The children : a novel, and Forgive me forgive me : ethical anxities in fiction writing

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2009
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ----- The exegesis accompanying my novel The Children explores the spectrum of novelists' beliefs, attitudes and practical responses to the ethical dilemmas inherent in writing fiction about living people. I pose questions about writing and ethical practices to Australian writers and examine the ways in which they have addressed their own ethical dilemmas in their writing. Foremost in my research is the ongoing debate about fiction's potential to cause hurt and whether writers should write to this concern. Or should such questions be left to philosophers and ethicists? Drawing on instances in which the friends and families of novelists expressed their pain at recognising parts of their experience in fictional form, Section one of the exegesis examines the arguments about ethics put forward by novelists over the past century - including the case that ethics and morals have no place at all in art. The second section of the exegesis explores the unease I experienced in writing my third novel, The Children, a contemporary realist work in which I drew on material from my life and the lives of people around me. In this section I examine the ethical dilemmas I faced, the reasons for and 'side-effects' of these dilemmas, interrogating how the resulting anxiety hampered the writing process until the problems were addressed and resolved. In questioning my own ethics so actively, I also wanted to question my peers about their experiences. This led to the final section of the exegesis which sets my own practice against that of six contemporary Australian novelists. Face-to-face interviews were conducted and recorded by me with the writers using specific examples from their earliest work to their current projects. I compared their experiences with my own and the interviews and critical analysis provided an extended analysis of the creative, ethical and moral choices faced by contemporary novelists at work in Australia today. Primarily, the exegesis demonstrates the continuing dilemmas fiction writing imposes on writers. Despite assertions that morality has no role in art, that novelists must, as Graham Greene claimed, embrace "the virtue of disloyalty" (Greene 1969; cited by Donaghy 1983 p.9), many contemporary novelists are deeply concerned about the potential for ethical breaches in writing fiction about real people. They use various techniques to ameliorate or prevent the damage they might do to other people, including gaining permission (a morally complicated act in itself), disguise, fragmentation and other transformative techniques. The conclusion reached is that despite such attempts, the ethical quandary involved in using real people's lives for fiction will never be completely resolved. Theft from the lives of others, and the potential to do harm as a result, is an inherent part of the fiction writing process and, unless writers follow a path towards indifference to others, will never entirely disappear.
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