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Kathy Acker: Great Expectations

Plagiarism was to be a problem for Acker during her career, as she was accused of it by, among others, Harold Robbins, which led, in part, to her leaving Britain and returning to the United States. Clearly Dickens was not going to make a fuss. Moreover, Acker made no attempt to hide what she was doing as the first part of this work is called Plagiarism. The opening sentences of the book are, more or less, taken straight from Dickens’ Great Expectations, though the narrator calls himself Peter, rather than Dickens’ Pip. However, she quickly switches to a female narrator reading tarot cards (Would the guy who fucked me so well in France be in love with me?)) and from there on it is a deconstruction of the masculine-driven narrative. Sex and warfare, male domination of women, comments from the narrator, they are all there. We do get a sort of a story, with Sarah trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s death (I adored her) and more plagiarism, this time of the Histoire d’O (Story of O ) as well as other works. Finally, we move to Propertius and his relationship with a woman called Cynthia, again from the female point of view. The book concludes with the narrator/Acker and the pain her mother’s suicide caused her. If you are reading this book for the story, you are reading the wrong book. Acker is clearly aiming to subvert the conventional, primarily male narrative of the nineteenth century and give a more female-centred approach but also to show that conventional narrative really does not work any more in the modern world. She will do it again in her later books but this is a good one to start with.

Publishing history

First published 1982 by Re/Search Productions