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The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong
Irritative modernism and its stoic patients: Free indirect narration of illness in British modernist literature

‘Illness’ has been discussed in British literary modernism almost exclusively in the medical sense of the word. Especially concerning authors who battled with chronic illnesses, criticism tends to narrowly circumscribe the epistemology of illness by quoting biography and medical history while bypassing other implications that followed ‘illness’ in literary representations. Drawing on modernist narrative techniques in Virginia Woolf and Jean Rhys, this talk seeks to disentangle ‘illness’ from medicine and explores the affective residues of diagnostic practice. I postulate free indirect discourse (FID) as a narrative technique these authors deploy to de-medicalise pain, illness, and disabilities since it reveals the slipperiness of formative elements in the diagnostic practice, including patient’s autonomy, pain receptivity, subjective intentions, and identity. Divulging distinct depths of consciousness while leaving its intention inaccessible and attention irretrievable, FID irritates the expectation of a transparent pathogenesis as well as medical categorisation of bodyminds as either ‘pathological’ or ‘normal’. Being attentive to the narrativization of pain (rather than its symptoms) will generate new knowledge and identification when we are patient with our irritations. This talk would like to suggest that literary modernism, contra the instrumental role Rita Charon’s Narrative Medicine (2006) assigned to literary studies, explicitly intervenes in pain, depressive moods, or other afflictions.


Dr Chloe Leung graduated from her doctorate degree in English Literature at The University of Edinburgh. Her research interests include modernist studies, the medical humanities, and dance studies. Dr Leung has published articles on Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence on how free indirect narration overturns assumptions about the relationship between body and feelings. Her latest publication is on Woolf and Eugenic Modernism, which was recently published (Jan 2023) in Journal of Literary & Critical Disability Studies. Currently, Dr Leung is a full-time lecturer at The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong.

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Meeting ID: 915 9549 4352
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