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Marques imperceptibles et souillures indélébiles ; sur les traces de l’enfant dans le roman britannique contemporain

Dirty Fingermarks and Tiny Footprints; on the Trail of the Child in Contemporary British Fiction
Camille François

Résumés

Cet article cherche à montrer comment le concept de trace tel qu’il est défini dans la pensée de Derrida, Levinas et Ricœur, permet de mieux comprendre certains paradoxes de l’écriture de l’enfance dans le roman britannique contemporain – plus précisément, c’est l’aliénation profonde à laquelle conduit la dimension mémorielle longtemps imposée à la figure de l’enfant qui nous intéresse ici. En effet, si la nature éthique de la trace n’est plus à démontrer, et que ce rôle joué par l’enfant fut longtemps un précieux ressort poétique des récits concernés, lorsque celui qui figure le signifiant pour un signifié absent n’est pas un objet mais un sujet en devenir, on comprend que le fonctionnement de la trace produise une violence sémiotique que des écrivains contemporains comme Martin Amis ou Doris Lessing ont cherché à contrer en substituant l’abject à l’aliénant, en jetant sur le devant de leur scène romanesque des corps infantiles grotesques et monstrueux qui permettraient de contrarier l’utilisation systématique de l’enfant en trace nostalgique de valeurs adultes. Ce dernier laisse désormais ses propres traces, même si le prix de ce sauvetage postmoderne pour le moins paradoxal semble être la conversion de la marque en souillure, la substitution de la présence révoltante à la dépossession par l’absence.

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Texte intégral

  • 1 ‘Childhood is whatever adults have lost and maybe never had. How can any adult writer convincingly (...)
  • 2 In his literary history of childhood, Peter Coveney dedicates a chapter tellingly entitled “Reducti (...)

1In Memory, History, Forgetting, Paul Ricœur describes the trace according to Plato as ‘the present representation of an absent thing’ (Ricœur 7). Interestingly, this is also an apt definition of the child’s status in fiction, one whose antithetical phrasing suggests difficulties may arise from literary representation. Children are indeed condemned by their inarticulate nature to be written by adults—and, in the sort of literature that interests us here, to be read by them too. It ensues that because they are precisely what every adult writing or reading it can be depended upon to have lost, their presence in the text is always an awkwardly uncertain one,1 which unsurprisingly prompted the writing of essays with such alarming titles as The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction, Elusive Childhood: Impossible Representations in Modern Fiction or ‘A Loss Beyond Imagining: Child Disappearance in Fiction’. Owing to this intrinsic elusiveness, and through a strange metonymic displacement, the child further seems to have become a choice means of representing absence-cum-presence, of lending such abstractions as the past the physical space of its own body in the text. In time, this gave rise to the child-centered nostalgic fictions of the turn of the 20th century,2 but in more recent years, it is the challenge set by the literary status of the child as haunted subject which writers have tended to find compelling. For the concept of the trace is a relational one—a trace is always the trace of something, and as such, it involves, as do the symbol or the sign, a play between present and absent, or in more linguistic terms, between signifier and signified. If this may be quite straightforward in more abstract cases, the nature of the child as would-be subject, as complex literary figure with a psychosocial referent, supposes a significant conflict in the superimposition of the image of the present object (the child) with that which is recalled through it (the various forms taken by the past), demanding that one reconsider how the vestigial status conferred on the child may threaten its presence in the text by shrouding it in the absence of another thing.

  • 3 In his seminal analysis of the ‘invention’ of childhood, Philippe Ariès explains how outmoded adult (...)
  • 4 Rose’s insight, here about children’s literature, applies beyond that scope: ‘the child is constant (...)
  • 5 George Boas explains how the age-old theory, given a new lease of life in the 18th and 19th centuri (...)
  • 6 See for instance R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island or Kipling’s Kim.
  • 7 In ‘The Child’s Eye and the Adult’s Voice: Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford’, Juliet Dusinb (...)
  • 8 Lessing for example turns the fashionable nature-over-culture bias into an all too present trace of (...)

