EESE 8/98

Graham Swift, Ever After: a Study in Intertextuality - Appendix II
Hannah Jacobmeyer (Münster)

Remembrance as the Highest Achievement of Life: the Specific Meaning of Intertext

In the preceding part of this article, a list of hypotexts which occur in Swift's novel Ever After has been presented. The list offers some information about the quantity of hypotexts and about their origin. In the following brief analysis, some selected intertextual references will be discussed in the context of their meaning for the novel.

It can be seen, on the one hand that the majority of clearly marked hypotexts comes from the works of Shakespeare. On the other hand, a certain pattern of distribution emerges from the overview, which reveals that some chapters make more use of hypotexts than others. As in every literary work, it is difficult to estimate a concrete distribution of hypotexts in Ever After: repetitions of quotations (for example, 'Jack shall have Jill' or the motto of the clock, amor vincit omnia) or simple allusions to such works from which quotations are used in other parts of the novel have been excluded from the list of hypotexts on the grounds that they reach a lesser degree of meaning for the hypertext. They don't open up an equally large new dimension of meaning.

While the problem of such a distinction concerns every literary work, in the case of Ever After the notebooks of Matthew Pierce present yet a different, special case of intertextuality. They are quoted extensively by the protagonist, Bill Unwin, as a text written by his Victorian forefather and can therefore be regarded as a hypotext. The novel alternates between the hypertext and this most dominating of all the hypotexts involved, the notebooks. It concentrates sometimes exclusively on the story of Bill Unwin - as in the four opening chapters and in the two final chapters - and sometimes gives priority to the notebooks, as in chapter five which consists only of the letter written by Matthew to his wife, dated 12th April 1869.

To this interweaving of the hypertext with the notebooks are added the other marked references to hypotexts, which are shown in the list. Of all the chapters of the novel, chapter XX is richest in intertextual references. The six pages of this short chapter contain ten references and one extract from the notebooks. The accumulation of hypotexts in this chapter, which makes it particularly dense and urging, comes as no surprise if the chapter is regarded as the real closing of the novel.

Here, human life and human works are remembered in an (all-)embracing gesture, and remembrance is claimed as the final goal and highest achievement of life. Bill Unwin needs to remember his life because this remembrance contains his only happiness. His notes about what happened to him are the necessary means of a healing process (anamnesis), even though the novel leaves it unsaid whether he will recover from his crisis or not. It is only natural that in this context other literary works are remembered by someone like Bill Unwin, who views literature, especially poetry, as the 'redeeming balm' (p. 71) against the fear of death and the annihilation of identity. Not only does he quote poetry in his discussion about remembrance, but the quotations themselves are chosen according to the subject. 'Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,/ Live regist'red ...': these are the opening lines of Love's Labour's Lost, which in the drama continue towards the theme of death.

  Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live regist'red upon our brazen tombs,
And then grace us in the disgrace of death.

The fact that this quotation comes from one of Shakespeare's comedies is insignificant in the context in which it is evoked. It is chosen for its theme and melancholic mood, which these lines convey just as well as the ones from Hamlet: 'Exposing what is mortal and unsure to all that fortune, death, and danger dare ...'. With these words, Hamlet describes the character of Fortinbras in a comparison with himself. In both cases, the speakers, the King of Navarre and Hamlet, express their wish to achieve (ever-)lasting fame through the right course of action. Both figures are, however, distanced from their goals, or rather: they achieve fame differently, not through the seemingly ideal model which they describe in these lines. The melancholy of the two excerpts and the fact or conviction that fame has not yet been achieved echo the situation of Bill Unwin. He assures the reader several times that he has never achieved any kind of fame. This subject - on which Bill meditates repeatedly in the course of the novel - is given particular stress here, because of the two intertextual references (instead of just one) and because of the difference between the chosen hypotexts. To bring into close contact a comedy and a tragedy via two passages which express the same idea, creates an effect close to an oxymoron and intensifies the novel's discussion about death and fame. For Bill Unwin, the clash of hypotexts produces a kind of 'truth' - the truth which he so desperately seeks.

On the other hand, a counter-argument can be deduced: as the King of Navarre and Hamlet achieve fame in spite of their failing of the proposed ideal course of action (the three years of contemplative life in the case of the King of Navarre, and the direct action against Claudius which Hamlet has not yet undertaken at this point in the drama), the question may be derived from these hypotexts whether or not Bill Unwin can really resist the temptation to seek fame. His infatuation with famous poets (Vergil, Shakespeare, Donne, Sidney, Raleigh) and figures invented by these poets (Hamlet), his mentioning of and quoting from these famous works of literature point to the contrary. He also repeats the information that Raleigh is a supposed ancestor of his (p. 29, 34 and 71). This gives the reader the impression that he is not really dismissing the idea of such a famous ancestry, despite his mocking criticism of 'Uncle Ratty', who first tried to establish the family link. The autobiographical notes, which he starts to take after the failed suicide, and his intense search for his real father seem to make him join into the 'struggle for remembrance' (p. 231). Finally, there are the famous-to-be notebooks by Matthew Pierce, which he hands over for an expert editing to Michael Potter: another wish to survive in name, if only the name of an ancestor? And is not 'anteriority', which Bill admits to be seeking (p. 235), ultimately the same as 'posteriority'?

Similar to the range of interpretations which are opened up by the quotations in chapter XX, the poem by Sir Walter Raleigh which is given on p. 71, allows for some discussion. The poem is quoted by Bill Unwin as follows:

  Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us but with age and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave
When we have wandered all our ways
Shuts up the story of our days.

The ending is significant because it omits two lines which Raleigh supposedly composed on the eve of his execution and which change this stanza from the love poem, 'Nature that washt her hands in milk', in a remarkable way. Raleigh added the lines

  And from which earth, and grave, and dust,
The Lord shall raise me up, I trust.

Against the fear of death, Raleigh summons his belief in God. The poem takes an upward turn, from the grave and the final ending of all life to which it has descended up to God's heaven and the 'trust', which is everlasting.

When Bill Unwin in quoting the poem leaves out these last two lines, he states implicitly - through the chosen passage of the hypotext - that God, or indeed any belief in a life after death does not exist in his own picture of human life. This is important for a novel in which the protagonist ceaselessly questions the nature of life and death. It can thus be seen that not only the obvious window on the hypotext itself - i.e. the quotation or allusion or any other form of intertextual reference - conveys certain meanings, but that an absence, too, has its own significance. As this last example shows, there are intertextual references who are present in the hypertext, but there are also 'absent' intertextual references, such as the omitted passage from the famous poem by Raleigh. What exactly is chosen from the hypotext, its place in the context of the hypotext as well as its place in the hypertext - all of these questions belong to the intertextual analysis and open up considerable new grounds for further interpretations of the hypertext.

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