Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

English

Supervisor

Manina Jones

Abstract

This dissertation reconceptualizes generic distinctions between fiction and testimony in accounts of childhood trauma. Scholars such as Leigh Gilmore have argued that while writers of trauma stories are burdened by legalistic definitions of evidence and anxieties about truth-telling, they nonetheless push at the limits of autobiography, often scuffing the border between fact and fiction, in their effort to bring their traumatic stories into language. There has not, however, been a sustained effort to understand and legitimize the place of fiction in testimony, particularly in cases of adult narrations of recovered memories of childhood traumas. My research addresses this lacuna by querying the dynamic relationship between fiction and testimony in both autobiographical and fictional accounts of childhood trauma. This work is motivated by my desire to open up a scripto-therapeutic space for trauma survivors to incorporate stories and use their imaginations to narrate traumatic truths rather than strictly evidentiary truths.

In Chapter One of my dissertation, I explore Sylvia Fraser’s My Father’s House (1987), a pioneering memoir of recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse. I consider this controversial work as a case history of testimony caught between fact and fiction. Chapter Two extends my discussion of the controversy over the truth-status of Fraser’s traumatic memoir to an analysis of the ways in which three Canadian novels similarly challenge conventional boundaries of genre and representation in their fictional articulation of recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse: Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees (1996), Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night (1996), and Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s The Cure for Death by Lightning (1996). In Chapter Three, I argue that Indigenous writers specifically employ fiction and storytelling as forms of testimony outside of sanctioned Western discursive arenas such as courtrooms and the media. This chapter explores three residential school narratives: Vera Manuel’s play, Strength of Indian Women (1998), and two novels, James Bartleman’s As Long as the Rivers Flow (2011) and Robert Arthur Alexie’s Porcupines and China Dolls (2002).