2 Parallel to what was being done to its social counterpart, which soon became a repository of forgotten lore,3 the child in literature was indeed rarely considered interesting per se but as a locus for forsaken times, places, and values.4 The Industrial Revolution turned it into the embodiment of the pastoral (Lecercle 9), while the Enlightenment ensured that it became a haven for anti-intellectualism and free-roaming imagination (Coveney 40). It also served as a safety valve for civilised men to reconnect with their primitive selves, as put forward in the Law of Recapitulation,5 and illustrated in some boys’ adventure stories.6 Far from curbing the trend, the rise of psychoanalysis at the beginning of the 20th century gave it deeper roots in our collective imaginary by providing us with a picture of our past selves as the ‘inner child’ (Blum 248), thus encouraging yet more projections onto an already highly determined fantasy, while in fiction narrative devices allowing the re-experience of a childlike perception of the world flourished, setting their readers on similarly backward-looking quests.7 When conflated with Rousseau’s ever influential representation of the child as the voice of truth, because as yet uncorrupted by society, language and sex, these ideas produced a strangely conservative figure of the child in literature, that of an inverted prophet announcing what has already come, in the face of a disappointing present. Through the child then, traces of ideologies as apparently mutually exclusive as Romanticism and its heavenly youth, and Freudian tales of infantile sexuality, combined into child-centred texts obsessed with retelling the past. Feeling the weight of such an inheritance, its tendency to symbolical overload and contradiction, contemporary writers have attempted to assert their distance, from parody to downright condemnation, as in Doris Lessing’s modern-day gothic fable, The Fifth Child. In the novella, a form of poetic justice punishes David and Harriet Lovatt for their Romantic aspirations, by granting them just that backward child extolled by centuries of literature. Goblin-like, the throwback Ben is however only remotely akin to Rousseauist fantasies, and exposes in his literal savagery the disconnectedness between child as character on the one hand and child as symbol or trace on the other, reminding the reader of how the constant use of the latter risks leaving the former underdeveloped and incoherent.8

  • 9 ‘the trace . . . has something exceptional compared to other signs: it signifies outside of all int (...)
  • 10 The original and enlightening wordplay reads as follows: ‘des “expressions” de ce type . . . ne veu (...)
  • 11 This is the phrase Reinhard Kuhn finds most adequate to describe the child in Western literature in (...)
  • 12 In his reading of Husserl, Derrida posits signification as temporal, hence the key part played by t (...)

3 If it has proved so difficult for the child to shake off a memorial status which possibly hindered its development as a complex literary subject—a development from which several Others benefitted in the second part of the 20th century—it may be because its inherent qualities keep locking it back to this original representation. Etymologically, the child is an aberration as a subject, even more so in a verbal art such as fiction—infans, which has given us ‘infant’ and its derivatives, comes from the Latin in fari (who does not speak), and as such recalls what both Levinas and Derrida have identified as a key element of the trace. If it expresses something, the trace does so unwittingly,9 or, in Derridean terms, it has no vouloir-dire, that is, it does not mean anything because it does not mean to say anything.10 What then could be a better hermeneutic and heuristic tool, a more useful trigger of suspense in literature than the child as trace, than that which hints at the presence of meaning without actually meaning too, which is both silent and loquacious? The enigmatic child11 makes detective fictions of the texts it haunts, setting its readers on the trail of various origins, its silence demanding that the present be deserted for the benefit of hushed pasts. Yet what was long considered a precious narrative momentum, a way to eroticise the text through the child by suggesting without saying, and thus to create meaning through the deferral essential to the trace,12 again turned sour with time—with James more precisely, who, in The Turn of the Screw, showed through the figure of the governess how that quest was really manufactured by adults artificially thrusting children into the mould of trace—in that particular case, fantasised traces of evil, of past adult promiscuity. For there’s the rub, laid bare in Martin Amis’s London Fields among others: as trace, the child only ever leads beyond itself, othered by quests that bypass him. If the traces left on the bodies of young Kim and Marmaduke—cryptic triangle for the former, purulent eczema for the latter—temporarily make them a focus of narrative interest, the risk is for this to be withdrawn when, like the sign or clue of detective fiction, they lose their value through correct interpretation. And indeed, the geometrical marks which the narrator had first seen as one of baby Kim’s fascinating attempts at communication, are eventually deciphered as the sign of her mother’s addiction to child abuse, while Marmaduke’s scarred body will not let itself be read as the symptom of an infantile illness but as that of his father’s infidelities (Amis 243 and 410). Rewriting a very Victorian victimisation of children, Amis shows that within this particular framework, nothing is ever really found out about the child itself, barred as it is from leaving its own traces—instead the texts return to an omnipresent adult, his concerns, his values, his past and sins.

