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In the 2009 preface to her novel Restoration, Rose Tremain makes clear that the choice of the period was meant as a commentary on the Thatcher years: “Restoration, written over twenty years ago in 1988, was my fictional response to the climate of selfishness and material greed that began to prevail in our society during the Thatcher years, from which we have never recovered and for which we are now beginning to pay a terrifying price”. The Restoration allows her to use the literary traditions of comedy and satire for the portrayal of her truculent narrator, royalist Merivel. A student of anatomy turned courtier and cuckold husband of the King’s mistress, Merrivel is both the fop of Restoration comedy and the traditional satirical alazon. What purpose does the recourse to satire serve regarding Thatcherism? While fool Merivel is a man of his time – to use the title of the 2012 sequel to Restoration – as the representative of a British literary tradition, his career and shortcomings reflect Thatcherist ideals and pitfalls: his is the path of an individual gaining a higher status on account of his talent but life at court has Merivel develop ridiculous materialistic concerns that lead to his downfall. His gullible utterance demonstrating his blind devotion to the King also serves to underline, for a contemporary readership, the leadership crisis of our times emblematized by Thatcher. Tremain’s portrait of Charles II does not match the usual depiction of the King as frivolous and debonair, painting instead a man who values skills, order and self-responsibility, which allows yet again for parallels with Thatcher. The novel thus combines an endorsement of the genre’s conservatism as well as a typically postmodern suspicion of authority, which raises the question of the intent behind the comic impulse of the book.

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Vanessa Guignery
Professor of English and Postcolonial Literature at the ENS de Lyon and member of the Institut Universitaire de France in Paris.
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