On Aesthetic and Historical Dissonance in The Stranger's Child

Mark Mathuray

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Most critics and reviewers argue that The Stranger’s Child marks a significant departure from Hollinghurst’s earlier works. It is, to date, the most formally ambitious of Hollinghurst’s novels, and one of the most formally inventive contemporary English novels. In this paper, I attempt a theoretical juggling act between Lukács and Adorno, between one of the most ardent critics of modernism and the proponent of an elite modernism. This approach has been motivated, in part, by the urge to offer a critique of Lukács’s claims, to show that in Hollinghurst’s linking of subjective experience and historical monumentality in The Stranger’s Child, radical technical innovation, experimental form, and a focus on interior subjectivity leads neither to a ‘formless wallowing in vain, self-worshipping lyrical psychologism’, nor ‘a disintegration of the outer world,’ ‘the negation of outward reality’, nor to a view of history that is ‘static and sensational’. My approach is also determined by the novel itself which seems to negotiate the divide between Lukács and Adorno, between a critical realism, at the levels of sentence and paragraph, where intricate dialogue, sensuously suggestive images, and symbol-laden events contribute to Hollinghurst’s exposition of the world of his characters and to his intricately wrought literary sensibility, and a dissonant modernism, in its use of a series of destabilising and disorienting formal strategies, which in turn dialectically and critically negate his characters’ ideological assumptions. History, within this vision, is dynamic, determined as much by progressive social and legal change as by unforeseen, sometimes calamitous, circumstances.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSex and Sensibility in the Novels of Alan Hollinghurst
EditorsMark Mathuray
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-33722-1
ISBN (Print)978-1-137-33721-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017

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