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British Literature in the Present (Supplement)

Introduction: British Literature in the Present (Supplement)

Catherine Bernard

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1As the main journal in French academia focusing on 20th- 21st century British literature, Études britanniques contemporaines has, from its creation in 1992, been very attentive to the evolution of contemporary British literature. The second issue of the volume published in June 1993 opened on an article devoted to Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in 10/2 Chapters, that had come out only two years before, the 2003 issue devoted to poetry featured several pieces on contemporary British poetry, just as the journal devoted a whole issue to contemporary English and Irish theatre (n° 35, 2008), and the relevance of contemporary literature to English studies in France was also defended in an editorial co-signed by François Gallix and myself (n° 34, 2003): ‘Petit plaidoyer pour la littérature contemporaine’.

2This supplement to issue n° 45 of Ebc is yet another testimony of that fecund interest in literature in the making. Hopefully, this supplement will be the first in a series of other supplements, or special sections to turn specifically to recent texts to come out of the British literary world. These papers were first presented as contributions in a one-day conference held at the University Paris Diderot, in February 2013. The agenda of that one-day conference was simple: to carry on with the work of literary mapping initiated in the early 1990s by the Société d’Études Anglaises Contemporaines and Ebc. The SEAC has always been intent on such work of discovery, but devoting a whole day to that corpus in progress allowed the participants to confront their discoveries of texts, plays or literary categories that have so far received little attention. The central question was a daunting and challenging one: could we see the new Martin Amis, the new A. S. Byatt, the new Ian McEwan materializing on the literary horizon? Could we also perceive specific issues, concerns, forms, attitudes to language and literature surfacing on the mottley surface of the present?

3As always when one turns to contemporary literature, these are open questions. But the contributions to this supplement allow us to perceive currents at work in today’s British literature. The issue is no longer to decide between formal experimentation and faithfulness to narrative and plot. Experimentation seems to adopt different, if not new, forms. Character as the privileged locus of the exploration of selfhood seems to be endowed with renewed relevance, both in theatre and fiction, and its generic self-reflexiveness (how does one represent consciousness? How can characters produce readerly affect and also function as metaliterary cues?) no longer seems incompatible with a deep concern with historicity. Literary self-awareness—indebted to a form of controlled postmodernism—also seems to often go with a new and unabashed interest in emotion and experience, whether it be that of the audience and readers as a force-fields of affects, or wider emotions that testify to a sense of anxiety particularly present in the figures of the destitute, the overlooked, the weak . . .

4More than ever British literature speaks to us of the human and of experience, here and now, in a world which it reads for and with us. It speaks to us of the work of memory and of the difficulty of achieving a sense of community. It speaks to us of the responsibility of writing and of its relevance to our age of doubt. This selection of deliberately short papers may be taken as a form of blueprint for research to come. It offers new perspectives on a wide and varied literary field, vibrant with new voices. As Granta’s latest ‘Best of You British Novelists’ issue (2013) testifies: a lot more voices are still be heard and explored. An inspiring challenge for the years to come.

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Catherine Bernard, « Introduction: British Literature in the Present (Supplement) »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 45 | 2013, mis en ligne le 20 octobre 2013, consulté le 20 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Catherine Bernard

Université Paris-Diderot – LARCA

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