Navigation – Plan du site

The Family, Constructed Reality and Collective Traumatic Memory: Pat Barker’s Another World

Famille, construction de la réalité et mémoire traumatique collective: Another World de Pat Barker
David Waterman
p. 43-62


Le roman de Pat Barker, Another World (1998), nous entraîne dans un voyage fantastique, avec la première guerre mondiale en toile de fond, mais pas simplement dans le passé, et les histoires difficiles de deux familles, l’une d’entre elles victorienne, l’autre contemporaine, et de leurs crimes de fratricide et d’infanticide. Ces crimes et les souvenirs traumatiques qu’ils engendrent deviennent collectifs et inter-générationnels au sein de la famille, et dans Another World les esprits et les corps humains portent les traces directes de cette expérience, ainsi que celle de la transmission familiale de ces souvenirs traumatiques, qui deviennent lisibles aux autres sous forme de symptômes physiologiques, comme l’aphasie ou le somnambulisme, ou de manière moins objective, par le contact avec les fantômes. Néanmoins, cette lisibilité met en question toute définition objective de la réalité, une réalité où passé et présent, présence et absence sont inextricablement liés.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

Not then was the evil hour, but now?
(Siegfried Sassoon)

  • 1 ‘Mais nos souvenirs demeurent collectifs, et ils nous sont rappelés par les autres, alors même qu’i (...)

1In Anthropologie de la mémoire, Joël Candau reminds us that while stone has always welcomed and ‘diffused’ memory in the form of commemorative monuments, an individual is genuinely dead when no one among his descendants remembers him/her any longer (123–124, 141), at which point the deceased becomes part of history, lacking memory’s organic link to the past. Memory, particularly traumatic memory, does not disappear with the last survivor, especially if the traumatic event was of a scale to leave a lasting public impression, such as World War I or Auschwitz (see Jeffrey K. Olick 32). If it is true that only individuals can remember, it is also true that we remember together—Maurice Halbwachs says as much in La mémoire collective, even, he insists, if it concerns something that we alone have seen1(7). It is this collective aspect of memory which makes the past not so much history repeating itself as a sort of parallel present which reconnects history with living memory. Pat Barker’s compelling novel, Another World (1998) leads us on an uncanny voyage, with World War I in the background (but by no means simply in the past) and the problematic histories of two families and their ‘crimes [which] echo across time and place’ (Nunn and Biressi 261). These crimes and the traumatic memories which they foster become collective and intergenerational through the family, and since the family is the fundamental collectivity, one can easily follow Freud’s thinking that a traumatic symptom like hysteria—aphasia, for example, in the novel—is not an individual but a family affair, wherein, according to Eluned Summers-Bremner, the past/present distinction ‘comes under increasing pressure’ (268). Questions of what constitutes a proper family, of reality and representation, of guilt and innocence, of a child’s responsibility for an adult crime, of past wounds bleeding into the present, all come to the fore as these families’ orbits intersect in time and space, each one circling a ‘dark star’ at its center (Barker 158).

2As many, many thinkers have said, in different times and in different ways (from disciplines as diverse as philosophy, psychology and neurology), human memory is not simply a storage system, ready to reliably recollect the past when called upon, but rather an active re-construction and mediation of the past as a function of present circumstances (see, for example, Olick 10–11). These present circumstances become all the more important as the story unfolds in Another World, since memories of the past include memories of murder and attempted murder (in its family forms of fratricide and infanticide), never proved and never sanctioned, yet not able to be forgotten, with all of the psychological baggage which accompanies un-worked through traumatic memories, not to mention the social forces which define what is at stake in a certain socio-historical context and the resulting auto- censoring of such traumatic memories (see Candau 133). Traumatic memory, as we have said, does not seem malleable in the same way as ordinary memory. Freud noted, and many others have corroborated, that a traumatized patient (in the psychological rather than corporal sense) experiences the flashback or dream in the present, generally without variation; it is this delay and invariability which define traumatic symptoms (Freud 13, 32; see also Parsons 182). Hence memory is not so much presented as re-presented (in the multiple senses of re-presentation), often through language, stories and images, but not exclusively, Paul Connerton reminds us: ‘[. . .] memory, or tradition, gets passed on in non-textual and non-cognitive ways’ as well, most specifically in bodily practices and performances (102), such as Geordie’s bayonet wound (‘the one he brought back with him from France’, like a souvenir [49]) or in the observance of Armistice Day celebrations, or even in Geordie’s attempt ‘to graft his memories on to Nick’ during their visit to the Thiepval memorial to the missing of the Somme (74) or in Nick’s unplanned participation in Geordie’s waking dream of nighttime patrol behind the lines (159–162). ‘Psychological trauma [. . .],’ Parsons emphasizes, ‘presents a fundamental challenge to conventional understanding of memory and identity, and to issues of knowledge, ethics and representation’ (195–196). In Another World, human minds and bodies bear the traces of the experience and the family-based transmission of these traumatic memories, which become legible to others in an objective way in the real world (through organic symptoms, or less objectively, through contact with ghosts), although this very legibility calls into question any objective definition of reality, a reality where the time of ‘then’ and ‘now’ and the space of ‘there’ and ‘not there’ become inextricably linked. In the novel, the present begins ten years before World War I, first by means of the Fanshawe family, headed by a Victorian patriarch who made a fortune manufacturing arms, and through Geordie, a veteran of the trenches who never seems quite sure whether he’s returned from the war.

