A comprehensive study of the non-dramatic work of Sue Townsend. (Jurgen Willems)


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         I decided to write a dissertation on Sue Townsend for two reasons. First of all I like the author's work a lot. Her books have all those ingredients I value highly in a work of literature: a fluent and straightforward style, a playful use of language, serious themes and last but not least humour.

         Secondly, I thought it would be useful to do some research on this writer and her work since very little criticism has been produced on this subject up till now. This is somewhat surprising, considering that Townsend was the bestselling author of the 1980s. Nevertheless, academics tend to regard Townsend as a popular author who cannot be taken seriously as a literary artist. The lack, or rather scarcity of academic criticism thus served as a stimulus to write this thesis but on the other hand it was also a serious drawback. It impled that it was very hard to find sufficient information on the writer and her books. Consequently all the footnotes indicating the sources of information on the writer and her books refer to newspaper articles. These provided most of the facts about Townsend's life and also reviews of her books.

         In October 1992 I met Sue Townsend in the bookshop WH Smith's in Brussels. This meeting was very important for this dissertation because I was able to ask the author some questions and I was given a press map with a large amount of articles on The Queen and I.

         The dissertation consists of two parts. In the first part the life of Susan Townsend is highlighted. This chapter is relatively long (for a dissertation devoted to a writer's non-dramatic work) simply because the author's life is one of the most important sources for the interpretation of her work. In the second part of the thesis Townsend's non-dramatic work is analyzed.

         Before certain aspects of Townsend's non-dramatic books are tackled quite a lot of space is devoted to the presentation of plot summaries and background information. The summaries of the writer's fiction and her political pamphlet are rather extensive for three reasons. First some comments or interpretations are incorporated, which obviously makes the summaries longer. Secondly, a good understanding of the plot of Townsend's books is necessary in order to enable the reader to grasp certain illustrations. And thirdly, the summaries are interesting for those people who wish to be informed about the content of Townsend's novels but who do not have the opportunity or time to read them.

         The subsequent chapters deal with Townsend's place within a literary tradition, the reflection of the author's personal experiences in her work, the writer's style, motifs, recurrent themes and side issues and finally the reasons for the popularity of the Mole books and The Queen and I. In the final chapter the main reason for Townsend's success; her humour is analysed and thoroughly explained.


         Throughout this study the reader will be referred to as 'he' (in anaphoric references). This masculine personal pronoun of course includes both male and female readers. The pronoun 'he' is preferred to the construction 'he or she' for brevity's sake.

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