Dead reckoning (novel); accompanied by The criminal parvenu: narratives of transgression and upward mobility (dissertation)

Tracy Kinsella

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Novel – Dead Reckoning:

A housewife who thought she was happy discovers from an old letter that her husband, when they married, was really in love with someone else. Unable to rest until she tracks down this woman from long ago, the wife grows more obsessed until she is entangled in the woman’s life and can’t get out again. The past is always with us, even when it’s someone else’s: this is a story about love, death, and unintended consequences.

The novel Dead Reckoning takes a new approach to a well-established literary motif – a crime committed by one who has risen from low origins to a more secure social position: what the dissertation calls the “criminal parvenu”. Rather than a lone figure like those of the works studied in the dissertation, this novel’s protagonist is a married woman who has sought to make something of her life through her husband. This permits investigation of themes including dependence versus autonomy, vicarious ambition, desire and possessiveness, all brought to bear on the more traditional pattern of the novel of (more usually male, with some exceptions) ambition-and-downfall.

Dead Reckoning, in its focus on the married couple, brings a new angle to the criminal parvenu story. Furthermore, the setting in contemporary Western Australia allows for a new dimension in implicit and sometimes explicit background addressing of the colonial crimes entailed by the rise of a “parvenu state”. While Dead Reckoning does include a crime and is of the psychological suspense genre, it is not a novel of detection, but a work exploring the criminal protagonist’s own viewpoint, and derives influence from both traditional realist literary novels and domestic noir.

Dissertation – The criminal parvenu: narratives of transgression and upward mobility:

This is a study of selected novels from the nineteenth century onwards, from Stendhal’s The Red and the Black (1830), through Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (1925) to Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley (1955), and including other relevant works in less detail but connecting them to the narrative of the criminal parvenu descended from Stendhal’s work. Examining the motifs of imitation, doubling, ambiguity of crime and instability of identity, the dissertation contends that the criminal parvenu figure resists a fixed political interpretation as either social revolutionary or mere selfish individualist, instead lending itself to narratives that are arguably both progressive and reactionary. The dissertation concludes with an examination of how the novel component, Dead Reckoning, is related to the tradition under study.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012

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