Ageing John Banville: from Einstein to Bergson


  • Nicholas Taylor-Collins Cardiff Metropolitan University



Ageing, John Banville, Henri Bergson, Birchwood, Doctor Copernicus, Albert Einstein, The Infinities, Temporality


There is a clear engagement with theories of time across Banville’s oeuvre, from his earliest published work through to the twenty-first-century novels. I explore how, in their engagement with age and ageing, Banville’s characters adopt and interrogate Albert Einstein’s and Henri Bergson’s competing ideas of the present and the passage of time, sliding from favouring the former to prioritising the latter. Martin Heidegger’s conception of Dasein, a Being-toward-death, allows me to explore how Banville’s characters evoke either Einstein’s spacetime and series of nows, or Bergson’s psychologised Duration (Durée). This is borne out in Gabriel Godkin’s subverted and anti-atavistic narrative in Birchwood (1973), the battle over authenticity between Copernicus and Rheticus in Doctor Copernicus (1976), and how Hermes controls the mortals’ time and tries his best to age in The Infinities (2009). I conclude that Banville’s characters’ evolving preference for Bergsonian over Einsteinian tropes indicates an acceptance and happy engagement with the ageing process.

Author Biography

Nicholas Taylor-Collins, Cardiff Metropolitan University

Nicholas Taylor-Collins is lecturer in English at Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK. He has published widely on both Shakespeare and modern and contemporary Irish literature. His monograph Shakespeare, Memory and Modern Irish Literature is forthcoming with Manchester University Press, while his co-edited (with Stanley van der Ziel) Shakespeare and Contemporary Irish Literature (Palgrave Macmillan) was published in 2018. In 2020 his Judge for Yourself: Reading Hyper-contemporary Literature and Book Prize Shortlists is published with Routledge. He is currently researching a monograph on death and dying in John Banville’s fiction.


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How to Cite

Taylor-Collins, N. (2021). Ageing John Banville: from Einstein to Bergson. ABEI Journal, 22(1), 159-172.