Editor: Miles Leeson

This is the first edited collection of essays which focuses on the incest taboo and its literary and cultural presentation from the 1950s to the present day; it considers a number of authors rather than a single author from this period. This study discusses the impact of this change in attitudes on literature and literary adaptations in the latter half of the twentieth century, and early years of the twenty-first century. Although primarily concerned with fiction, the collection includes work on television and film. This collection will enhance the growing academic interest in trauma narratives and taboo-literature, offering a useful contribution to a fast-evolving field of artistic criticism which is concerned with the relationship between social issues and creativity. Authors discussed include Iain Banks, A.S. Byatt, Angela Carter, Simone de Beauvoir, Ted Hughes, Doris Lessing, Ian McEwan Iris Murdoch, Vladimir Nabokov, Andrea Newman and Pier Pasolini and Sylvia Plath.

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Miles Leeson and Emma V. Miller
in Incest in contemporary literature
Science fiction and the futures of the body
Alistair Brown

In evaluating the interplay of biological and social interpretations of the incest taboo, most literary commentaries have used fiction to show how notions of incest have changed historically through the variable of culture; in these accounts, the biological body remains a constant, whilst society adapts its parameters for what counts as incest. However, science fiction introduces material embodiment itself as a variable, as it hypothesises bodies that can be altered (e.g. through genetics) or even eliminated (e.g. through virtualising the mind via a computer). Through comparing three science fiction novels, this chapter evaluates whether such changing types of embodiment will also change the way in which society approaches the incest taboo, or even remove it entirely.

in Incest in contemporary literature
Metaphor and relation in the poetry of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath
Charles Mundye

In his selections for Tales from Ovid (1995) Hughes includes several incest narratives: 'Myrrha', 'Venus and Adonis (and Atalanta)', 'Pygmalion', and 'Tereus'. In arguing that they, in addition to other 'late' Hughes poems, develop dialogic relationships with Plath's earlier texts, the chapter builds upon Lynda K. Bundtzen's observation that Hughes's Birthday Letters (1998) is centrally informed by Ovid's tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. Analysing the self reflexiveness of aspects of Ovidian narrative, Philip Hardie has commented upon the 'narcissistic and incestuous relationship between author and his book.' The complexities that Hardie outlines in Ovid's relationship with text are extended in the chaoter to consider the relationships of the two poets, Plath and Hughes, with their own and each other's texts. In the process of pursuing this idea across key poems by Plath and Hughes, the chapter further explores ways in which Ovidian mythology is transformed not only through translation but also through its proper and improper relation with other mythologisations and metaphorisations. These range from the Garden of Eden, and different versions of the Underworld, and return us to Shakespeare.

in Incest in contemporary literature
Sibling incest, class and national identity in Iain Banks’s The Steep Approach to Garbadale (2007)
Robert Duggan

The work of Iain Banks has been prominent in exploring the crossing of different kind of borders: national, aesthetic and generic, ontological, gender and class to name but a few. Banks has also been part of a wider preoccupation in contemporary Scottish writing to do with inhabiting border zones, where the border ceases to be an idealised geometric line with almost no width or physical extension, and instead broadens to become a site that one can reside in, the ground against which the figure emerges. The Bridge, along with The Crow Road (1992) forms the background of the chapter. This chapter will illuminate how The Steep Approach to Garbadale’s continuation of and departure from the border explorations and reflections on national identity of his earlier books is rendered through the crucial deployment of the motif of sibling incest in the novel.

in Incest in contemporary literature
Narrating incest through ‘différance’ in the work of Angela Carter, A.S. Byatt and Doris Lessing
Emma V. Miller and Miles Leeson

Using Carter’s textual relationship with Saussure and Derrida as a starting point, this chapter will examine the writing of two other “literary” female authors and their narratological engagement with incest and difference with regard to Derridean différance. This will include a discussion of A.S. Byatt’s writing of incest and the assertion of familial class difference in Morpho Eugenia (1992). Similarly in Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962), there is also a social and cultural hierarchy of difference, which is expressed through the telling of incest. By linking the difference of both the incestuous and the separateness of the notebooks a reading of transcription will suggest that incest does not only fill the abject space but comes perilously closer to home.

