Advertisement

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

  • Elsa Cavalié

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Historical Detail Cultural Construct Grand Narrative Gold Leaf Contemporary Reader 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Bibliography

  1. Barker, P. (1991) Regeneration (New York: Viking).Google Scholar
  2. Barthes, R. (1986) ‘The Reality Effect’ in R. Howard (trans.) The Rustle of Language [1984] (New York: Hill and Wang), pp. 141–8.Google Scholar
  3. Baudrillard, J. (1994) Simulacra and Simulation [1981], S. Glaser (trans.) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press).Google Scholar
  4. Boehm, K. (2011) ‘Historiography and the Material Imagination in the Novels of Sarah Waters’, Studies in the Novel, 43(2), 237–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bongie, C. (1991) Exotic Memories: Literature, Colonialism and the Fin de Siècle (Stanford: Stanford University Press).Google Scholar
  6. Brooke, R. (2005) ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ [1914] in The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke (Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing), p. 115.Google Scholar
  7. Calder, A. (1991) The Myth of the Blitz (London: Pimlico).Google Scholar
  8. Derrida, J. (2006) Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, P. Kamuf (trans.) (London: Routledge Classics).Google Scholar
  9. Freud, S. (2003) The Uncanny [1919], D. MacLintock (trans.) (London: Penguin).Google Scholar
  10. Fromer, J. (2008) A Necessary Luxury: Tea in Victorian England (Athens: Ohio University Press).Google Scholar
  11. Hollinghurst, A. (2011) The Stranger#x2019;s Child (London: Picador).Google Scholar
  12. Howkins, A. (1986) ‘The Discovery of Rural England’ in R. Colls and P. Dodd (eds) Englishness: Politics and Culture 1880–1920 (London: Croom Helm), pp. 62–88.Google Scholar
  13. Ishiguro, K. (1989) The Remains of the Day (London: Faber and Faber).Google Scholar
  14. Jameson, F. (1985) ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’ in H. Foster (ed.) Postmodern Culture (London: Pluto Press), pp. 111–25.Google Scholar
  15. Jameson, F. (1991) Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press).Google Scholar
  16. LaCapra, D. (2001) Writing History, Writing Trauma (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press).Google Scholar
  17. LaCapra, D. (2004) History in Transit: Experience, Identity, Critical Theory (Ithaca: Cornell University Press).Google Scholar
  18. Lyotard, J.-F. (1984) The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge [1979], G. Bennington and B. Massumi (trans.) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).Google Scholar
  19. McEwan, I. (2001) Atonement (London: Vintage).Google Scholar
  20. Mergenthal, S. (2003) A Fast-forward Version of England: Constructions of Englishness in Contemporary Fiction (Heidelberg: Winter).Google Scholar
  21. Miller, K. (2009) British Literature of the Blitz: Fighting the People#x2019;s War (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).Google Scholar
  22. Morra, I. (2013) Britishness, Popular Music, and National Identity: The Making of Modern Britain (London: Routledge).Google Scholar
  23. O’Connell, J. (2006) ‘Sarah Waters: An Interview’, Time Out, 7 February, http://www.timeout.com/london/books/sarah-waters-interview-l, date accessed 15 December 2013.
  24. Orwell, G. (2003) Nineteen Eighty-Four [1949] (London: Penguin).Google Scholar
  25. Parrinder, P. (2006) Nation and Novel: The English Novel from its Origins to the Present Day (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  26. Sturken, M. (2007) Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero (Durham and London: Duke University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Waters, S. (1998) Tipping the Velvet (London: Virago Press).Google Scholar
  28. Waters, S. (1999) Affinity (London: Virago Press).Google Scholar
  29. Waters, S. (2002) ‘Desire, Betrayal and “Lesbo Victorian Romps’”, The Guardian, 5 November, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/nov/05/fiction, date accessed 27 May 2013.
  30. Waters, S. (2006a) The Night Watch (London: Virago Press).Google Scholar
  31. Waters, S. (2006b) ‘Romance among the Ruins’, The Guardian, 28 January, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/jan/28/fiction.sarahwaters, date accessed 27 May 2013.

Copyright information

© Elsa Cavalié 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elsa Cavalié

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations