Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Communications and Arts

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Ffion Murphy

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Jill Durey

Abstract

This thesis comprises a novel written for a general readership and an accompanying essay, both of which explore secrets and lies, shame and guilt, and confession and forgiveness in relation to celebrity culture and literature.

The novel, ‘Ophelia’, explores the notion that, beneath the surface of many lives, there may be thoughts and events people are ashamed of and wish to keep hidden. The revelation of secrets can have both expected and unexpected consequences. The novel focuses on the experiences of a woman who creates different identities and lives vastly different lifestyles at different times. When exposed, she must confront her shame and loss and ask others for forgiveness. The novel depicts the effects of her concealment on a small group of characters whose identities and relationships are challenged by her revelations. It questions the role of ‘truth’ in relationships and why people lie, including to those they claim to love, and it asks whether love can exist alongside lies, and to what extent it is possible to know another person. In addition, it examines different modes of celebrity, the role of the media in exposing celebrity scandals, and audience expectation and ambivalence in response to public confession.

The essay discusses the genesis and development of ‘Ophelia’ together with critical literature relevant to its key themes—keeping secrets and telling lies; shame, confession and forgiveness; and celebrity culture, including the relationship of celebrity and fan and the role and impact of the media, especially during a scandal. The essay refers to contemporary and historical examples of celebrity scandal, fabrication and confession, including the stories of two stars from the ‘golden age’ of Hollywood.

I propose that characters in novels are not forgiven as readily as celebrities, and that cultural and sexual transgression by a female character often results in her isolation, death or both. Three novels were chosen as case studies: Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. Each has a female protagonist who is or becomes a mother and who carries a burden of secrets and shame. The novels, set in different countries, published in different eras and representing different cultural contexts and expectations, nevertheless share an interest in shame as a potent form of control.

My review of selected literature and celebrity culture suggests that the act of confession is essential to an individual’s concept of self. Confession is fraught as ‘truth’ is hard to speak and to hear. Differences between guilt and shame affect the ability to confess and the likelihood of forgiveness. Guilt arises from a person’s acts, whereas shame concerns who a person is or considers themselves to be, which makes both confession and forgiveness more complex propositions. An important aspect of confession is that it links to the confessor’s desire to find or regain a place in society, although that society might also be revealed as prejudiced, superficial, paradoxical, intolerant or unjust. Novels depicting experiences of guilt and shame can serve to illuminate and interrogate identity formation together with specific cultural beliefs and practices.

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Exegesis only available by author's request

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