Current PhD Students

Yu-Hua Yen

Thesis Title

Narrating Selves: The Narrative Integrity of Fictional Autobiographies


Professor Derek Attridge and Dr Richard Walsh


My PhD thesis examines the way writers use fiction as a rhetorical vehicle to
thematise and to theorise the project of autobiography — a transformation of life into narrative that
involves a negotiation between aesthetics and ethics. It analyses four fictional autobiographies: Paul
Auster’s Moon Palace (1989), Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending (2011), Lydia Davis’s The End of
the Story (1995), and Philip Roth’s The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography (1988). Each text presents
an autodiegetic narrator narrating crucial moments in her/his life; they are ordered progressively
according to the way each engages with the issue of narrative artifice on the narratorial and/or
authorial level. I explore what makes the character narrator’s life-story work, that is, the way s/he
negotiates the possible tension between form and ethics, the resolution of which is what I call
narrative integrity. The double meaning of the word “integrity”, as a formal and an ethical quality,
encapsulates the dual demands of formal coherence and ethical commitment inherent in the
challenges of autobiography. The thesis discusses four forms of narrative integrity — contingency,
consistency, coherence, and counterpoint — and suggests ways in which they are interpreted
differently on the representational and the rhetorical level of the text. Adopting a rhetorical
approach to fiction, I address the way the particular representation of autobiography in each text is
used rhetorically, not autobiographically, by the author to theorise certain aspects of self-
representation in general. I argue that integrity as a critical concept helps elucidate the
complications involved in life writing by foregrounding the issue of form, which is necessary, if also
potentially problematic, for the articulation of personal truths. This project situates itself within the
broad field of ethical criticism in literary studies and explores the relationships between fiction,
narrative ethics, and life writing.


I grew up in Taiwan and have a BA in English and a BSc in Banking from National Chengchi University. I completed a MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture at the University of York in 2010. After a few years pursuing other interests, I returned to York in 2014 to undertake PhD study and passed my viva with no corrections in October 2018. My PhD is funded by a study abroad scholarship awarded by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education.