Penelope Voyages: Women and Travel in the British Literary Tradition

By Karen R. Lawrence | Go to book overview

5
Postmodern "Vessels of Conception": Brooke-Rose and Brophy

Penelope's Voyage ends with the trope and plot of the journey in postmodern experimental fiction. Christine Brooke-Rose's novel Between ( 1968) and Brigid Brophy's In Transit ( 1969) are prime examples of the scandalous, "writerly" text hypothesized by Roland Barthes in S/Z ( 1970): "What would be the narrative of a journey in which it was said that one stays somewhere without having departed -- in which it was never said that, having departed, one arrives or fails to arrive? Such a narrative would be a scandal, the extenuation, by hemorrhage, of readerliness" (105). Indeed, they anticipate his hypothetical conjecture about a new kind of narrative based on the trope of the journey. These multilinguistic narratives, which, as their titles suggest, thematize travel and translation, present both narratives of and narratives as journeys severed from origin and telos. In other words, these particular novels thematize, in their travel plots, their own experiments with the traditional shape of the journey that underwrites the trajectory of many classic narratives. In the discontinuities and gaps of their own narratives, Brooke-Rose and Brophy do not reject the crucial role of narrative and narrative journey but propose, with Barthes, a new logic for it.

Barthes identifies what he calls the "readerly" text, that is, classic realist narrative, as based on the model of a well-plotted journey, a traditional sequence of events of which he says: "To depart/to travel/ to arrive/to stay: the journey is saturated" (105). Like a well-guided tour, this type of narrative leads the reader from place to place, establishing an illusion of continuity in the fullness of its presentation: "To end, to fill, to join, to unify -- one might say this is the basic re-

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