The presentation of the 'divided self' in John Banville's novels

Stoyanova, Antonia (2023) The presentation of the 'divided self' in John Banville's novels. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis focuses on the writing style of John Banville and, more particularly, on one of the major narrative features in his works, that of the ‘divided self’. As one of the recognised masters of style of our time, John Banville has honed his own unique style of writing. The typical Banville novel is a first-person retrospective narrative of an aging male character troubled by his painful memories of failure and loss. In a struggle to cope with their traumatic life experiences, Banville’s protagonists attempt to find answers to haunting existential questions and rediscover their identities in the face of emotional fragmentation. This sense of dislocation and displacement thus emerges as a major theme of Banville’s fiction and his works generally revolve around the internal conflicts of a ‘divided self’.

Although critics generally recognise the importance of the ‘divided self’ as a topic in Banville’s fictional work, they hardly devote any attention to how the theme of splitting is embodied in his narratives. The aim of this thesis therefore is to fill this research gap in existing literature on the topic by investigating how the language of the novels reflects the inner split of the characters and what linguistic mechanisms Banville exploits to create the ‘divided self’ effect. My analysis surveys the presentation of the ‘divided self’ through the lens of three different overarching linguistic categories: sensory modality, tense shifts and pronoun alternations. Each category will be explored in a separate chapter and its examination will be supplemented with a large collection of textual samples form Banville which will be closely analysed in terms of consciousness presentation. In my discussion of the use of sensory modality, I investigate the function of particular modal stances for constructing the image of the split personality and for conveying self-detachment in retrospective novels. My analysis of tense shifts explains how spatio-temporal oscillations facilitate the expression of self-division by creating a destabilised reality in which the speakers’ consciousness constantly fluctuates between the present and the past. By exploring pronoun alternations in the novels, I show how pronominal variations can act as an effective tool for embedding self-alienation and identity dissociation in the narrative composition.

The exploration of the ‘divided self’ phenomenon in Banville’s novels provides valuable insights into both the literary studies of John Banville and the narratological investigations of fictional consciousness in first-person texts. From a literary perspective, this analysis reveals the linguistic means through which the stylistic effect of division is achieved. From a narratological perspective, the main questions that are addressed concern the complex interactions between the narratological and ontological manifestations of the self in retrospective fiction – a significant, but not fully explored, aspect of consciousness presentation in first-person narratives. Thus, this research brings the two-fold benefit of providing an in-depth linguistic exploration of the theme of splitting in Banville’s works, while also deepening narratological knowledge of the construction of point of view and consciousness in first-person texts.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Sotirova, Violeta
Jackson, Joe
Keywords: John Banville, divided self, split self, linguistic mechanisms
Subjects: P Language and literature > PR English literature
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of English
Item ID: 74021
Depositing User: Stoyanova, Antonia
Date Deposited: 20 Jul 2023 09:53
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2023 09:53

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