in Incest in contemporary literature
Adaptation and reception of Andrea Newman’s A Bouquet of Barbed Wire (1969)
Frances Pheasant-Kelly

Engaging with adaptation theory and narrative theory, and relevant contemporaneous critical reviews, this essay textually analyses Newman’s original novel and its television adaptations and considers these in relation to audience reception, as well as to other similarly placed literary adaptations. In analysing the repression of incestuous desire, and the sado-masochistic themes that arise in A Bouquet of Barbed Wire, this chapter also refers to Freudian psychoanalysis, connecting the themes of incestuous desire, and associated guilt-induced masochism to narrative theory in the way that these dual fantasies propel the narrative forward. Finally, this essay comments upon incest as taboo in interpreting audience reception.

in Incest in contemporary literature
Narrative, affect and judgement in and across the Lolitas
Matthew Pateman

Through intertext, adaptation, nominative re-births and epiphanies, Lolita (1955) enacts a kind of incestuous narcissism, a self-consuming act of libidinality and linguistic desire that offers a fantasy of self-exculpation and discovery, a narrative of abuse and trauma, and a meta-fiction that revels in the performative perversions its characters suffer from. Each part of the novel is born of an incestuous relationship with an earlier (part of the) text, every subsequent re-statement of Lolita carries this textual-familial weight.

This essay frames an analysis of the novel and its two filmic daughters in the light of these three strands: a realist fantasy of a man’s maniac relationship with a girl who becomes his daughter and sexual partner; his ‘confession’, her distorted trauma tale; the various formal, stylistic, intertextual “incests” that stand in dizzying juxtaposition to the ‘ethical impact’ assigned to it by the pre-facing John Ray Jr.

in Incest in contemporary literature
Remembering incest in A Thousand Acres (1991), Exposure (1993) and Beautiful Kate (2009)
Rebecca White

During the 1990s, such inherent difficulties in recalling and expressing abuse were heightened by the so-called 'Memory Wars', as the Recovered Memory Movement (which advocated the validity of women's rediscovered recollections of trauma) conflicted with the theories of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (which maintained the tendency for (misguided) therapists to implant experiences in their (generally female) patients' minds). Working within this often volatile critical context, Jane Smiley's A Thousand Acres (1991) and Kathryn Harrison's Exposure (1993), together with Rachel Ward's film version of Newton Thornburg's Beautiful Kate (2009), embody the tense interplay between the 'real' and the reconstructed that characterises debates about incest and memory. All three texts engage with the ambiguities associated with recounting incest, not least through their status as fictions - as fabrications. Recalling and reworking the very notion of False Memory Syndrome, Smiley and Harrison reclaim and rewrite male-authored stories, implanting them with the perspectives of subjugated daughters.

However, over a decade later, Rachel Ward's Beautiful Kate presents something of a turning point, as this critically-acclaimed film marries explicitness and artistry, and, in doing so, confronts openly the memory of incest.

in Incest in contemporary literature
The spectacle of dissection
Stephanie Codsi

Stephanie Codsi considers a Gothic constellation wherein Blake’s gruesome representations of dissection and critique of mathematical, disinterested calculation intersect with irony and self-parody. Finding a productive analogy between Gothic theatricality and spectacles of torture centering on figures such as Los and Jack Tearguts, Codsi traces the effects elicited by Blake’s art in the reader or viewer, effects that range from revulsion to laughter. In this context, a certain version of the Gothic becomes useful to Blake precisely for its regressiveness: by reading medical science as the field populated by so many absurd, blinkered Victor Frankensteins, Blake would cast rational demonstration and scientific surgery as philosophically and morally retrograde, as frighteningly primitive in their treatment of life as merely physical, appetitive, or—if we can pun on the horrible apes in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell—primate-ive.

in William Blake's Gothic imagination