  • 2 Deborah Parsons gives a good overview of the origins of ‘the talking cure’ in the context of the Fi (...)

3Geographically, of course, the trenches were literally very close to home for the European combatants, and as the single most significant event of Modernism, the war profoundly affected how time, and representation of the past, are experienced as well, especially, according to Walter Benjamin, by a decline of storytelling: ‘[. . .] never has experience been contradicted more thoroughly than [. . .] bodily experience by mechanical warfare, moral experience by those in power’ (91; see also Olick 180–181; and Löschnigg—also referring to Benjamin—regarding soldiers ‘reduced to silence and with less to talk about than before they went to fight’), leaving people, Olick continues, ‘not only without the conditions for telling stories but also without communicable experiences to tell’, thus posing the question of how to represent such unimaginable horrors of modernity, not to mention the loss of the therapeutic aspects of storytelling2(181). We must keep in mind not only the question of representing horrors in themselves, of telling a story which ‘codes the past as past’ (Mukherjee 51, original italics), but also the fact that traumatic memories are very much defined by their lack of assimilation and integration, in other words their possession which escapes us, as Cathy Caruth explains: ‘trauma is not locatable in the simple violent or original event in the individual’s past, but rather in the way that its very unassimilated nature—the way it was precisely not known in the first instance—returns to haunt the survivor later on’ (4; see also Parsons 182). Not only the horrors of war, Barker makes clear from the very beginning of the novel, but the ‘shadows of monstrosities’ in which everyone lives on a day-to-day basis: ‘Peter Sutcliffe’s bearded face, the number plate of a house in Cromwell Street, three figures smudged on a video surveillance screen, an older boy taking a toddler by the hand while his companion strides ahead, eager for the atrocity to come’ (Barker 3). In the novel, the murder of James Fanshawe in 1904 is one such monstrosity, one such family crime, the kind that incites the public imagination especially due to its lack of closure—no one is ever condemned for the murder. William Fanshawe, the wealthy capitalist already mentioned, was living with his second wife in a family recomposed of two children from a first marriage, and a toddler, James, from the second. In the novel, the murder is presented as a story within a story, historical fact as Nick reads it from a monograph on notable northern murders. In all probability, during the night of 4–5 November 1904 (Guy Fawkes Day) James was brutally beaten and killed by the two older children, Robert and Muriel, who left his body, wearing a Guy mask, in the center of an unlit bonfire where it was later discovered. Although Robert and Muriel have a very simple alibi—they were in bed, sleeping—there was an eyewitness who saw them wheeling the body down the street late at night, however, his testimony is dismissed due to his having been fired from the Fanshawe armaments factory the preceding year for habitual drunkenness. The children maintain their innocence, and are acquitted. Robert is later killed at the Somme, and Muriel remains in the house, refusing to allow public pressure to force her out (107–114). Indeed, as we will see, Muriel seems to still occupy the house and neighborhood, one hundred years later.

  • 3 Dena E. Eber and Arthur G. Neal argue that the generation gap is a primary factor in the experience (...)
  • 4 Even Jasper, the toddler in diapers, is presented as something less than innocent in terms of aggre (...)

4The Victorian setting, and the implicit importance of Freud’s theories at the time, allow for a certain critique of the status quo and of the boundary between family and war, according to Maria Holmgren Troy: ‘Thus, while explicitly and implicitly engaging with contemporary notions of memory, Another World explores the relationships between the family and war. Although the family is often seen as private, or even constituting the private sphere, and war as a public, often national endeavor, Barker’s novel breaks down any simple division between the two and lays bare how war is all pervasive in everyday family life, both in the past and in the present. In doing that, the novel offers a subtle critique of the patriarchal middle-class underpinnings of the family, society, and nation’ (102). The wartime setting of the novel also allows us to expand Freud’s insistence on the psycho-sexual origin of hysteria, to include other forms of foundational trauma which nevertheless lead to the same psychic disorders. Family, society and nation are, of course, examples of collectivities wherein ‘trauma and everyday life intersect in uncountable ways’ (Troy 101), from the little worries of keeping up appearances in a well-to-do Victorian household, stressed by the recomposition of their family, to larger questions of the older generation’s failure in its responsibility for the young. William Fanshawe, the arms merchant willing to trade young lives for great wealth, is emblematic of the fathers who failed their sons, to invoke the Kipling citation which appears near the end of the novel: ‘If any question why we died,/Tell them, because our fathers lied’3(277). Engaged writers of the First World Wa r, from Virginia Woolf to Wilfred Owen, would agree that those who send boys off to war are more guilty than the boys who go, no matter what atrocities they may commit on the battlefield. But in Barker’s novel, the situation is not so clear, as there is more than enough guilt to go around. The question comes up, who is guilty, and of what exactly? Robert Fanshawe, who dies at the Somme at the age of twenty-two, is an innocent victim of the war as far as that goes, but who, at the age of eleven, with the complicity of his thirteen-year-old sister Muriel, beat his two-year old brother James to death. Robert attempts to excuse this act in a letter from the front, addressed to his sister, insisting: ‘Remember how young we were’ (113; original underlining), seeming to imply that fratricide is nothing more than youthful caprice. Barker’s work is known for asking such questions, difficult as they are to answer definitively: What separates a child from an adult, especially a child who commits an adult crime? Are all children inherently violent, and if so, are they guilty (and what does ‘guilty’ mean when the offender is eleven years old?)4. In a discussion of Another World and Border Crossing, Eluned Summers-Bremner poses the question this way: ‘On the one hand, what is so disturbing about the sibling violence [. . .] is the way the incidents morph childhood into adulthood [. . .]. And yet, at the very point where childhood and adulthood blend, there is an inexplicable act of violence accompanied by a resistance to knowledge. What if childhood is indescribably violent, and we just fail to remember? What if crime, once it is out there enjoying itself, can never be brought safely home?’ (272)

