Stories of Ageing

Stories of Ageing

Stories of Ageing

Stories of Ageing


"Mike Hepworth appears to have read every British novel from the last quarter century that is worth reading about old people (or not so old people) and he has percipiently focused on what matters in each of them. On many of the debates that stir Age Studies (are cyborgs the answer to physical decline? Can selfhood survive dementia? What exactly is the use of reading about old age?) he has thought long and written pithily. On social construction, for instance, he writes, 'Society always comes first. And yet...the body also always comes first.' Reading fiction and Age Studies together, through generous quotations, Hepworth gently refreshes both."
- Margaret Morganroth Gullette, author of Declining To Decline and (forthcoming) The New Time Machines: Practising Age Studies

• How is ageing represented in popular fiction?

• What is the role of the imagination in making sense of growing older?

• Do the ideas and images in popular fiction correspond or relate to ideas and images of ageing found in social gerontology?

This innovative book reflects the growing interest within gerontology in fictional representations of older age. It is about stories of ageing - full-length novels with central characters who are in the later part of life (50+) and experiencing the process of ageing as they move into older age. The book draws on symbolic interactionism for its main themes and centres around popular fiction that is widely read and easily available. Ranging from Agatha Christie through to Penelope Lively and Joanna Trollope, it shows how the novel can be a useful source of information about ways we all make sense of growing old. It looks at characters' personal experience of ageing, and the tensions between this and social attitudes towards them. These interactions are very difficult to research using conventional techniques of social investigation and readers are encouraged to explore their own selection of novels for other examples of meanings attached to the ageing process.

Stories of Ageing is engaging and accessible in ways rarely evident in existing literary gerontology. The aim is to enthuse readers to compare their own interpretations of the stories with stories of others, and thus to relate fictions of ageing to their own experience and to the work of social gerontologists. As a book combining sociological analysis, literature and a gerontological agenda, it is the first in its field. It opens up fiction as a resource for anyone interested in the process of growing old and is essential reading for all students, researchers and practitioners in the field.


This book is about stories of ageing. By stories of ageing I mean full-length novels which are about ageing as experienced by a central character or a small group of characters such as a married couple or a family. Under this heading I also include stories where ageing may not be the main interest of the writer but which include significant references to aspects of the ageing process or to older people. A large number of short stories about ageing have been written but with the exception of excerpts from the popular stories of James Herriot (If Only They Could Talk and All Things Wise and Wonderful), and those of David Renwick, the author of the widely acclaimed TV situation comedy on ageing, One Foot in The Grave, these are not included in this book. The reason is not because short stories are irrelevant - quite the contrary - but simply lack of space. My main aim in writing this book is to encourage you as readers to explore fiction as an imaginative resource for understanding variations in the meaning of the experience of ageing in society and to go out and make your own selection from the increasingly wide range of novels available. If you do so then this book will have been a success.

By ‘ageing’I mean the period usually described as the later part of life; that is, the period in the life course following on from the years normally labelled ‘50+’. But I do not treat this label as anything more than a social convenience; following mainstream gerontological thinking I treat ageing not simply as a matter of chronology or biology but as a complex and potentially openended process of interaction between the body, self and society. Ageing, as gerontological research shows, is not a straightforward linear trajectory towards inevitable physical, personal and social decline but a dynamic process of highly variable change: ageing is simultaneously a collective human condition and an individualized subjective experience. To borrow a neat phrase from the novelist Reginald Hill, ‘up and down like a fiddler’s elbow’(1999: 311).

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