Dialogues with the Dead: History and the ‘Sense of an Ending’, 1990–2000

  • Diana Wallace


The 1990s were, as Patricia Waugh put it, an ‘era of belatedness, of a generalised “post”-condition’ (1995, 33). Theorists talked about ‘postmodernism’, ‘poststructuralism’, ‘postcolonialism’, ‘post-industrialism’, ‘post-feminism’, ‘post-nationalism’, the ‘post-human’, ‘late capitalism’ and ‘the end of history’. For Frederic Jameson, it was precisely this ‘inverted millenarianism’ with its ‘senses of the end of this or that’ which constituted postmodernism, defined as a radical break with ‘the 100-year-old modern movement’ (1991, 1). For women the 1990s were most obviously ‘post-feminist’, not in the sense that the battle for equality had been won, but because they found themselves facing an anti-feminist backlash.1 The language of revolutionary feminism might be everywhere, co-opted by the global market in order to sell consumer goods, but the actual economic and political gains made by women often seemed illusory.


Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Literary Critic Woman Writer Happy Ending Historical Romance 
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  1. 1.
    In the early 1990s, several influential texts by American feminists — Susan Faludi, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women (1992).Google Scholar
  2. Marilyn French, The War Against Women (1992).Google Scholar
  3. Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth (1990) — as well as Linda Grant’s Sexing the Millennium: A Political History of the Sexual Revolution (1993) made it clear that the battle was still ongoing. In 1997, Natasha Walter’s The New Feminism attempted to celebrate the new freedoms enjoyed by young women. But, as she admitted, women still lacked real economic and political equality.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    Alex Owen, The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England (1989).Google Scholar
  5. Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830–1980 (1985).Google Scholar
  6. Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (1992) appear in the Author’s Notes to several novels.Google Scholar
  7. Owen is cited as a source by A.S. Byatt for Angels and Insects (1992), for instance.Google Scholar
  8. Michèle Roberts for In the Red Kitchen (1990).Google Scholar
  9. Roberts also cites Showalter who is important for Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy. Patricia Duncker cites Garber in the notes to James Miranda Barry (1999).Google Scholar
  10. 6.
    Byatt has also cited Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Iris Murdoch (Kenyon, 1992, 19) as influences in the writing of Possession but far less attention has been paid to the equally important Heyer connection.Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    Two other important examples of texts which recover matrilineal genealogies are Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust (1975), where the narrator pieces together and partially re-lives the story of her step-grandmother, and L.C. (1986) by the American author Susan Daitch, which Hutcheon (1988) discusses as an example of women’s historiographic metafiction.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Barker’s exploration of the relationship between memory and history as trauma has important affinities with Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), one of the most important historical novels of the twentieth century, and where Morrison develops the concept of ‘re-memory’ in order to re-imagine the unimaginable in her recreation of the horror of slavery. Two incidents in Regeneration suggest that Barker may have been influenced by Beloved: Prior and Sarah nearly make love on a tombstone on which she can just make out the word ‘Beloved’ (1992, 93), and later Rivers remembers the use of bits in silencing American slaves (238).Google Scholar

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© Diana Wallace 2005

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  • Diana Wallace

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