  • 13 The image is Plato’s, who, in the Theaetetus, links the trace with the imprint, ‘error being assimi (...)

4 In the first half of the 20th century however, some crime novel writers started their own little revolution by using to their advantage this inability of fiction to represent the child as anything other than a clue leading to an adult culprit—Margery Allingham’s The White Cottage Mystery and Agatha Christie’s Crooked House both capitalised on this to trick their readers with a child re-centred through crime. If not completely setting the child free of such patterns, this introduced some free play between child and trace, and allowed for the development of the child as wrong track in contemporary fiction, exposing its tiny footprints as forged, fitting too well the detective’s own larger shoe.13 Kazuo Ishiguro’s retrospective narratives, and more particularly When We Were Orphans, in which the remembering adult is also, quite aptly, a detective, illustrates this new failure of detection where the child is concerned—Christopher Banks, the esteemed sleuth, falters in his own footsteps retrieved from the past, and is forced to un-sew the threads of his life in a long and painful anagnorisis, as it dawns upon him that he has dreamed up the wrong past. Mesmerised by childhood-as-trace, as his desperate concern for the memory chest of his otherwise neglected adoptive child shows, Banks proves utterly unable to look actual childhood in the eye, to attend to it in the flesh (Ishiguro 157–159).

  • 14 ‘Her phantom growth, the product of an obsessive sorrow, was . . . necessary. Without the fantasy o (...)
  • 15 Ricœur reminds us of how the notion of eikon flirts with that of phantasma in both Plato and Aristo (...)
  • 16 ‘The figurative (representation) implies the relationship of an image to an object that it is suppo (...)

5 In some ways then, contemporary fiction seems doomed to represent obsessively the literary impossibilities of this inherited child, where the commentary on the past is perhaps as much an indictment as an inability to find an alternative. Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time is a case in point, with its child flaunted as early as the paratext, yet conspicuously absent from the diegesis, three-year old Kate having seemingly been kidnapped before the narrative starts. All the text provides us with in lieu of a child is a quasi-character of a spectral nature,14 the cause of which McEwan makes sure cannot escape us. The world he describes is indeed one in which the child has more than ever become that absurd repository of lost adult values—through the Childcare Commission sessions, its apocryphal handbook, but also through the girl’s father, who comes to regard the loss of his daughter less as that of a human being than of several childlike qualities he wishes he still possessed (McEwan 1992, 113–15). We come to the conclusion that if little Kate has become the essence of the past, it is quite logically because she has never been other than that, and her kidnapping therefore reads allegorically as the literary child vanishing in time, becoming the trace it long stood for. In her case as in others, time has eclipsed and vaporised space, or as Margarida Morgado puts it, ‘[a] child is no more principally physically concrete, but the discursive production of adults interested mainly in reliving their pasts’ (Morgado 247). This concern also finds a voice in Ackroyd, whose child protagonist in English Music is reduced to a mere textual echo, to the point that his very name is taken from him. Just as his father uses him to retrieve the original traumas from his audience’s pasts, Tim is set up as the reader’s means to revisit such classics as Alice in Wonderland or Great Expectations, compromising his identity a little more each time he is made to collide with older versions of childhood. Unable to answer the Red Queen’s simple question on one of his journeys (‘What are you?’), he is christened ‘Isoecho’, which, she tells him, ‘means I saw echoes’—a fine way to sum up the plight of the palimpsestic child (Ackroyd 31). Obviously, the problem is only made more acute by the postmodern condition and its ‘anxiety of influence’, and it highlights the complexity of our relation to the past, from what was since the Renaissance in danger of being lost and in need of being preserved, to what, after Freud’s rekindling of the old gothic fears, ruthlessly comes back to haunt and fragment the subject, what one cannot be rid of—an idea whose relevance to literature was shown by Harold Bloom. Both layered and see-through, forced into that fake thickness where representation actually means re-presentation, the child seems hopelessly fated to being written as an image of something that was, rather than as something that simply is.15 Stuck on the wrong side of Deleuze’s distinction between the figurative (or illustrative) and figural (non-representational) modes,16 condemned to tell a story in spite of itself, the child figure is deeply alienated by the workings of the trace, which, as ethically valuable as they may prove for the thing remembered, displace the memorial object, allow the embodiment of the absent through the disembodiment of what was there in the first place.

