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Travel and Home in Homer's Odyssey and Contemporary LiteratureCritical Encounters and Nostalgic Returns$
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Carol Dougherty

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198814016

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198814016.001.0001

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“More like Odysseus”

“More like Odysseus”

Playing House in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient

(p.21) 1 “More like Odysseus”
Travel and Home in Homer's Odyssey and Contemporary Literature

Carol Dougherty

Oxford University Press

This chapter offers a reading of Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 novel The English Patient in which four characters take refuge in an abandoned Italian Villa outside Florence in the final year of World War II trying to put themselves and their stories back together again. While Odysseus, too, takes up temporary residence with Calypso, Circe, and the Phaeacians as he makes his way home, the Odyssey doesn’t choose to dwell on or in these homes on the road for long, focusing instead on its hero’s return to Ithaca, and so reading the Odyssey together with The English Patient suggests that the comforts of home might be complemented by the possibilities of travel as much as they are put in tension with movement. A recurrent theme in Michael Ondaatje’s fiction is a fascination with “people who are tentative about where they belong,” and The English Patient appropriates a sense of the complications of and complementarities between travel and return that are already at play in Homer’s Odyssey and elaborates their potential in a contemporary postcolonial, postwar context. Not only can you take your home with you wherever you go, you can make your home wherever you go, as well, his novel suggests.

Keywords:   postcolonial, travel, domesticity, nomad, anonymity, Odyssey, The English Patient

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