'The place where we live': Memory, mirrors and The Secret River

Susannah Radstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


For the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, living takes place at the intersection of inner and outer worlds, in a space riven by destructiveness and enlivened by love, play and repair. Working with Winnicott's understandings of empathy and play, this essay explores creative writing's prompting of a recognition of the not-yet-past, as it suffuses the place where we live. This essay focuses on the rancorous debates among historians and critics that followed the publication of Kate Grenville's The Secret River, a novel about Australia's settler-colonial past. After pointing to the centrality of empathy within these debates, the essay examines Winnicott's exploration of destructiveness as the precursor to empathy and reparation. The essay continues by examining the different modes of acknowledged and disavowed empathy associated with historiography and fiction, exploring, in particular, The Secret River's engagement of empathy. The essay concludes by suggesting that Grenville's work of 'historical' fiction 'contributes' (in Winnicott's terms) by provoking an awareness that the violence that was part of Australia's settler-colonialist history cannot be simply consigned to the past but lives on - and requires recognition - in the place that is Australia today.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-298
Number of pages13
JournalMemory Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Empathy
  • place
  • play
  • the past
  • violence
  • Winnicott

Cite this