5These questions help to define collective traumatic memory, and the ongoing intergenerational conflicts which result. Muriel Fanshawe is the figurative embodiment of traumatic memory which comes to the surface from time to time, her ghost haunting the current residents of Lob’s Hill. At least one assumes that this is Muriel’s ghost, although we can’t ever be sure; in any case Nick, Miranda and Gareth all ‘see’ her, albeit on separate occasions, and they too are unsure about what they’ve seen. Such ambiguity is essential when discussing traumatic memory, an uncanny or fantastic apparition which is ‘there’ and ‘not there.’ Discussing Tzvetan Todorov and his reflections on the fantastic, Anne Whitehead reminds us that: ‘[. . .] the fantastic emerges when a person is confronted by a phenomenon that cannot be readily explained by the laws of his or her familiar world. The person who experiences such an event has two choices: either he must conclude that he is suffering from an illusion or fantasy, in which case the laws of the world remain intact, or he must decide that the event has indeed taken place, in which case this reality is controlled by unknown laws [. . .]. The hesitation between real and imagined reflects the nature of the traumatic event that has happened and therefore has historical reality but has not yet been assimilated by the survivor and haunts his or her imagination with an overwhelming immediacy’ (141; see also Todorov 25). Consciousness(es) can and do move through different spheres of reality, or multiple realities, the transition between them often provoking a shock for the subject (see Berger and Luckmann 35; see also Brannigan 13–14 regarding Freud’s personal experience with a shocking transition between realities, and the permeable border between ‘primitive superstition and modern rationality’). Muriel’s own traumatic memory, her ‘haunting’, has become collective and intergenerational now that, one hundred years later, the current residents of Lob’s Hill find themselves in a similar situation, neither able to assimilate nor communicate their own problematic histories. They first discover this link shortly after moving into the late Victorian house; while redecorating and stripping wallpaper, they find the portrait of the Fanshawe family. Like Muriel’s ghost, it too comes to the surface to further haunt Nick, Fran, and their family.

6The portrait is atypical, to say the least. It is a caricature of the Fanshawe family, modeled on an official portrait which Nick finds during their outing to Fleete House (the Fanshawe mansion), later in the novel. While the artist responsible for the hidden portrait (Robert, the elder son) displays great talent, he has exploited his gift in ‘an exercise in hate’ (40); as more of the painting is uncovered, Nick, Fran and the children discover ‘An erect penis springs from the unbuttoned flies, as thick and pale as the decaying cabbage stalks in the kitchen garden’, and the mother’s breasts, ‘great lard-white footballs, covered by a canal system of blue veins’ (40), while the boy’s eyes give him away as the artist, ‘the inward-directed gaze of the self-portraitist’ [. . .], ‘the only one who knows he’s in a painting’ (39; 41). The portrait links the Fanshawe family to the current residents of Lob’s Hill, connecting the present to the past, whether they like it or not. Any lingering doubts as to their relationship with their Victorian forebears are dispelled as the family steps back out of the light to better contemplate their discovery: ‘Silence. The living stand and gaze at the dead. Probably the same thought occurs to all of them, but it’s Miranda, her voice edging up into hysteria, who finally says what they’re all thinking. ‘It’s us.’ Nick opens his mouth to contradict her, but no words come out’ (41). The silence which frames this scene is instructive, since, as Annette Becker reminds us, there are two ways to deal with traumatic memory, both of which are treated in the novel: either to re-live them constantly or to ‘bury the events in silence—a silence that speaks through the noise of absence’ (104). The redecorating party has uncovered more than a remarkable painting. Their discovery goes beyond the archeological, otherwise there is no way to explain the sense of personal involvement and unease which Miranda expresses in two or three simple words, ‘It’s us’, and which further leads Troy to wonder ‘whose memory the portrait represents’ (93). Archeological finds are about others, so remote from us that there is little or no personal investment or organic link to the past, but simply historical curiosity. This portrait so recently uncovered has lain dormant for one hundred years and now, in an uncanny way, comes back literally to haunt Nick and his family, to open wounds old and new, to transform the past into a continuous present, creating what Whitehead calls ‘an anachronistic collision of temporalities’ (206; see also Bernard 180). The caricatural form is not even necessary to convey the painting’s message of hate, we are told: ‘Even without the exposed penis, the meticulously delineated and hated breasts, you’d have sensed the tension in this family, with the golden-haired toddler at its dark centre’ (40). And while caricature and irony can ‘express anger and despair’, Jay Winter reminds us, in a discussion of the power of traditional forms of representation to mediate bereavement, caricature and irony cannot heal (115). What the portrait has done, in coming to the surface, is to force Nick and his family to look at an only- slightly distorted image of themselves and the problems, tensions and hatreds which plague their own family, without yet knowing how close they will come to the same drastic end, and without proposing much in the way of solutions or hope, if not for the fact that Fran, unlike the Victorian wife and mother, is pregnant (41).

