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“A peculiarly English idiosyncrasy?” Julian Barnes’s Use of Lists in England, England

University of Portsmouth


If nations are, as Benedict Anderson suggests, imagined communities, then Julian Barnes’s 1998 novel England, England is a perfect literary example as it depicts the – quite literal – reconstruction of England with all her national characteristics and stereotypes in the Isle of Wight. This paper addresses questions of national identity and nation building, considering Pierre Nora’s notion of lieux de mémoire and their effect on a ‘national consciousness’; it also assesses Benedict Anderson’s idea of nations as imagined communities. In order to do so, the paper focuses on Julian Barnes’s extensive use of ‘the list’ in the formation or creation of a national identity and argues that, by doing so, Barnes targets contemporary society’s obsession with labelling and naming everything, even components of national ‘belonging’. The novel merges reality and hyperreality, leaving the reader with the uncomfortable realization that nothing is certain or permanent, national identity least of all.


Keywords: Julian Barnes, England, England, lists, lieux de mémoire,
imagined communities, hyperreality


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