Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
School of Communications and Arts
Faculty of Education and Arts
Dr Ffion Murphy
Dr Marcella Polain
This thesis comprises two parts, a novel and an essay. ‘The Historian’s Daughter’ is a work of fiction based on family memories and historical research that speaks to the trauma of abandonment and displacement in an immigrant family living in Australia. The accompanying essay is titled ‘Monsters and Memory’ and is an autoethnographical text which combines theoretical, experiential and embodied research to argue that the inclusion of women’s stories, particularly those of trauma and abuse, must be foregrounded in any exploration of cultural and diasporic memory. Drawing primarily on the work of Said (1978, 1993, 1999, 2001), Bhabha (1990, 1994), Caruth (1995), Kuhn (1999), Metta (2010), Barrett (2010), Reed-Danahay (1997), Ellis (2004), Kapur (2001) and Mohanty (2004), this thesis contributes to current debates in Australia about bicultural identity, refugees and migrants. The novel is located in three countries, India, Iran and Australia, and this allows me to explore the concept of ‘home’ in a rapidly changing world when ‘home’ is no longer a place of refuge and safety. Returning home, therefore, can be fraught with political danger, as in the case of post-revolutionary Iran and post-Rajiv Gandhi assassination India.
This is a novel about what happens to a family when a loving mother abruptly walks out on them. Using a first-person narrative, the novel encompasses the narrator’s abandonment as a child in India, her subsequent relocation to Australia, her relationship with her menacing father and her attempt to locate and rescue her sister from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Using a fractured chronology, the narrative has four sections that loop back and forth as the story unfolds.
My interest in the complexities of voluntary migration or forced exile from so-called Third- World countries to a First-World country such as Australia prompted my immersion in the stories that women told of their experiences of living in a ‘safe’ country. I was consumed by a desire to ‘hear’ women’s voices, in particular, the voices of Indian and Iranian women speaking accented English. I was interested in their responses to particular written texts and whether those stories accurately represented their bicultural ‘belongings.’ Therefore, I initiated a Reading Group and invited them, over an eighteen-month period, to read four published texts written by Indian and Iranian women. The objective was to record the readers’ responses to the literature they read, with an understanding that they would also read ‘The Historian’s Daughter’ as it evolved. As cultural observer, participant and researcher in the study, I was able to discern “multiple layers of consciousness” and to challenge my own beliefs as a first generation immigrant woman in Australia (Ellis & Bochner, 2000; Ellis, 2004; Anderson, 2006).
Reconciling the divide between remaining faithful to memory in all its complexity and slipperiness as well as being mindful of the familial issues involved in recreating events from the past is one of the challenges this thesis grapples with. The dilemma of representing family uncritically is balanced by a desire to reclaim the ‘power of the text to change the world’ and make it a better place (Ellis, 2004). This thesis investigates the power of storytelling as a framework for thinking about the world. I am aware that my personal experiences of race, identity and sexual violence have impacted on both parts of this thesis. It is these experiences, supported by theoretical research, that I offer in the context of providing insights into broader cultural issues within specific immigrant communities in Australia.
Access to this thesis:
Only the chapter “Essay: Monsters & Memory (Introduction), pages 143-151 is available for public viewing.
Murphy, R. (2015). The Historian’s Daughter (A novel); Monsters and Memory (An essay). Retrieved from https://ro.ecu.edu.au/theses/1708