Narrating historians: crises of historical authority in twentieth-century British fiction Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
Creator
  • Westerman, Molly
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
Abstract
  • Narrating Historians takes an original and self-consciously interdisciplinary approach to debates over the relationship between fiction and history. By shifting the emphasis from fictional representations of history (the past) to novels that ventriloquize practitioners of history (the discipline), it foregrounds the dual function of scholarly discourses as they simultaneously convey knowledge and construct their own authority. This study traces a narrative technique that forges telling points of contact between narrative fiction and historical authority, a technique that ties novels intimately to realities outside their fictions. It embraces the complexity of exchanges between history and literature by taking seriously each as a historically-situated way of knowing. The project’s selection of literary texts is guided more by the history of historical knowledge than by conventional literary-historical categories. Each of the works it engages was composed during a period of intense disagreement regarding whether and how historians can know the past: the first in the years between the two world wars, and again during Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister. Diverse texts, including Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Robert Graves’s I, Claudius, John Fowles’s A Maggot, John Banville’s The Newton Letter, Graham Swift’s Waterland, and Simon Schama’s Dead Certainties, illustrate how their shared narrative stance supports varying positions on the nature of historical knowledge. This dissertation demonstrates not only that the dissemination and acquisition of knowledge are situated within and limited by discursive conventions, but also that those conventions enable productive self-reflection within and dynamic connections between established ways of knowing.
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  • In Copyright
Advisor
  • Cooper, Pamela
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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