‘It’s like gold leaf, and now it’s rising, peeling away’: Britishness and Exoticism in Sarah Waters’s The Night Watch

  • Elsa Cavalié


Many critics have observed that The Night Watch (2006) marks a turn in Sarah Waters’s fiction, for she abandons the lightness of tone prevalent in her ‘lesbo Victorian romps’ (Waters, 2002, n.p.) for a more historically charged setting — London in the 1940s.1 The radical change of period allows indeed for a very different intensity: the colourful, Dickensian atmosphere of Tipping the Velvet (1998) or Affinity (1999) is replaced with the depiction of the drab living conditions of wartime London, the playfulness and mysteries by the permanent sense of impending doom. However, The Night Watch still attempts, like Waters’s previous novels, to rewrite traditional history from the point of view of traditionally ‘forgotten’ characters, such as lesbians. And, like many recent works of historical fiction (one may think of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of Day (1989) for instance, which is set in approximately the same period), The Night Watch reverses the traditional writing of history by presenting a version of it experienced from the margins. Waters’s version of the Blitz is therefore written in a minor mode, setting aside historical landmarks and well-known figures to bring forward ‘little narratives’ (Lyotard, 1984, p. 60) and repressed memories.


Historical Detail Cultural Construct Grand Narrative Gold Leaf Contemporary Reader 
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© Elsa Cavalié 2014

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  • Elsa Cavalié

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