  • 17 In The Cement Garden, the final incestuous act between Jack and Julie takes place in a suspension o (...)
  • 18 Boas traces this idea of the child as a (dark) mirror of the soul back to Cicero’s De finibus (Boas(...)

6 Unable to wholly call off the child’s long relationship with the trace, contemporary fiction has nevertheless tried to provide its own answer to the crux by re-centering the trace, belying its emphasis on the barely visible and the secondary, in the footsteps of Derrida. One notices two major trends. The first integrates the vestigial quality of the child with more modern, contrasting representations, the conflation of which grants visibility to the paradoxical figure. Instead of a paper-thin child, used mostly as a pre-text, a stepping stone to older texts or ideas, the shocking superimposition rivets the reader’s attention in such a way that he or she is prevented, as they look back, to simply see through the child, now set up as an amnesic site of memory, the amoral condition of an ethics of fiction. McEwan thrives on such contradictions, whose fictional children indulge in incest and criminal accusations, unable as they are to comprehend any time other than the present.17 Yet it is precisely such a representation of the child which the novelist imbues with an ethical, memorial goal, by inscribing these atemporal deeds in a narrative timeline, with its string of consequences, and forcing us to confront wishfully forgotten forms of our own humanity. The fact that this should be done through the stained figure of the child, through a confrontation with the pre-moral, also allows the writer to sidestep didacticism and depend instead on his reader’s ability to properly decipher traces for an ethics of fiction to emerge. This time, the use of the child as specula naturae, hardly a novelty in itself,18 does not allow the mirror to be forgotten in the process—too many contrasting shadows can be spotted in the pane of glass.

  • 19 ‘Guy’s [Marmaduke’s father’s] bashfully inquiring face would somehow always invite a powerful eye-p (...)
  • 20 ‘But then isn’t the trace the weight of being itself . . .? The trace would be the very indelibilit (...)
  • 21 Questions are asked and answered with more, marking together with negative definitions and words su (...)

7 The second re-centring inverts the child/trace relationship. From tiny footprints to dirty fingermarks, the child no longer leads to adult concerns and pasts, but is allowed to leave its own traces through such a foregrounding of the body as prevents its being othered into a ghost. Doris Lessing, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, all attempt this paradoxical rescue of the child which seems to require that it is granted the power to stain, in its own turn, adult bodies and consciences. If Amis delivers the new child in the guise of grotesque, Rabelaisian Marmaduke, spraying the adults around with a mess of feces and vomit in a carnivalesque inversion,19 McEwan’s rendering is more darkly uncomfortable, and Lessing’s has an urgency about it which forbids our taking this as a simple lynching-game. The weight which is key to Levinas’s definition of the trace20 does indeed require heavier, more conspicuous bodies, crowding all visible space so as to prevent any reading of the child’s traces as the signifier to an unrelated signified. Again, Amis abolishes just that sort of semiotic transcendence, as signified and signifier are locked together in the child’s body: ‘Halfway through his fifth brick of honey, butter and bronzed wholemeal, Marmaduke released a dense mouthful and ground it into the tiles with a booted foot: a sign of temporary satiation’ (Amis 84). Monstrous, so spatial it impedes the intervention of time needed to produce signification, the contemporary child’s body is meant to make no sense, as the series of inconclusive descriptions in The Fifth Child also attests.21 For in this meaninglessness, the literary children of our time are allowed to simply be; they neither suggest nor represent, but earn their removal from the figurative into the figural, as semiotic alienation is replaced by a form of abjection which ensures that the child is isolated from interpretation, and given simple and perfect visibility. The Fifth Child ends on a string of questions spread over several pages (Lessing 2007, 156–58), from a mother faced with the unreadable body of her son, an open ending which allows for a sequel, Ben in the World, in which the monster-child has become the focaliser instead of a mere trace to be deciphered through his mother’s eyes—a literary subject, if not a social one.

