“[T]he thing that makes us different from other people”: Narrating incest through “difference” in the work of Angela Carter, A.S. Byatt and Doris Lessing

Leeson, M. and Miller, E. (2018) “[T]he thing that makes us different from other people”: Narrating incest through “difference” in the work of Angela Carter, A.S. Byatt and Doris Lessing. In: Incest in Contemporary Literature. Manchester University Press, Manchester. ISBN 9781526122162

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Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop (1967) may initially appear to condone or excuse the incestuous relationship between siblings, Margaret and Francie. When the outsider to the household, Melanie, discovers their relationship, the siblings’ brother, Finn responds, “You know our heart’s core now, the thing that makes us different from other people.” Ferdinand de Saussure suggested that meaning is derived from what it is not, from its difference to the lexis it is positioned amongst. Derrida’s theory of différance elaborates Saussure’s consideration of difference by extending the methodology to cover all linguistic and pre-linguistic modes of sense and understanding. In Derridean terms then, the “incest” Margaret and Francie experience is not only understood as a word different to other words, but as a concept which is comprehended through its cultural context and its lack of other cultural contexts, through its relationship to the history of incest and everything it might become, but also on a more localised level it is understood in the terms of the house they reside within, its relation to the specific culture of that family and their particular past(s) and future(s).

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 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.

Essential to this chapter’s argument regarding the understanding of the persistence of the taboo and its narration, is Derrida assertion that in respect to the opposition of terms of meaning, or “marks”, “we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis-a-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand. To deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment. To overlook this phase of overturning is to forget the conflictual and subordinating nature of opposition.”

Publication Type: Book Sections
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Divisions: Academic Areas > Institute of Arts and Humanities > English and Creative Writing
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Miles Leeson
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2016 10:51
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2021 08:22
URI: https://eprints.chi.ac.uk/id/eprint/1945

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