7Nick, the contemporary husband and father, is already accustomed to navigating between two worlds, growing up as he did the son of the Headmaster: ‘Nick’s father was the Headmaster of a small preparatory school; his mother was the Matron. As a small boy he was always aware of another world on the other side of the door in the hall, though until he was seven he was forbidden to enter the school’ (52). As a way of dealing with his particularly schizophrenic and largely friendless lifestyle, Nick becomes a gifted liar, so good that he seldom made mistakes, since he was ‘two people, one in each world, and in each world you had to forget the responses of the other’ (54). Nick’s talent will come in handy later in life when, with a family of his own, he must try to keep two worlds separate; on their outing to Fleete House, Nick discovers the portrait on which the caricature in their house on Lob’s Hill is based. He also acquires the book on notable northern murders, in which he discovers the story of the murder of James Fanshawe, and decides to keep all of this information for himself, rationalizing his decision that it is all for the best: ‘[. . .] he wonders whether he should tell Fran about the Fanshawe murder. Not to tell her seems patronizing, [. . . but] he doesn’t know how she’d react. This isn’t just a sad old story; it happened in the rooms where they live and sleep and eat. The fact is nobody would knowingly buy a house in which a murder has been committed. You can tell yourself it doesn’t matter, it’s the past, it’s over, but the fact is you wouldn’t choose to do it. And Fran’s pregnant. Now more than ever she needs to feel safe. It’s not as if any useful purpose would be served by telling her. . . Later perhaps [. . .]. He opens the car boot, throws in the book, and, after a moment’s thought, pulls a plastic bin bag over it. Right, that’s settled, then’ (114 - 115). Like William Fanshawe himself, who never again allowed anyone to speak of his son’s death, Nick is engaging in the same futile exercise, namely trying to avoid opening an old wound by simply ignoring it, pretending that it didn’t happen (112; see Whitehead 138), much as he did with the portrait itself, covering it up, although it’s still there, under the surface: ‘White paint. No time to worry about colour schemes, he just wants the portrait covered. With a roller he draws huge swathes of emulsion across the wall; the figures disappear into a blizzard. Apple white, it says on the tin. Alzheimer white’ (118). As we will see later in the case of Geordie, this refusal—or inability—to speak of one’s trauma is what distinguishes a mourner from a melancholic, one who is able to get beyond his/her loss and place it definitively in the past, and one who continually lives the loss in the present (Winter 113–114). This familial drama, what Troy calls a ‘family at war with itself’ (102), will become the background for future loss in the public sphere, namely the battlefield of the Somme where Robert will die in his turn, ‘impaled on the uncut German wire surrounded by unexploded British shells’ (112), and despite the presumption of patriarchal power and influence, William Fanshawe’s impotence is undeniable—he has set certain conditions in motion, but cannot control their consequences. Nick too finds himself ‘neutered’ (19), powerless in terms of patriarchal authority, given his situation as ‘token father’ to Gareth (206).

8The adolescent boy Gareth is the contemporary version of Robert Fanshawe, filled with hate and capable, under the right circumstances, of murder, and it is Gareth who has the most frequent encounters with the ghost. Where Robert was a gifted painter, Gareth is a computer guru, more at home in virtual reality, although the border between realities is not distinct; one of his encounters with Muriel’s ghost comes immediately after reading the advertising on his computer game package: ‘There is no doubt that you are being watched, by whom and by what life form is not determined. [. . .] The occurrences are just too strange’, followed by the feeling that someone is indeed watching him: ‘He feels pressure on the back of his neck. The sense of somebody in the room behind him’s so strong he almost turns round, thinking it must be Mum telling him to for God’s sake switch the damn thing off and get dressed. But she’d have spoken by now, and Gareth’s too frightened to turn round. Instead, he goes on looking straight ahead. He sees his own shadowy reflection in the screen, but can’t be sure there’s nobody else there. In a small voice he hardly recognizes as his, he says, ‘Please go away.’ Nobody answers. After a few moments the pressure on the back of his neck’s lifted and he knows he’s alone’ (96). The ghost leaves, but will return to accompany Gareth as he transposes virtual violence to the real world. The line between Gareth’s family troubles and war is grey as well; they live at the edge of a housing estate which is described as a war zone, in the shadow of Fanshawe’s boarded-up arms factory: ‘Floorboards in the middle of the road, broken glass, burnt-out cars, charred houses with huge holes in the walls as if they’ve been hit by artillery shells. Beirut-on-Tyne, the locals call it’ (11). And of course Gareth’s favorite computer games deal with combat and terror: ‘Crash, Fighting Force, Mortal Kombat, Shock, Riot, Alien Trilogy, Rage, Streetfighter, Return Fire, Warhawk, Nightmare Creatures, Shadowmaster, Exhumed’ (19), while his favorite movie is Terminator (118). The new technology which fascinates Gareth comes at a price, namely less reliance on human relationships and a valorizing of the machine, of the future, attitudes which were not lost on critics of modern technology during the First World War, Deborah Parsons reminds us: ‘With the onset of war Edwardian England was made acutely aware of the aggressive forces of modernity and had little sympathy for the violent idiom of Futurist or Vorticist radicalism [. . .] the naivety of [the pre-war avant-garde’s] rhetoric celebrating technology, dehumanization and the destruction of the past’ (176; 187), raising the obvious question—has nothing been learned from the lessons of history? Gareth, however, prefers this virtual, dehumanized world—he has as yet no friends after the family’s move, and is misanthropic to the point of violence.

