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Title: Within the archive : cultural memory and historical representation in four contemporary British novels
Author: Cao, L.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2004
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This study examines two categories of contemporary British historical fiction. One category is historical fiction that aims at recuperating or revitalizing the English literary heritage through ventriloquism and pastiche. The other is the closely related category of postcolonial rewriting of the histories of the marginalized or the silenced, which poses a challenge to the canon. Four novels have been chosen as examples: A. S. Byatt’s Possession: A Romance (1990), Peter Ackroyd’s Chatterton (1987); Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) and Marina Warner’s Indigo or, Mapping the Waters (1992). Although these two categories at first sight seem opposed as far as their ideological and cultural agendas are concerned, they share thematic similarities, they question and re-vision received versions of history, and they make similar use of intertextuality (and sometimes of pastiche) to work with or against “the archive” in their confrontation with an interpretation of the past. They combine to suggest that accepted forms of historical construction are unreliable, and that both the possibility and the need exist for literature to intervene when it comes to the representation of historical knowledge and cultural memory. Chapter 1 examines the conditions for contemporary interest in both history and the historical novel, contextualizing current debates about the uses of the past in contemporary historical fiction and defining the concept of “the archive”. Chapter 2 discusses Possession, a novel which both evokes and appropriates a specific literary archive and modes of representation - that of Victorian poetry and fiction - while interrogating textual reliability. Chapter 3 analyses Ackroyd’s Chatterton, a novel that in many ways parallels Possession’s concern with the aesthetics of the past. Such issues as the iterability of history, the role of pastiche and forgery in the reinvention of the past (and therefore in the formation of the literary canon) will be the foci of discussion. Chapter 4 shifts the study to the category of postcolonial rewriting. It examines Wide Sargasso Sea as a counter-text to Jane Eyre, focusing on the voice of the silenced and the subaltern and on the in-between subjectivity of the Creole woman. Chapter 5 discusses Warner’s retrieval of the other side of colonial memory in Indigo - an attempt to rewrite Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The afterword reflects on the range and variety of recent fictional rewritings of cultural memory and historical representation in relation to the role that historical novel plays in contributing to the ways in which a culture conceives of itself through fiction.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available