  • 22 ‘In an age when it became increasingly difficult to grow up, . . . the temptation seems to have bee (...)
  • 23 The narrator admits to having ‘used’ baby Kim thus, depicting her infant flesh as the convenient cl (...)

8 The child in fiction has long been every writer’s Peter Pan, as Peter Coveney made clear half a century ago,22 yet contemporary writers have tended to choose Wendy over Peter. By bringing the ghostly present to the reader’s attention, giving full play to the conflict between the child as subject and its vestigial imperative, or salvaging the former regardless of how sullied it may have to be in the process, they have compromised between past and present instead of giving that constant childish glance over their shoulder. Weary of ceaseless interpretation, wary about the temptation of having everything tell a story, contemporary fiction has done its best to allow the child to become a subject by removing it just enough from its semiotic structure, by making its surprising body exceed readability in a last-ditch attempt to guard it from the peril of adult projections. Tentatively, it has displaced the ethical, memorial function of the trace into an ethical reading of it, one that both shows a distrust in the act of interpretation and an awareness of the interpreter’s duty to carefully listen to the polyphony of the trace, to acknowledge its three voices—of the original maker of the trace, of the absent thing recalled through it, and of the present, memorial object itself. The discredited figure of the detective, who pays attention to the latter only insofar as it leads him to the previous two, is kindly required to step down in favour of a reader as music-lover, whose trained ear only can do justice to the complexity of the subject-as-trace. In a characteristic poetic U-turn, London Fields eventually stages the child itself as its ultimate reader-interpreter. Retrieved from the rubble of a crumbling adult world and novel (the narrator is dead by this point), little Kim is now the recipient of fast-fading adult traces, for as the narrator writes in his letter to her on which the novel ends, ‘nothing can survive the death of the body . . . Children survive their parents. Works of art survive their makers. I failed, in art and love’ (Amis 469). The child whose body was long the writer’s blank page, his means to recover and aestheticise the past,23 now inherits the written page and, in a frame-breaking coda, eludes symbolic enslavement through being recast for the traditionally adult part of the reader—in this particular, tongue-in-cheek brand of fin-de-siècle literature, the child becomes a forward-looking postmodern tool, what survives the book’s so-called failure, a strange and fascinating combination of literary past, present, future.

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Bibliographie

Ackroyd, Peter, English Music (1992), Harmondswotth: Penguin, 1993.

Allingham, Margery, The White Cottage Mystery (1928), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978.

Amis, Martin, London Fields (1989), London: Vintage, 2003.

Ariès, Philippe, La vie familiale sous l’ancien régime, Paris: Seuil, 1973.

Ballantyne, R. M., The Coral Island (1858), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995.

Bloom, Harold, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (1973), 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.

Blum, Virginia, Hide and Seek: The Child between Psychoanalysis and Fiction, Chicago: Illinois UP, 1995.

Boas, George, The Cult of Childhood (1966), Dallas: Spring, 1990.

Christie, Agatha, Crooked House (1949), London: Fontana, 1959.

Coveney, Peter, The Image of Childhood: The Individual and Society (1957), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967.

Deleuze, Gilles, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (1981), trans. Daniel W. Smith, London: Continuum, 2005.

Derrida, Jacques, Speech and Phenomena, and other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs (1967), trans. David B. Allison, Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1973.

Derrida, Jacques, La voix et le phénomène (1967), Paris: PUF, 1993.

Dusinberre, Juliet, “The Child’s Eye and the Adult’s Voice: Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford”, The Review of English Studies 35.137 (February 1984): 61–70.

