Lifewriting has been an important segment of the book market since the mid-1990s. The misery memoir is identified as a particularly provocative kind of lifewriting because it exposes the suffering and humiliation of deprivation without restraint and with a gesture of lived authenticity. The texts discussed in this chapter could be accused of authenticating poverty as cultural otherness, and their recurring representational patterns confirm associations of the poor with brutality, crime, alcoholism and neglect. Misery memoirs can encourage a reader’s voyeuristic impulse, but their appeal also seems to lie in the emphasis on survival. Case studies include Constance Briscoe’s Ugly, Peter Roche’s Unloved and Jeff Randall’s Love Hurts.


lifewriting misery memoir 


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  1. 5.
    An earlier non-misery memoir was Simon Doonan’s Nasty: My Family and Other Glamorous Varmints (2005), later re-published as The Beautiful People, which was the title of the book’s series adaptation on BBC 2 (2008–9). Chapter 2, entitled “Fun”, starts with a surprising claim: “Poverty is vastly underrated. In the 1950s, my parents were broke. Despite the lack of cash, Betty and Terry remained glamorous. When their favourite shoes wore thin, they inserted slivers of cardboard into the soles and continued to wear them. During most of this decade, my family and I lived on the top floor of a dilapidated rooming house in Reading. Ours was a two-room flat with no kitchen or bathroom. Betty, wearing spike heels, carried our water up the stairs in buckets. This did wonders for her already shapely legs” (29). Amid tales of the resilience of his parents, the narrator describes how “[l]ife, for my sister and me, now took a Dickensian turn. Shelagh and I were sent to the orphanage. There was no such thing as day care in Reading in the 1950s. Ever resourceful, my parents went to the local orphanage and made an arrangement to drop us off every day. Cunningly they referred to it as “the Nursery”. Either way, it was a grim, underfunded, state-run institution” (31). Doonan relies on similar tropes and allusions as in other misery writing on poverty, but undermines this by stressing his parents’ inventiveness, and, on the narrative level, through his camp and somewhat unexpected humour.Google Scholar

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© Barbara Korte and Georg Zipp 2014

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  • Barbara Korte
  • Georg Zipp

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