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Sheils, B. Walsh, J. (2013). Tragedy and Transference in D.M. Thomas's The White Hotel. Psychoanal. Hist., 15(1):69-89.

(2013). Psychoanalysis and History, 15(1):69-89

Tragedy and Transference in D.M. Thomas's The White Hotel

Barry Sheils and Julie Walsh

In the novel The White Hotel, D.M. Thomas's superimposition of a Freudian-style case history onto a traumatic event of World War II explores both the necessity and the gratuitousness of representing trauma. The novel's primary device of relating the sexual fantasies of its protagonist Lisa Erdman/‘Frau Anna G.’, depicted as being a psychoanalytic patient of Freud's, to the massacre of over 30,000 Jews at Babi Yar in 1941, is an enduringly controversial one. The notoriety of Thomas's novel though, stems not only from its difficult treatment of the sexual desire of a victim of the Shoah, but also from the critical disbelief regarding the author's production of an original text. In this article we suggest that these sites of controversy are intimately linked. Allegations that Thomas was guilty of literary theft — of plagiarizing a more ‘authentic’ account of the historical events at Babi Yar — resonate with criticisms of the novel's gratuitous representations of sex. Ultimately, however, it is through this gratuitousness, evident in the novel's formal commitment to repetition, that Thomas's work invites reflection on the difficulty of an ethics of representation by implicating the aesthetic concerns of literature with those of psychoanalysis and historical fact. Specifically, we shall suggest that Thomas's positioning of the term anagnorisis — a critical term referring to the moment of recognition or clarification in tragic drama — is central to this project.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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