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Drawing on Modernism in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home


When Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic came out in 2006, the striking literary quality of the narrative was noted from her first reviews. Bechdel’s memoir is positioned at the intersection of image, narrative, autobiography and history. But Bechdel makes an additional play for high literary status by larding her book with the influence of canonical modernist literature, not only through frequent and explicit citation and reference, but also by subtler formal, thematic and textual gestures. Of all of these references, Joyce is the most ubiquitous; Joyce frames the novel and introduces both the conflict presented and its reconciliation. Bechdel clearly states the legitimacy of the graphic narrative as inheritor of the modernist tradition, particularly as exemplified through Joyce. At the same time, her relationship to Joyce and the modernist tradition is playful and sometimes combative.