Historicising Neoliberal Britain: Remembering the End of History

  • Christopher Vardy

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis argues that a range of twenty-first-century British historical fictions historicise contemporary neoliberal politics, economics and subject-formation through a return to the Thatcherite past. These texts, in their very different ways, enact and interrogate the status of the 1980s within British cultural production as a decisive and determining End of History, which continues to define the futures available to contemporary subjects and collectives. The thesis focuses on contemporary forms of historicity – understood not just as a text’s narration or representation of the past but its specific figuration of history as a process. It evaluates the extent to which contemporary historicisations of neoliberal Britain present the early years of British neoliberalism as a futureless past, and the ways in which models of subjectivity and agency are posited and circumscribed within these historical fictions. Chapter One analyses the status of the 1984-85 miners’ strike as an overdetermined ‘End of History’, through a close analysis of David Peace’s GB84. I argue that the text is defined by critically significant contradictions: it presents the miners’ defeat as a futureless ‘Year Zero’ but historicises that ending, and historicises the conflict through a paradoxically dehistoricised thousand-year longue durée of violence. I close by suggesting that this novel articulates a sense of historicity without futurity but is nevertheless rich in critical potential. Chapter Two explores the ways in which neoliberal financialisation is figured through the futureless queer male body. It argues that Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty juxtaposes financial crisis and the AIDS crisis to present an economic atmosphere haunted by the spectre of its own imminent dissolution. The unproductive and unreproductive signification of cocaine and queer sex function as metaphors for an economic dispensation that sits uneasily with the heteronormative futures of the Conservative elite. Chapters Three and Four explore the figuration of Thatcher’s Children in twenty-first-century historical fictions and outline the dialectical relationship between accounts of childhood that emphasise its determining power and those that see it as an origin myth perpetually being rewritten to suit the needs of the present. Chapter Three analyses nostalgic narratives of neoliberal adolescence and explores the ways in which materialistic and apolitical retro-memory of the 1980s is both enacted and interrogated in David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green. It also argues that the adolescent point-of-view is used to denaturalise ideological change but that the infantilised models of the subject that it produces are politically problematic. Chapter Four analyses the ways in which the Thatcherite 1980s, and its relationship to the neoliberal present, are figured through metaphors of child sexual abuse. Through readings of Denise Mina’s The Field of Blood and Peace’s Nineteen Eighty Three, this chapter argues that while these narratives can offer a stark vehicle for criticism of neoliberal economics, they can also act to elide complex historical and political relationships, and often present deterministic models of subjectivity that circumscribe contemporary agency and historicity.
Date of Award31 Dec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJerome De Groot (Supervisor) & Kaye Mitchell (Supervisor)


  • Thatcherism
  • Historical Fiction
  • Contemporary Literature
  • Neoliberalism
  • Historicity

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