Take this message to the infants' ward

Kain, Stephanie (2020) Take this message to the infants' ward. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This practice-based PhD submission comprises a 100,000-word novel, Take This Message to the Infants' Ward, plus a 20,000 word exegesis, Inside Avonhurst, reflecting on the genesis, research process, and narrative shaping of the novel. Take This Message to the Infants' Ward explores life in an Idiot Asylum in 1927. Through the point of view of two protagonists—Andria Felwyn (Fel), a selective mute and epileptic inmate of the "moron" class, and Siobhan Rian, an Irish immigrant doctor—the novel illuminates the living, working, and social conditions of a 20th century 'total' institution over the course of one calendar year. This novel was based upon research into the actual archives of the largest institution in Ontario, Canada. The events of the novel are based upon news stories, video footage, and other archived sources from the time of the institution's opening in the late 1860s to its closure in 2009 (Archives of Ontario, 2014). Through a combination of formal and experimental elements, the reflective thesis attempts to encompass the entire process of the development of the novel—not only the literary progression, but also the personal journey from research to writing; the historical context of mental health colonisation in Ontario; the social conditions that led to the Eugenics movement that gained such a stronghold in Canadian politics and medicine; and the nomenclature of the day that created a key ethical question in the writing of the book—and which ultimately helped develop a framework for the language that was necessary in establishing an authentic setting. The reader will experience a guided tour of an actual institution, Huronia (formerly the Orillia Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles), and the graveyard that was the final resting place of more than 2,000 residents. Segments of interpolated text illuminate the writing process from the author's perspective. There follows an examination of the phenomenon of institutionalisation: the geography, the psychology and the human hierarchy of large institutions, and how these informed the making of the novel; the fictional characters of Avonhurst; issues of authenticity, reliability, and narrative voice; an examination of the different iterations that led to the final draft, and a study of sexual identity and expression in large institutions: sterilisation, abuse, queer identity, and the reclaiming of the self The conclusion discusses the noticeable lack of literature on this subject in the landscape of Canadian fiction and argues for the original contribution that this combined PhD submission makes.

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18 Feb 2020 16:20
Last Modified:
17 Sep 2023 03:35