Janette Turner Hospital’s Radical Re-Writing: Oedipal Charades

Janette Turner Hospital is a writer who travels: geographically, spiritually, emotionally, generically. She takes risks, crosses borders, makes radical departures (her third novel is entitled Borderline). Yet she never really leaves anything behind. She is conscious above all of baggage, and makes constant returns to the past to rework its legacy. 'Archaeology' is one of her favourite tropes. Being a traveller means to belong nowhere, to be 'out of place' wherever one is (Dislocations is the title of her first collection of short stories). To preserve a sense of continuity, which is simultaneously a sense of self, the traveller makes connections between dispersed elements: places, times, cultures, people, orders. This is reflected in the title of her second collection of stories, Isobars. Yet there are certain constants in both her writing and her life. One is her commitment to feminism, however shifting. Another is literature itself - or rather, narrative. The titles of three of her novels, The Ivory Swing, The Tiger in the Tiger Pit, and Charades, are all direct references to literary classics from disparate cultural traditions. If Shakespeare might be considered the ghost behind Tiger, Dante's Inferno is being rewritten in Borderline, and Scheherezade in Charades. The emphasis is on the retelling. As a student of narrative herself (her MA focused on late-medieval quest narrative), Hospital is aware that narrative structures are gendered masculine. In the archetypal quest genre, woman can only appear as a locus in the male plot. This is no less true of medical and 'scientific' narratives, even those which purport to take 'woman' as their starting point. A re-writing of such narratives from the female point of view requires a deliberate and deeply ironic intervention. Hospital's novels are all radical re-writings of the quest archetype, the quest for such a re-writing itself increasingly ironised as her literary progress continues.

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Published 1 October 1996 in Volume 17 No. 4. Subjects: Characterisation, Identity, Imagery, Self, Writer's craft, Writer's inspiration.

Cite as: Bergmann, Laurel. ‘Janette Turner Hospital’s Radical Re-Writing: Oedipal Charades.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 17, no. 4, 1996. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.88f1c887c8.