1st Edition

Narrative Fiction and Death Dying Imagined

By Sabine Köllmann Copyright 2023

    Narrative Fiction and Death: Dying Imagined offers a new perspective on the study of death in literature. It focuses on narrative fiction that conveys the experience of dying from the internal perspective of a dying protagonist. Writers from Victor Hugo in the early 1800s to Elif Shafak in the present day have imagined the unknowable final moments on the threshold to death. This literary study examines the wide range of narrative strategies used to evoke the transition from life to death, and to what effect, revealing not only each writer’s unique way of representing the dying experience; the comparative reading also finds common concerns in these texts and uncovers surprising parallels and unexplored intertextual relations between works across time and space that will interest comparatists as well as specialists in the literatures discussed. Students of individual texts examined here will benefit from detailed analyses of these works.

    The fictional evocation of dying addresses our basic human fears, offering catharsis, consolation, and a greater cognitive and emotional understanding of that unknowable experience. Presented in an engaging and highly readable manner, this study argues for literature’s potential to challenge our assumptions about the end of life and change our approach to dying, an aspect that will interest students and researchers of the health humanities, palliative caregivers, and all those interested in questions of the end of life.


    1. Facing execution

    Victor Hugo, The Last Day of a Condemned Man (1829)

    Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot (1869)

    Ambrose Bierce, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1890)

    Jorge Luis Borges, The Secret Miracle (1943)

    Vladimir Nabokov, Invitation to a Beheading (1938)

    2. Life’s choices at death

    Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886)

    Carlos Fuentes, The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962)

    3. In the mirror: women and death

    Arthur Schnitzler, Fräulein Else (1924)

    María Luisa Bombal, The Shrouded Woman (1938)

    Ilse Aichinger, Story in Reverse (1949)

    Elif Shafak, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (2019)

    4. Death and the writer: autofiction at the limit

    Hermann Broch, The Death of Virgil (1945)

    Maurice Blanchot, The Instant of My Death (1994)

    Péter Nádas, Own Death (2002)



    Sabine Köllmann is an independent scholar based in London. She is the author of Vargas Llosa and the Demons of Politics and A Companion to Mario Vargas Llosa (Támesis). She has published on rhetoric in fiction and contributed to the Oxford Handbook of the Latin American Novel.