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Historical notes at the end of fictions

June 22, 2012

In an article I found quite interesting – and potentially relevant to, for example, Alison Wong’s As the Earth Turns Silver, or any number of other local historical fictions…

Molly Westerman looks at four texts that include ‘historical notes’ at the end of the narrative. She considers the way these notes create a tension between history and fiction within the narrative that invites the reader to experience the text historiographically. The location of the note at the end, she explains is in deliberate contrast to the usual positioning of declarations of methodology and authority at the beginning of a historical document. The location of these notes at the end invites the reader to re-consider their understanding of the narrative only after they have read it…

She draws on Jacques Derrida’s theory of ‘spectrality’ and Michel de Certeau’s ‘entombment’ to do this… and looks at Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Pat Barker’s Regeneration, Simon Schama’s Dead Certainties, and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.

She writes: “By including both narrative and documentary modes, these novels invoke history and thus involve themselves in debates over its meaning.” (373)

“…we must read narrative and note together, attending to their very different foundations and to how each shades the other’s meaning.” (373)

Ref: Molly Westerman (2006) ‘Of skulls or spirits’: the haunting space between fictional(ized) history and historical note’ CLIO Summer 35(3): 369-393

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