Mending Fragments of the Self. The Bildungsroman as Kintsugi in Jack Maggs and Mister Pip
With a view to illustrating how the Bildungsroman paradigm has been assimilated, reshaped and creatively adapted to new ‘narratives of self-formation’ in the contemporary novel (Armstrong 2020), this paper focuses on Jack Maggs (1997) by the Australian novelist Peter Carey and Mister Pip (2007) by the New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones. In different ways, both novels imaginatively engage with what has been regarded as one of the most canonical instances of the English Bildungsroman: Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Bearing witness to the last few decades’ fascination with neo- Victorianism and cultural “appropriations of the Victorians”, both works have been extensively explored from a postcolonial perspective (Hassal 1997; Jordan 2000; Thieme 2001; Maak 2005; Taylor 2009; Latham 2011, Walker 2011; Butter 2014; Colomba 2017) and they have been shown to embody different approaches to individual and collective experiences of shock and suffering in the light of trauma studies (Ho 2003; Sadoff 2010). Without disregarding the multiple themes and issues woven into the two novels’ intricate narrative textures, this paper aims to illustrate how they specifically address the Bildungsroman model in Dickens’ masterpiece from their own distinct, but complementary standpoints. In different ways, Jack Maggs and Mister Pip mark a shift, as I will argue, from the idea of ‘Bildung’ to an evocative process of ‘mending fragments’, the metaphorical and metafictional implications of which deserve more attention than they have received thus far. In this sense, the Japanese technique of Kintsugi – that ‘exhibits the scars’ between the broken parts of repaired pottery by means of gold lines – provides a powerful metaphorical equivalent, as the paper will argue, for the new model of self-formation/self-narration illustrated by the two novels. Besides calling attention to the wholeness vs. fragmentation paradigm that has been shown to be constitutive of the postmodern “Protean Self” (Lifton 1993; McCracken 2008; Belamghari 2020), the Kintsugi technique brings into sharper focus the individual search for balance between weakness and strength, loss and resilience, between the ephemerality and the permanence of existence, never hiding the traces of its frailty. As the paper will eventually illustrate, the Kintsugi metaphor underpinning the ‘narratives of the self’ in Mack Maggs and Mister Pip may help us re- examine Dickens’s novel in a new light, and reconsider how, and to what extent, Great Expectations also “broke from the critical position articulated by Franco Moretti” (Taft 2020).
EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Alessandra Squeo, "Mending Fragments of the Self. The Bildungsroman as Kintsugi in Jack Maggs and Mister Pip" in: "2021 / 26 Prospero. Rivista di letterature e culture straniere", EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, Trieste, 2021, pp. 75-105