Exorcising Personal Traumas / Silencing History: Jennifer Johnston's The Invisible Worm
Jennifer Johnston’s novel The Invisible Worm (1991) is an exemplary trauma narrative, both stylistically and thematically. It centres on the consciousness of its protagonist—Laura—and narrates her painful and protracted psychological process of coming to terms with a past marked by repeated sexual abuse by her father, which culminates in rape, and her mother’s consequent suicide. Yet The Invisible Worm is also a contemporary example of the Irish Big House novel, a genre that articulates the identitarian, historical and social plights of the Anglo-Irish. My intention in this article is to consider how the narrative’s evident interest in the personal dimension of Laura’s traumas works to obviate the socio-historical and political elements that have also contributed to the protagonist’s predicament. I will also analyse the different treatment afforded to the individual and the collective past: while the novel is explicit and optimistic in the case of Laura’s personal story, it remains reluctant to speak out about historical evils, with the result that, at the end of the novel, although freed from her personal traumas, Laura remains the prisoner of her historical legacy.
Keywords: Trauma Studies; Irish history; the Irish Big House novel; Jennifer Johnston; The Invisible Worm
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