Honeyman, Susan, Elusive Childhood: Impossible Representations in Modern Fiction, Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2005.

Ishiguro, Kazuo, When We Were Orphans (2000), New York: Vintage, 2001.

James, Henry, The Turn of the Screw (1898), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.

Kipling, Rudyard, Kim (1901), Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994.

Kuhn, Reinhard, Corruption in Paradise: The Child in Western Literature, Hanover, NH: New England UP, 1982.

Lecercle, Jean-Jacques, Foreword to Wullschläger, Jacqueline, Enfances rêvées: Alice, Peter Pan… Nos nostalgies et nos tabous (1995), trans. Monique Chassagnol, Paris: Autrement, 1997, 7–12.

Lessing, Doris, The Fifth Child (1988), London: Harper Perennial, 2007.

Lessing, Doris, Ben in the World (2000), New York: Harper Perennial, 2001.

Levinas, Emmanuel, Humanism of the Other (1972), trans. Nidra Poller, Chicago: Illinois UP, 2003.

McEwan, Ian, The Cement Garden (1978), London: Vintage, 2006.

McEwan, Ian, The Child in Time (1987), London: Vintage, 1992.

Morgado, Margarida, “A Loss Beyond Imagining: Child Disappearance in Fiction”, The Yearbook of English Studies 32 (2002): 244–59.

Ricœur, Paul, Memory, History, Forgetting (2000), trans. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer, Chicago UP, 2006.

Rose, Jacqueline, The Case of Peter Pan or the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (1984), Philadelphia: Pennsylvania UP, 1993.

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Notes

1 ‘Childhood is whatever adults have lost and maybe never had. How can any adult writer convincingly represent such an inconsistent and imaginary position with any sense of authority?’ (Honeyman 4).

2 In his literary history of childhood, Peter Coveney dedicates a chapter tellingly entitled “Reduction to Absurdity” to such writings, in which the child had more than ever become ‘the convenient vehicle for the expression of regret and withdrawal’ (Coveney 192).

3 In his seminal analysis of the ‘invention’ of childhood, Philippe Ariès explains how outmoded adult dress and festivals would become fashionable wear and games for children (Ariès 82–85). So with archaic literary forms, which for Jacqueline Rose are preserved as children’s literature (Rose 60).

4 Rose’s insight, here about children’s literature, applies beyond that scope: ‘the child is constantly set up as the site of a lost truth and/or a moment in history, which it can therefore be used to retrieve’ (Rose 43).

5 George Boas explains how the age-old theory, given a new lease of life in the 18th and 19th centuries, sets up childhood as a space in modern times where primitive man is preserved, thanks to the correspondence it draws between the ages of humanity and those of an individual life (Boas 8 and 60–66).

6 See for instance R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island or Kipling’s Kim.

7 In ‘The Child’s Eye and the Adult’s Voice: Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise to Candleford’, Juliet Dusinberre writes: ‘the voice which acknowledges the power of memory to recreate and relive the experience of the child is that of the adult . . . Thompson allows the adult reader to be a child with Laura’ (Dusinberre 61–63). The emphasis on emotional involvement over intellectual distance, and the proximity between narrator and character are staple features of this type of narrative, very popular at the turn of the 20th century. Like the ambiguous nature of Carroll or Barrie’s readership, they attest to the public’s passion for recovering the child’s eye view.

8 Lessing for example turns the fashionable nature-over-culture bias into an all too present trace of hunting instincts in her child character: ‘His [Ben’s] response to her nursery pictures was that he went into the garden and stalked a thrush on the lawn’ (Lessing 2007, 82).

9 ‘the trace . . . has something exceptional compared to other signs: it signifies outside of all intention of making a sign’ (Levinas 41).

10 The original and enlightening wordplay reads as follows: ‘des “expressions” de ce type . . . ne veulent rien dire car elles ne veulent rien dire’ (Derrida 1993, 38).

11 This is the phrase Reinhard Kuhn finds most adequate to describe the child in Western literature in his comprehensive study of the theme. He links up the two notions—of trace and enigma—by dedicating the first part of a chapter entitled ‘The enigmatic child’ to ‘Traces in the sand’ (Kuhn 16).

