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Discrepant SolaceContemporary Literature and the Work of Consolation$
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David James

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198789758

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198789758.001.0001

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Elegy Unrestored

Elegy Unrestored

(p.88) 3 Elegy Unrestored
Discrepant Solace

David James

Oxford University Press

Showing how elegy thrives as vibrantly in contemporary narrative as in its natural habitat of poetry, Chapter 3 reads two grief-memoirs—Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life (2013) and Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk (2014)—alongside Colm Tóibín’s 2014 historical (and implicitly autobiographical) novel, Nora Webster. Together they ask not only whether grief’s intricacies can ever be captured in language but also whether the quest for such a language reaches for aesthetic consolations of its own, setting up an internal competition in these works between bereavement’s ingenious description and the proviso of inexpressibility that elegies often thematize. The chapter revisits critical accounts of elegy as a genre that has traditionally fostered solace, in order to show how Barnes, Macdonald, and Tóibín intensify elegy’s reflexivity and its capacity to resist the simplification of consolation itself as a flimsy remedy bent on resolution.

Keywords:   elegy, grief, bereavement, memoir, Julian Barnes, Helen Macdonald, Colm Tóibín

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