Peta Mayer: Misreading Anita Brookner


‘Anita Brookner deserves this detailed, sophisticated, brilliant reading that appreciates Brookner’s peculiar genius and uncovers the ways in which she does indeed write a different kind of novel. Given the intertextual, allusive nature of Brookner’s work and her extraordinary expertise on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European art and literature, Dr Mayer’s misreading of Brookner’s performative romanticism is entirely appropriate.'

Ann Holbrook, Professor of English at Saint Anselm College

About the Book

Anita Brookner was known for writing boring books about lonely, single women. Misreading Anita Brookner unlocks the mysteries of the famously depressed Brookner heroine by creating entirely new ways to read six Brookner novels.

Drawing on Brookner’s legacy as a renowned historian of French Romantic art and on diverse intertextual sources from Charles Baudelaire to Henry James, Renée Vivien and Freud, this book argues that Brookner’s solitary twentieth-century women can also be seen as variations of queer nineteenth-century male artist archetypes. Conjuring a cast of Romantic personae including the flâneur, the dandy, the aesthete, the military man, the queer, the analysand, the degenerate and the storyteller, it illuminates clusters of nineteenth-century behaviours which help decode the lives of Brookner’s twentieth-century women. This exploration of Brookner’s performative Romanticism exposes new depths within her outsider introverts, who are revealed as a subversive blend of the historical, the contemporary, the masculine and the feminine.

What is 'Misreading'?

In The Anxiety of Influence (1973), Harold Bloom avers that no reading of a text will have a singular authority over meaning-making when he states that there are no interpretations but only misinterpretations and that there are only more or less creative or interesting mis-readings. Bloom’s distinction between more or less creative misreadings is founded on the notion that a strong misreading will effect a paradigm shift, or swerve, away from an established epistemology, whereas a weaker misreading will maintain or reinforce the prior dominant reading.

In the 1980s, Julia Kristeva’s coining of the term intertextuality complements Bloom’s concept of misreading. Building on Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of dialogism to underline how all texts are connected, Kristeva’s intertextualiy demonstrates that all texts are the product of culturally embedded reading formations. Intertextuality therefore reinforces Bloom’s formulation of misreading insofar as all texts engage with established reading conventions, for better or worse.

In Misreading Anita Brookner an attempt is made to swerve Brookner’s misreading to the intertextual world of French aestheticism and away from the heteronormative conventions of her early reception.