12 In his reading of Husserl, Derrida posits signification as temporal, hence the key part played by the child’s silent, differing presence. ‘Sense, being temporal in nature, as Husserl recognized, is never simply present; it is always already engaged in the “movement” of the trace, that is, in the order of “signification”’ (Derrida 1973, 85).

13 The image is Plato’s, who, in the Theaetetus, links the trace with the imprint, ‘error being assimilated . . . to a mistake akin to that of someone placing his feet in the wrong footprints’ (Ricœur 8).

14 ‘Her phantom growth, the product of an obsessive sorrow, was . . . necessary. Without the fantasy of her continued existence he [Stephen] was lost . . . He was the father of an invisible child’ (McEwan 1992, 2).

15 Ricœur reminds us of how the notion of eikon flirts with that of phantasma in both Plato and Aristotle: being represented as an image, a fiction within a fiction, is for the child a risk not to exist at all, to always be at a second remove from its reader (Ricœur 7, 11 and 17).

16 ‘The figurative (representation) implies the relationship of an image to an object that it is supposed to illustrate . . . the Figures are relieved of their representative role.’ Intended for Bacon’s paintings, Deleuze’s dichotomy transfers well to fiction (Deleuze 2 and 7).

17 In The Cement Garden, the final incestuous act between Jack and Julie takes place in a suspension of time which enables the suspension of moral imperatives: ‘Julie said, “I’ve lost all sense of time . . . I can’t really remember how it used to be when Mum was alive and I can’t really imagine anthing changing. Everything seems still and fixed and it makes me feel that I’m not frightened of anything”’ (McEwan 2006, 134).

18 Boas traces this idea of the child as a (dark) mirror of the soul back to Cicero’s De finibus (Boas 14).

19 ‘Guy’s [Marmaduke’s father’s] bashfully inquiring face would somehow always invite a powerful eye-poke or a jet of vomit, a savage rake of the nails, or at the very least an explosive sneeze . . . his face was heavily scored’ (Amis 29).

20 ‘But then isn’t the trace the weight of being itself . . .? The trace would be the very indelibility of being, its all-mightiness with regard to all negativity’ (Levinas 42).

21 Questions are asked and answered with more, marking together with negative definitions and words such as ‘strange’ or ‘alien’, the failure of every attempt at interpretation (Lessing 2007, 60, 126–27 and 145–46).

22 ‘In an age when it became increasingly difficult to grow up, . . . the temptation seems to have been for certain authors to . . . regress . . . into a world of fantasy and nostalgia for childhood. Over one line of art, distinguishable at the end of the century, lay the seductive shadow of Peter Pan’ (Coveney 32).

23 The narrator admits to having ‘used’ baby Kim thus, depicting her infant flesh as the convenient clay on which the world left its imprint: ‘things create impressions on babies . . . Everything created impressions on you. The exact crenellations of a carpet on your thigh; the afterglow of my fingerprints on your shoulders; the faithful representation of the grip of your clothes. A bit of sock elastic could turn sections of your calves into Roman pillars. Not to mention hurts, like the bevel of some piece of furniture, clearly gauged on your responsive brow’ (Amis 470).

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Référence électronique

Camille François, « Marques imperceptibles et souillures indélébiles ; sur les traces de l’enfant dans le roman britannique contemporain », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 44 | 2013, mis en ligne le 29 novembre 2013, consulté le 22 octobre 2017. URL : http://ebc.revues.org/547 ; DOI : 10.4000/ebc.547

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Auteur

Camille François

Université de Picardie — Jules-Verne
Camille François is a former student of the École normale supérieure, holder of the agrégation, and is currently working on a doctoral thesis at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne, where she also teaches literature and translation. Her research focuses on how childhood is written in contemporary British fiction and more particularly in the works of A. S. Byatt, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Kazuo Ishiguro and Doris Lessing. She has written several articles in both French and English on the topic, and is particularly interested in the traditional associations of the child with perception, imagination and the figure of the poet, representations of the child's body, or how the presence of the child in a given text may influence aesthetic and ethical choices.

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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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