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Title:Aging well: Shaping age identities in the literature of the British welfare state
Author(s):Skwarczek, Katherine
Director of Research:Hansen, Jim
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hansen, Jim
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Gaedtke, Andrew; Mahaffey, Vicki; Markley, Robert
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):literary age studies
literary aging studies
age studies
aging studies
welfare state
aging well
British literature
Samuel Beckett
Harold Pinter
B. S. Johnson
Muriel Spark
Ian McEwan
Abstract:This dissertation traces a literary genealogy of old age and argues that British literature offers both a systematic challenge to the regulatory models of the life course solidified during the twentieth century and emerging from the welfare state, as well as a necessary caveat concerning recent processes that individualize, multiply, but also potentially dismantle social provisions for the elderly in late life. By examining such topics as retirement, intergenerational relations, and narrative ethics, I create a literary-historical archive that resists easy internalization of socio-economic, cultural, and medical-scientific practices and discourses—such as the “alzheimerization” of old age—that seek to manage the “problem” of an aging population, while likewise sharing with the broader field of aging studies the goal of disassociating old age from damaging equations with decline and loss. Beginning with the postwar decades and extending to early twenty-first century texts, this study examines the creation of aging subjects who must negotiate both individual agency and collective social responsibility. I show how the anxious depictions of labor and late life in the mid-century plays of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter still inform current debates about retirement, pensions, and social welfare provisions. Other chapters, including one discussing the work of B. S. Johnson, explore how the depiction of subjective dimensions of aging (including anxiety about growing older) can simultaneously register the material, historical imprint of exclusionary age-related policies (such as the failings of institutional care). In later chapters on life writing, the “neuronovel,” and colonial and postcolonial literature, I highlight the changing and often contradictory disciplinary constructs, cultural norms, and social policies that idealize some forms of aging “well,” but which then morally burden individuals with the achievement of such ideals or serve to marginalize other already-vulnerable groups, such as women and migrant communities.
Issue Date:2018-04-13
Rights Information:Copyright 2018 Katherine Skwarczek
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-09-04
Date Deposited:2018-05

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