It is, perhaps, no coincidence that neo-Victorian fiction achieves momentum at around the time when personal memory of the Victorians was slipping away. By the 1980s there could be few, if any, Victorians left; at least, very few who were born early enough to have any personal memory of the period itself. A number of neo-Victorian novelists describe their work in relation to memory, rather than history, and further neo-Victorian novels invoke memory as a category of historical recollection within their pages. Yet in critical accounts, neo-Victorian fiction is most often situated in relation to a postmodern problematisation of historical knowledge, rather than as an act of recall. In the first systematic treatment of the sub-genre, Christian Gutleben focuses on the formal properties of neo-Victorian fiction in order to situate it in relation to aesthetic postmodernism. The novels are primarily assessed in relation to their imitation or subversion of Victorian literary techniques, not as attempts to contribute to historical understanding. Indeed, Gutleben does not specifically address their generic heritage as historical fictions, a genre with a complicated relationship to history and historiography, making it difficult for his analysis to consider the novels’ engagement with history generally and with the Victorian past in particular.
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The very term ‘historical fiction’ is a kind of oxymoron, joining ‘history’ (what is ‘true’/’fact’) with ‘fiction’ (what is ‘untrue’/’invented’, but may aim at a different kind of truth).
(Diana Wallace, The Woman’s Historical Novel, 2005)
… my starting point is the way we actively engage with the past using various media and methods, rather than some abstract notion of ‘history’ as sleeping-beauty object waiting for the professional kiss to arouse it. (Ann Rigney, ‘Being an Improper Historian’, 2007)
© 2010 Kate Mitchell
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Mitchell, K. (2010). Memory Texts: History, Fiction and the Historical Imaginary. In: History and Cultural Memory in Neo-Victorian Fiction. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230283121_2
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London
Print ISBN: 978-1-349-31016-6
Online ISBN: 978-0-230-28312-1