Untangling Nemesis and Echo from John Banville’s Narcissistic Shroud

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Summary: In this article, I attempt to untangle the conflated representations of the two dead women who haunt Axel Vander, the narrator of large portions of John Banville’s 2002 novel, Shroud. The narrating protagonist has an inflated sense of his own centrality and a callous disregard for others. Cass Cleave and Magda are reduced to roles which bear striking resemblances to those of Nemesis and Echo in Ovid’s rendition of the myth of Narcissus. The article first explores Vander’s relationship with Cass, who is twice referred to as “Nemesis” in the text. It traces how Vander’s attempt to forge a coherent version of himself comes at Cass’s expense. While she is initially poised to bring justice, as Nemesis does, to the Narcissus-like figure by revealing who he actually is, their interaction costs her her life. The article then moves on to look at Magda, Vander’s dead (and likely murdered) wife, who throughout her life played the only role permitted by her grandiose husband: that of a hapless Echo. The article concludes by an examination of Vander’s belated regret, and doomed gesture of recompense.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)108-120
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Literary Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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