Trauma Narratives and ‘Herstory’ With a special emphasis on the work of Eva Figes

Event date: November 12– 13 2010
School of The Arts
The University of Northampton

Trauma Narratives and ‘Herstory’

With a special emphasis on the work of Eva Figes

School of The Arts, The University of Northampton (in collaboration with the University of Zaragoza, Spain)

I am a grandmother now and, like all grandmothers, I have a head full of stories about the past. But my stories are not like other people’s, which makes them more fascinating for my descendants, if not always easy to talk about. All of them are strange, in one way or another, but so were the times. (Figes, 2008: 1)

These words inaugurate Journey to Nowhere, the last work published by the British writer Eva Figes, and they seem to acknowledge the impulse of telling ‘herstory’ about the past, an impulse which has guided her throughout most of her literary career.

Following the ‘ethical turn’ in criticism of the 1980s, trauma studies emerged in the United States in the 1990s as an important critical trend; according to Roger Luckhurst, this was the period ‘when various lines of inquiry converged to make trauma a privileged critical category’ (2006: 497). Psychiatrists and psychologists started to study the psychological aspect of trauma in communities that had been affected by the Holocaust, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War. Then, study was extended to all communities that had suffered some kind of systematic abuse. The importance of trauma theory in literary studies has increased year on year with literary works seen as a site for the expression and working through of trauma. In this context, a plethora of trauma narratives by representatives of previously neglected social groups have come to the fore. According to the trauma critic Laurie Vickroy, recent literary studies have focused on women’s writing as well as Jewish writing (2002: 20).

Foremost among contemporary practitioners who represent trauma in their work is the British writer, Eva Figes. Having lost part of her family during the Holocaust, Figes emigrated from Germany to Great Britain as a child at the outbreak of the Second World War. Over 5 decades, Figes’ writing has consistently explored the themes of trauma, history and identity. Her work also reflects the ‘double’ marginalisation of the woman expatriate in patriarchal culture, which constitutes another form of traumatic exile. It portrays characters that are deeply traumatised, by the devastating effects of the Holocaust and/or by the patriarchal rules that society has traditionally imposed upon women.

In 2009 the British Library decided to acquire the rights to her personal archives. Yet, despite being an established writer and the recipient of literary prizes, Figes’ work has received relatively limited critical attention. For these reasons, we are giving Eva Figes pride of place in an international conference on the topic of trauma and ‘herstory’, at which we will have the pleasure of interviewing her. Papers are therefore invited on any aspect of trauma and ‘herstory’ in contemporary writing, and particularly in their treatment in Figes’ own work. We also welcome papers on the relationships that can be established between Figes and other contemporary writers who have contributed to the gendering of trauma narratives such as Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, Audre Lorde, Kate Millett, Anais Nin, Janet Frame, Sylvia Fraser, Anita Brookner, Elaine Feinstein, Bernice Rubens or Anne Karpf.


Keynote Address:

David Brauner, University of Reading (UK): 
Jewish Mothers and Jewish Memory in the Work of Jenny Diski, Eva Figes and Linda Grant




Cindy Chavez , St Louis University, Madrid Campus:
Stealing the Pen-is: Remembering the literal and literary female body in Theresa Cha’s ‘Dictee’.

Olga Glebova, Jan Dlugosz University of Czestochowa (Poland):
Trauma, female identity and the trope of splitness in Figes, Lessing, Tennant and Weldon

Corina Crisu, University of Bucharest (Romania):
An Interstice of Silence: Narrating Rape in Oates`s “The Girl with the Blackened Eye” and Sebold`s The Lovely Bones

Sorcha Gunne, Warwick University (UK):
‘Walking on Broken Glass’: narratives of trauma and tortured bodies in Bitter Fruit by Achmat Dangor and David’s Story by Zoё Wicomb

Carmen Melchor Iñiguez , Universidad Camilo José Cela, Madrid, (Spain):
Aurora de Albornoz, Autobiography, Trauma and the Spanish Civil War

Sue Ryan-Fazilleau, Universite La Rochelle (France):
Samson and Delilah: Herstory, Trauma and Survival

Malgosia Godlewska, Ateneum, University of Gdansk (Poland):
History and Fiction in the Process of Recovery of Lost Identity in Tales of Innocence and Experience by Eva Figes

Daniela Babilon, University of Paderborn (Germany):
Unreal Realities: Trauma Narratives, Rewriting History, and Magic(al) Realism

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