  • 5 Ankhi Mukherjee too, in a discussion of Regeneration and specifically the character of W.H.R. River (...)

9Gareth’s predisposition to violence is well established before the family’s outing to the sea, where he nearly kills Jasper: for no apparent reason, he kicks a small boy in the housing estate (172); he intentionally drops his half-brother in shopping mall parking lot (139-140); the kind of behavior which had already been signaled by the school psychology service (20). During their day by the sea Gareth seems genuinely torn between wanting to help Jasper sail his lollipop-stick boats properly and wanting simply to wallow in spite (189). Without ever seeming to make a conscious decision to kill his half-brother, Gareth gets caught up in an uncontrolled chain of events which nearly lead to that outcome, first throwing small pebbles, then bigger stones until one finally hits the two-year-old, then panicking as he realizes he is in over his head: ‘He didn’t mean this. The stone catches Jasper on the side of his head, knocks him over and yet still he gets up. He’s got to make him stay down, stop crying [. . .]. Gareth doesn’t understand this. He can’t understand why Jasper’s crying. From the moment the first stone hit his head Gareth’s known he was dead. He was dead already after the first stone, it’s just that he wouldn’t lie down. He’d thrown the other stones out of despair because he wouldn’t stay down. He’d wanted it to be over quickly’ (191–192). The older boy is sincere when he says he didn’t mean this; he seems to be a victim of a fatalist predetermination, of a traumatic family past from which he cannot escape, the entire scene ‘supervised’ by Muriel’s ghost (190). Interestingly, it is Fran, the only member of the family not directly affected by this haunting, who tries talking to Gareth about the incident, with the aim not simply of getting at the truth of what really happened but also of helping her son rid himself of the awful burden which he carries, a well-intentioned amateur psychotherapist approach which Nick ridicules as futile (204–205). In any case, Gareth has managed to file the affair as a closed case, as an unfortunate accident, which, in one sense, it was: ‘Everybody says [Jasper is] getting over the accident really well. And it was an accident. It’s fixed in Gareth’s mind now, what happened that afternoon, and it won’t change. The pebbles he threw will never grow back into stones. None of them will ever connect with Jasper’s head’ (232). In a way, what really happened is not important, since western notions of guilt often depend on intentionality and on a child’s ability to understand the consequences of his/her actions—this is, in other words, a case of reality being defined by social convention, and which adults are generally happy to accept as a means of excusing children’s conduct. Eber and Neal, in a discussion of the process of myth-making, suggest that the veracity of how this kind of episode is remembered and represented is not even of great consequence; what counts is that the people involved collectively believe in it5 (17).

10Without it ever being said openly, Gareth is complicit with Miranda in their dislike for their half-brother, and she too will come close to causing an accident where Jasper’s life is concerned. Miranda and Muriel’s ghost seem physically similar, so much so that Gareth is convinced that Miranda was watching him throw stones from the cliff, when in fact, she wasn’t there (200–202). Miranda deserves special mention, according to Maria Holmgren Troy, as an enlightened character who understands the unreliability of memory: ‘[Miranda] sat down and looked back at Dad and Fran. How far away they were and how tiny, as if she were seeing them through the wrong end of a telescope. One day, she thought, she’d remember seeing them like that. When she was old, and it was raining, she’d look back and think how happy she was today, because she was young and the sun was shining and Dad was still alive. And none of it would be true’ (Barker 215–216; see Troy 96). Miranda also deserves special mention as the character who literally fuses past and present, Muriel and Miranda, in the most chilling scene in the novel, to which Nick alone is the witness. A ghostly apparition comes into Jasper’s room, a girl, which must be Miranda, although Nick needs to be reassured, asking himself who else it could be (219). The girl has her hands over Jasper’s nose and mouth, although she does not seem to be suffocating him. Terrified, Nick intervenes and realizes she is sleepwalking as she declares: ‘I didn’t do it [. . .]. I wasn’t there’ (220). As time seems to stand still, Nick continues to intervene in his daughter’s traumatic memory as best he can, fearful of waking her: ‘He has to end this—already the moment seems to have lasted years—but he daren’t wake her. He stretches out his hands, and grips her shoulders. Only the thinnest possible layer of skin seems to cover the bone, and she’s cold. Colder than the warm September night can possibly account for [. . .]. Gripping the icy flesh between his hands, he says, ‘I know you didn’t. Look at me. I know it wasn’t you.’ As he continues to hold her, the strained look starts to leave her face. Its lines soften, become more recognizably hers’ (220). Anne Whitehead comments on this scene, especially the ambiguity involved, whether this is a reincarnation of Muriel’s ghost re-enacting the past, or whether it is Miranda herself, acting on her own repressed hatred. She also links Miranda’s sleepwalking with Geordie’s nightmares as organic evidence of psychological trauma, concluding: ‘In leaving unresolved the nature of the haunting at Lob’s Hill, Barker represents the belated power of the traumatic past and provides a portrait, as disturbing in its implications as the uncovered painting, of the tensions and resentments seething under the surface of Nick’s family’ (142–143).

