Doing Time: Temporality and Writing in the Eighteenth-Century British Prison Experience
(2015) Life Writing, pp. 1-19. Article in Press.
This paper argues that carceral experience was a generative and organisational motif in a large number of influential early British novels, which are read as life writing. I deploy Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the chronotope in order to identify the increasing narratological centrality of the depiction of prison experience to these novels, and explain that his theory’s unique insistence on the perceptual confluence of space and time is of particular significance in the context of the prison. I ask how a chronotopic analysis repositions existing theoretical understandings of time and the prison narrative. Concretely, my discussion of the prison chronotope in these narratives challenges Michel Foucault’s understanding of the ‘prison revolution’ of 1779, John Bender’s contention that the eighteenth-century novel bears a proleptic relationship to time, and Monika Fludernik’s reading of the prison as essentially ahistorical and effectively timeless. Finally, this paper also identifies the frequent equivalence of the figure of the writer with that of the prisoner in the early novel, and argues that this meta- or supra-textual relationship in part accounts for the predominance of the motif in the fictional life writing of the period. © 2015 Taylor & Francis
Eighteenth-century novel; penal theory; prison theme; time and narrative