British and Irish Literature Christine Brooke-Rose
Joseph Darlington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0199


Christine Brooke-Rose (b. 1923 – d. 2012) was a writer and academic whose work contributed greatly to the development of British experimental writing, postmodern literature, and poststructuralist theory. She was born in Geneva, Switzerland, to a Swiss-French mother (Evelyn Brooke) and English father (Alfred Northbrook Rose). She was to live her life between the two cultures, English and French, and her work was an important crossing point for literary-critical influence. She lived in Belgium until the age of eighteen, before coming to England to study at Somerville College, Oxford. She completed her PhD at the University of London, and her thesis became her first scholarly work, A Grammar of Metaphor, in 1958 (see Academic Work). She served at Bletchley Park during the Second World War and established herself as a popular, satirical novelist in the postwar years. Her turn to experimental writing during the 1960s was inspired by the French nouveaux romanciers (including Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute) and placed her alongside novelists like B.S. Johnson, Ann Quin, Eva Figes, and Alan Burns who sought to overturn the realist presumptions of British postwar writing. In 1968 she moved to Paris to teach at the University of Paris VIII, Vincennes, where she stayed for the rest of her working life. At Vincennes she worked alongside key figures of poststructuralism including Helene Cixous, Gilles Deleuze, and Gerard Genette. Her study of their theoretical work added to her prior interest in structuralist theorists including Algirdas Julien Greimas, Roman Jakobson, and Tzvetan Todorov. After the commercial failure of her theory-inflected novel, Thru, she turned her attentions exclusively to her academic writing and critical work for nine years. She had some influence on British critics like Frank Kermode in softening attitudes to French theory (according to letters held in the Harry Ransom Archive) and on American academics who, by the 1980s, were beginning to adopt structuralism and poststructuralism as primary modes of analysis. Despite working closely with these theories, Brooke-Rose remained skeptical of her fellow literary theorists’ more extravagant social and epistemological claims. In particular, she remained committed to science as a method of analysis, visible in her science fiction works (Out, 1964; Such, 1966; Xorandor, 1986; and Verbivore, 1990) and her novel of deep history, Subscript (1999). By the end of her life, Brooke-Rose was engaged in finding new forms of autobiographical and memoir writing, the influence of which is only now beginning to be felt. Brooke-Rose’s writing remained consistently ahead of its time throughout her life. By making her books more readily available, the Internet and print-on-demand technologies have enabled a resurgence of interest in her work.

General Overviews

The range and diversity of Christine Brooke-Rose’s works have posed significant difficulties for scholars seeking to summarize and study her career as a whole. Critical interest has been considerable, but has tended to come in “waves” dependent upon the predominating interest of academic scholarship during each period. During her own lifetime, scholarship tended toward the theoretical approaches that Brooke-Rose herself favored: key texts including Birch 1994, Canepari-Labib 2002, Friedman and Martin 1995, and Bartha 2014. Scholarship from a feminist perspective has sought to elaborate upon Brooke-Rose’s often complex and sometimes contradictory attitudes to gender, with Friedman and Fuchs 1989 (see Feminism and Women’s Writing) and the more recent Sweeney 2020. Prevalent among post-2010 research are studies aiming to connect Brooke-Rose to the wider movement of British experimental writing—see Jordan 2020, Forester and Nicholls 2015, and Guy 2016—and biographical approaches seeking to place Brooke-Rose in her context—see Darlington 2021a and Lawrence 2010. There remains no true biography of Christine Brooke-Rose and so scholars desiring more details than are available in the published writings listed in this account must seek out her archives contained at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Austin, Texas, and the Carcanet Archive, John Rylands Library, Manchester, UK, as well as institutional holdings at the University of Paris VIII, Vincennes.

  • Bartha, Noemi Alice. Christine Brooke-Rose: The Chameleonic Text Between Self-Reflexivity and Narrative Experiment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2014.

    Another key postmodernist analysis engaging with questions of metafiction, identity, and the question of experimentalism versus mainstream fiction.

  • Birch, Sarah. Christine Brooke-Rose and Contemporary Fiction. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198123750.001.0001

    The first and therefore the foundational book-length study of Brooke-Rose and her works. Written while Brooke-Rose was still actively writing, it benefits from Birch’s first-hand communications with the author.

  • Canepari-Labib, Michela. Word-Worlds: Language, Identity and Reality in the Work of Christine Brooke-Rose. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2002.

    A book-length study of Brooke-Rose from a poststructuralist perspective that contains particularly insightful analyses of her use of multiple languages.

  • Darlington, Joseph. Christine Brooke-Rose and Post-War Literature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021a.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-75906-3

    The most recent full-length study of Brooke-Rose’s oeuvre and the first to incorporate archival material and biographical research to set her work within the context of her times.

  • Forester, G. N., and M. J. Nicholls, eds. Verbivoracious Festschrift Vol. 1: Christine Brooke-Rose. Singapore: Verbivoracious Press, 2015.

    The founding publication of Verbivoracious Press (who subsequently reissued most of Brooke-Rose’s back catalogue), it contains contributions from writers, critics, academics, and friends of the author alongside reprinted lesser works including the difficult-to-find 1955 poem Gold.

  • Friedman, Ellen G., and Richard Martin, eds. Utterly Other Discourse: The Texts of Christine Brooke-Rose. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1995.

    The most extensive edited collection on Brooke-Rose’s work published to date. Includes contributions from key theorists including Jean-Jacques Lecercle and Brian McHale, alongside interviews and commentary from Brooke-Rose herself.

  • Guy, Adam. “‘That’s a Scientific Fact’: Christine Brooke-Rose’s Experimental Turn.” The Modern Language Review 111.4 (2016): 936–955.

    DOI: 10.1353/mlr.2016.0175

    Brooke-Rose’s commitment to the methodologies of science is fundamental to understanding her work, and Guy’s paper is one of the most highly developed analyses of this.

  • Jordan, Julia. Late Modernism and the Avant-Garde British Novel: Oblique Strategies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198857280.001.0001

    A book-length study that places Brooke-Rose’s work alongside other British experimental writers on a formal level, identifying key features of her work previously neglected. It makes an important contribution to Brooke-Rose scholarship, and scholarship on mid-century writing more generally, positing a range of experimental writers active in Britain in the 1960s as representing a specific kind of late modernist tendency.

  • Lawrence, Karen. Techniques for Living: Fiction and Theory in the Work of Christine Brooke-Rose. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2010.

    An important work that synthesizes new modes of analysis with the theoretical work of Barthes, Derrida, and Lacan. Also includes new interview material with Brooke-Rose herself.

  • Sweeney, Carole. Vagabond Fictions: Gender and Experiment in British Women’s Writing, 1945–1970. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781474426190

    The most recent study of Brooke-Rose’s writing within a feminist critical context. Sweeney reads Brooke-Rose alongside Anna Kavan, Eva Figes, Brigid Brophy, and Ann Quin, with a specific focus on their experimental approaches.

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