11Until now we have been concerned with two families, one Victorian/Edwardian and one contemporary, two families which seem to have collapsed one hundred years of history into a continuous present of traumatic memories. There is yet another powerful link between past and present, in the character of Geordie, Nick’s grandfather, a veteran of World War I and who, at the age of one hundred and one, is still very much ‘there’ to tell of his experience. Or at least tell of some of his experience, since, as we will see, Geordie too is haunted by a traumatic past, a secret which he has kept both to himself and from himself for eighty years, a memory which is, Troy suggests, ‘possessing rather than being possessed by the subject’ (99). While Miranda makes clear on several occasions that she wasn’t there during Gareth’s close call with becoming a murderer, Geordie was present, the principal actor in the murder of his brother, and although the resemblance between Miranda and Muriel’s ghost is uncanny, the affinity between Miranda and Geordie is also noteworthy. Aside from Nick, she is the only family member to visit Geordie before his death, and during the visit Nick is struck by the realization that Miranda is Geordie’s great-great granddaughter (128); Geordie, dying of cancer, is also described as a skeleton which has been there all along, working its way to the surface (123; 145–146), and Miranda too, in the prime of adolescent growth, is tall and thin, ‘Only the thinnest possible layer of skin seems to cover the bone’ (220). Perhaps the strongest bond between Miranda and Geordie is their silence as a way of coping with repressed trauma, a repression which surfaces in the form of sleepwalking and waking dreams, and which goes so far as to be qualified as hysteria in Geordie’s case, in its form of aphasia, what Bernard calls ‘the dark side of the very ideology that equates manliness with emotional imperviousness’ (181).

12Summers-Bremner defines hysteria as ‘a disturbance of memory that opens onto the field of trauma where inexplicable physical symptoms create an impasse in social life and personal experience’, wherein the clear distinctions between past and present, adult and child, come under pressure (268), and which becomes legible not only through these physical symptoms but also through its effects on others (269). For many years, as Nick recalls from his childhood, his grandfather’s stammer represented silence to his questions about the war, as well as representing a profound alteration of the relation between the individual and the group, especially as regards the social framework of memory (see Halbwachs 1994, 69; see also Candau 74): ‘The stammer was bad in those years. There were times when he seemed to be hoiking up words like phlegm, raking them out of his gut. But the silence went deeper than that. His body, stripped off in the garden—the wound in his side—suggested questions. Why? How? What happened? Nick would ask, but there were no answers. The past was hidden, veiled in silence [. . .]’ (58). The horrible secret which Geordie carries with him is not so much his wartime experience as the fact that he killed his older brother Harry at the front, and while the thirty years from the sixties to the nineties see Geordie cured of his aphasia and willing to talk about the war to anyone who will listen, he still never speaks of Harry. Shortly before his death, however, the traumatic memory comes once again to the surface, as he deals not only with the fratricide itself but also with the recollection of his mother’s comment at Harry’s memorial service, when she told Geordie ‘It should have been you’ (59). Over the three decades when Geordie seems to be engaged in his own kind of talking cure, he becomes part of (the historian) Helen’s research project, and the resulting book, Soldier, from the Wars Returning, which takes as its thesis the idea that veterans of the war deal with their experience in different ways largely due to changing social conceptions of the war, including notions of socio-economic class, masculinity and such, all of which Nick refuses to accept after his period of getting to re-know his grandfather: ‘ “[. . .] I don’t believe in public memory. A memory’s a biochemical change in an individual brain, and that’s all there is. There’s quite a lot of evidence that traumatic memories are stored in a different part of the brain from normal memories, and that’s what makes them so incredibly persistent. And so. . . almost hallucinatory. There’re not accessible to language in the same way. [. . .] As for warnings and messages. . . I don’t know.”A spurt of anger. “Anyway, what is the message? You look back over the whole horrible blood-sodden mess. Isn’t the real message: You can get away with it?” (84–85). As far as Geordie’s public speaking engagements are concerned, Nunn and Biressi suggest that in ‘contemporary therapy culture’ Geordie’s memories and stories achieve the status of truth: ‘His past is rearticulated for a generation interested in the subjective story and importantly in the truth that is believed to lie concealed below the level of language, revealed in the faltering sentence or display of emotion [. . .]’ (257), although the public audience, listening attentively, does not and cannot understand the profound, horrible truth that Geordie is unable to articulate. And since they do not share the same experiences, the same realities, they also occupy different worlds of meaning (see Eber and Neal 176).

