The Borders of her Body
: Subjectivity, Structure, and the Real in Narratives of Chronic Illness (and the Author's Own Novel)

  • Dana Anthonette Leigh

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This creative practice-based thesis, comprised of artefact and exegesis, posits that narrative and illness are inextricably linked, and that the true nature of chronic illness is therefore dismissed in favour of resolution, both in fiction and everyday life. My novel, The Borders of Her Body, is written in response, portraying the liminal reality that many with chronic illness face. Drawing from my own experience of sarcoidosis—a multi-systemic inflammatory disease—the novel tells the story of a woman who feels both defined and erased by her illness and the judgments and expectations attached to it.
The accompanying exegesis examines my creative praxis, informed by critical theory and a reflexive methodology, and how I balance these with the demands of the novel form. I explore chronic illness experience and interrogate the boundaries between fact and fiction, heal and die, subject and object, and self and other. By representing the indefinite nature of chronic illness, my novel embraces an intersubjective and unresolved interpretation of illness in original ways.
The exegesis begins with a chapter introducing my ‘[auto]critical illness studies’ framework, which uses an autoethnographic approach informed by critical disability studies, postmodernism, illness narrative theory, and phenomenology. Chapter Two explores ‘the real’ through discussion on the nature of the novel, literary minimalism, and pain as physical reality. Chapter Three looks at the significance of setting and symbolism in my novel. In Chapter Four, I explore the structure of my novel through the metanarrative of modern medicine, and illness
narrative types, tenses, and temporality. I look at chronic illness experience through phenomenology in Chapter Five, with the last section focused on how I consider subjectivity in my novel through point of view. Finally, Chapter Six examines sociocultural identity, normativity, and stigmatisation. The thesis concludes that my novel offers a [post-]postmodern break from the prevailing types of illness narratives by representing the unresolved reality of chronic illness through a mode of literary minimalism.
Date of Award6 Jun 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorSteven O'Brien (Supervisor) & Alison Habens (Supervisor)

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