Cultural Histories of Ageing
Myths, Plots and Metaphors of the Senescent Self
Drawing on sixteenth- to twenty-first-century American, British, French, German, Polish, Norwegian and Russian literature and philosophy, this collection teases out culturally specific conceptions of old age as well as subjective constructions of late-life identity and selfhood. The internationally known humanistic gerontologist Jan Baars, the prominent historian of old age David Troyansky and the distinguished cultural historian and pioneer in the field of literature and science George Rousseau join a team of literary historians who trace out the interfaces between their chosen texts and the respective periods’ medical and gerontological knowledge. The chapters’ in-depth analyses of major and less-known works demonstrate the rich potential of fiction, poetry and autobiographical writing in the construction of a cultural history of senescence. These literary examples not only bear witness to longue durée representations of old age, and epochal transitions regarding cultural attitudes to the aged; they also foreground the subjectivities that produced some of these representations and that continue to communicate with readers of other times and places. By casting a net over a variety of authors, genres, periods and languages, the collection gives a broad sense of how literature is among the richest and most engaging sources for historicizing the ageing self.
Table of Contents
1. How Can Literary Studies Contribute to a Cultural History of Ageing? 2. Narrative Configurations of Ageing and Time 3. Using Literary Sources in a World History of Ageing 4. Rêverie and Late Writing: From the Exemplary Montaigne to Rousseau and Baudelaire 5. "By Nature Led": Old Age in William Wordsworth’s Poem "Old Man Travelling" 6. Ageing and Creativity in Goethe’s Last Works 7. Senescence at the Russian Fin-de-Siècle: On the Ageless and the Ageing Self of Lev Tolstoy 8. Taking Care of the Self: Ageing in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray 9. Thomas Hardy and the Question of Senescence 10. "I Do Not Write a Life": Hamsun, Psychiatry and Life Narrative 11. Solitude and Senescence: May Sarton’s Sense of an Ending 12. French Female Literary Milestones in the History of Ageing 13. "Je suis vieux et très contemporain": Old Age and Modernity in the Works of Michel Houellebecq 14. Elderly People’s Homes in Contemporary Literature: A New Old World by Mariusz Sieniewicz 15. An Ageing Woman’s Dilemma: The Varieties of Silence in Merethe Lindstrøm’s Novel Days in the History of Silence
Margery Vibe Skagen is Associate Professor in French Literature at the University of Bergen.