13He comes closest to expressing naked truth to Nick and to Helen, first to Helen on her interview tapes as background research for the book, a sort of confession or talking cure, and Geordie has the same difficulty that an artist might, ‘struggling to give narrative form to raw memory’ (Parsons 180). Helen shares these tapes with Nick after Geordie’s death, although she’d promised to destroy them; Helen is a historian, and Nick a professor of psychology, and it is this interchange between history and psychology which, Troy suggests, ‘raises questions about individual characters’ access to and construction of their own memories, especially of traumatic experiences, as well as the possibilities and dangers involved in sharing memories and gaining access to somebody else’s psychic world’ (85–86). It is during one of these interviews that Geordie tells the story of how he killed Harry, as best he remembers it, preserved on tape to be replayed and make sense of Geordie’s admission to Nick, ‘I am in Hell’, which helps to explain the nightmares and stammer and bedwetting, the crime of a jealous younger brother given the opportunity, in a time of horrors, to act on his hatred. And every day since that act of fratricide, Geordie has been shaving using the metal mirror which accompanied him in France, the mirror which reflects a slightly distorted image—he never gets a clear look at himself, he can never remember the one thing he needs to remember (265), hence he has never been able to relegate his crime to the past and why, as he is dying, he tells of being in Hell in the present tense (250). Geordie shared the same trenches with Robert Fanshawe, and becomes the flesh-and-blood link (as opposed to Muriel’s ghostly link) of past and present, a past that ‘isn’t over. It isn’t even the past’ (241), not only in terms of the horrors of war, but of fratricide, of a family at war with itself and of the collective implication and haunting across generations regarding psychological trauma, coming ‘face to face with what defies linguistic re-cognition’ (Bernard 183). Although Robert never grew old, Geordie dies with that unresolved burden on his conscience, having suffered in a seemingly-eternal present, a terrible price to pay, Nick surmises, since notions of recovery and regeneration depend on a ‘constantly flowing stream’ of time, while Geordie and so many like him experience time as it ‘coagulates around terrible events, clots over them, stops the flow’ (271). Despite the crushing weight of such collective trauma, the novel ends on an optimistic note, suggesting that escape from this predestination is possible, though not without its traps as well: ‘the past never threatens anything as simple, or as avoidable, as repetition’ (Barker 278). Rather than keep up appearances as a ‘proper’ family, as the Fanshawes were obliged to do, the solution for Nick is the decomposition of his family: Miranda will return home to her mother (274), Gareth will live with his grandmother and attend a different school (218), and Frieda (who genuinely likes Jasper) will move in to Lob’s Hill and lend a hand when the new baby is born (275). Questions of guilt and innocence are left unjudged, largely because few, if any, are fit to judge, and in any case all the actors in such dramas will be forgotten in the span of two or three generations, when none are left to remember, when time has rendered their gravestones illegible. As he wanders around the cemetery after Geordie’s funeral, and finds the Fanshawe graves, Nick realizes that there is ‘wisdom too in this: to let the innocent and the guilty, the murderers and the victims, lie together beneath their half-erased names, side by side, under the obliterating grass’ (278), in other words that while there is wisdom in forgetting, one must first be able to remember before one is able to forget.

Haut de page


Barker, Pat, Another World, London: Penguin, 1998.

Becker, Annette, ‘Memory Gaps: Maurice Halbwachs, Memory and the Great War’, Journal of European Studies 35.1 (2005): 102–113.

Benjamin, Walter, Illuminations, tr. H. Zohn, New York: Schoken, 1968.

Berger, Peter and Luckmann, Thomas, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, London: Penguin, 1966.

Bernard, Catherine, ‘Pat Barker’s Critical Work of Mourning: Realism with a Difference’, Études Anglaises 60.2 (2007): 173–184.

Brannigan, John, ‘Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy: History and the Hauntological Imagination’, Contemporary British Fiction, Cambridge: Polity, 2003, 13–26.

Candau, Joël, Anthropologie de la mémoire, Paris: Armand Colin, 2005.

Caruth, Cathy, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996.

Eber, Dena Elisabeth and Arthur G. Neal, ‘The Individual and Collective Search for Identity’, Memory and Representation: Constructed Truths and Competing Realities, Bowling Green, USA: Bowling Green State U Popular Press, 2001, 169-181.

Freud, Sigmund, Standard Edition, Vol. XVIII (1920-1922): Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Group Psychology and Other Works, London: Hogarth, 1962.

Halbwachs, Maurice, Les Cadres sociaux de la mémoire (1925), Paris: Albin Michel, 1994.

Halbwachs, Maurice, La Mémoire collective, 2001, édition électronique du livre de Maurice Halbwachs (1950, PUF), coll. ‘Les classiques des sciences sociales.’ dex.html

Leys, Ruth, ‘Traumatic Cures: Shell Shock, Janet, and the Questions of Memory’, Critical Inquiry 20 (Summer 1994): 623–662.

Löschnigg, Martin, ‘ “[T]he novelist’s responsibility to the past”: History, Myth, and the Narratives of Crisis in Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy (1991–1995)’, Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistic 47.3 (1999):214–228.

Mukherjee, Ankhi, ‘Stammering to Story: Neurosis and Narration in Pat Barker’s Regeneration’, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 43.1 (Fall 2001): 49–62.

Nunn, Heather and Anita Biressi, ‘In the Shadow of Monstrosities: Memory, Violence, and Childhood in Another World’, Critical Perspectives on Pat Barker, eds. Sharon Monteith, Margaretta Jolly, Nahem Yousaf and Ronald Paul, Columbia, South Carolina, USA: U of South Carolina P, 2005, 254-265.

Parsons, Deborah, ‘Trauma and War Memory’, The New Cambridge History of English Literature, ed. Laura Marcus, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2004, 176–196.

Summers-Bremner, Eluned, ‘Family at War: Memory, Sibling Rivalry, and the Nation in Border Crossing and Another World’, Critical Perspectives on Pat Barker, eds. Sharon Monteith, Margaretta Jolly, Nahem Yousaf and Ronald Paul. Columbia, South Carolina, USA: U of South Carolina P, 2005, 266–282.

Todorov, Tzvetan, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, tr. Richard Howard, New York: Cornell UP, 1975.

Troy, Maria Holmgren, ‘Memory and Literature: The Case of Pat Barker’s Another World’, Memory Work: The Theory and Practice of Memory, eds and intro: Andreas Kitzmann, Conny Mithander and John Sundholm, Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2004, 85–103.

