43 | 2012, 215-217.

Référence électronique

Michel Morel, « Marie-Luise, Kohlke, and Christian Gutleben, eds.
Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma: The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering
 », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 43 | 2012, mis en ligne le 15 juillet 2014, consulté le 18 août 2017. URL : http://ebc.revues.org/1336

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Michel Morel

Université Nancy 2.

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Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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