Whitehead, Anne, ‘The Past as Revenant: Trauma and Haunting in Pat Barker’s Another World’, Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 45.2 (Winter 2004): 129–146.

Winter, Jay, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995.

Haut de page


1 ‘Mais nos souvenirs demeurent collectifs, et ils nous sont rappelés par les autres, alors même qu’il s’agit d’événements auxquels nous seuls avons été mêlés, et d’objets que nous seuls avons vus. C’est qu’en réalité nous ne sommes jamais seuls. Il n’est pas nécessaire que d’autres hommes soient là, qui se distinguent matériellement de nous: car nous portons toujours avec nous et en nous une quantité de personnes qui ne se confondent pas’ (see Halbwachs 2001, 7).

2 Deborah Parsons gives a good overview of the origins of ‘the talking cure’ in the context of the First World War: ‘The prevalence of mental disturbances among soldiers during World War I had encouraged a resurgence in psychoanalytic methods for the treatment of neurosis, hitherto rejected by the contemporary medical profession. Famously asserting in Studies of Hysteria (1895) that ‘Hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences’, Freud and Breuer’s early case studies had suggested that neurotic illness was typically caused by a traumatic event, too catastrophic to be integrated by conscious understanding, which the mind had consequently repressed [see Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud, Studies on Hysteria (1895), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey, 24 vols. (London: Hogarth Press, 1957) II, 7]. Such repressed experiences, they argued, although seemingly forgotten, were re-experienced instead in the form of repeated and overpowering symptoms (such as nightmares, flashbacks, convulsions or sleep-walking). The aim of the psychoanalyst, through hypnotic suggestion was to encourage the patient to reproduce the original traumatic experience and thus bring about its catharsis. While wartime psychotherapists such as William Brown and W. H. Rivers recognized the value of the cathartic technique for the rehabilitation of shell-shock victims, however, they fundamentally disagreed with Freud’s post-seduction-theory focus on the psychosexual origins of hysteria, arguing instead for the specificity of war trauma’ (see Parsons 181–182).

3 Dena E. Eber and Arthur G. Neal argue that the generation gap is a primary factor in the experience of differing realities: ‘Generations are now foremost among the divisions within the social system and thus a primary source for the pluralization of life-worlds. Generations differ in immediate preoccupations, hold different world-views, and frequently go their separate ways. [. . .] The intersections of personal biography with historical events are crucial for many aspects of knowing who we are and what we are to become. The questions of ‘how did we get to where we are now’, ‘where are we now’, and ‘where are we headed as we move into the future’ are basic to personal and collective identities. The task of the individual is to find his or her place within the broader scheme of human affairs. A primary task of a nation is that of reworking data from the past, processing many levels of truth and reality, in order to shape a contemporary identity’ (177–178). Eber and Neal also remind us that ‘being there’ versus ‘not being there’ is an element which contributes to the aforementioned gap between generations, and the lack of intergenerational understanding which results: ‘Historical events cannot have the same meaning for those who only hear about them as compared to those who experience them directly’ (177).

4 Even Jasper, the toddler in diapers, is presented as something less than innocent in terms of aggressive behavior: he pulls his father’s hair, laughing as Nick protests (100), hits his mother in the eye (103), laughs at Gareth when he trips and falls (35), the sort of antics which are easily accepted and dismissed by adults regarding small children, yet which require us to go even further as we consider questions of childhood innocence. For comments regarding ‘a child’s hatred’ and fantasy, see Anne Whitehead 133.

5 Ankhi Mukherjee too, in a discussion of Regeneration and specifically the character of W.H.R. Rivers, agrees that the pursuit of factual truth is not necessarily a priority, whether we are considering Rivers’ (or by extrapolation, Barker’s) work or later Lacanian psychoanalysis more generally: ‘Rivers seems less concerned with the reality of the memory of the trauma than with its subsistence in the present and its bearing on future actions. As he tells his star patient, Second Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon, ‘ ‘I’m not interested in the reasons at the moment. I’m more interested in the result. The effect on you.’ ’ [. . .] The patient is not coerced into instantiating primordial personal truths [. . .], those narratives are characteristically, perhaps inherently, discrepant with the (themselves often unknowable) ‘facts of the case’ ’ (Barker 36; Mukherjee 52–53; see also Ruth Leys 660).

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

David Waterman, « The Family, Constructed Reality and Collective Traumatic Memory: Pat Barker’s Another World », Études britanniques contemporaines, 36 | 2009, 43-62.

Référence électronique

David Waterman, « The Family, Constructed Reality and Collective Traumatic Memory: Pat Barker’s Another World », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 36 | 2009, mis en ligne le 08 septembre 2017, consulté le 19 janvier 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ebc.3714

Haut de page


David Waterman

Université de La Rochelle.
David Waterman est Maître de Conférences à l’Université de La Rochelle et membre de l’équipe ‘Cultures et Littératures des Mondes Anglophones’ (CLIMAS) de l’Université Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux 3. Parmi ses publications figurent Disordered Bodies and Disrupted Borders: Representations of Resistance in Modern British Literature (University Press of America, 1999), Le Miroir de la société: la violence institutionnelle chez Anthony Burgess, Doris Lessing et Pat Barker (Longo Editore Ravenna, 2003), and Identity in Doris Lessing’s Space Fiction (Cambria Press, 2006).

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée
  • Logo ERIH +
  • OpenEdition Journals