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A Voyage through History

Comparing Julian Barnes A History of the World in 10 Chapters to Elisabeth Wesseling s descriptions of the postmodernist historical novel

A.M. Hoogenboom - 9628525 Doctoraal scriptie Engelse Taal en Cultuur 1e begeleider: dr. P.C.J.M. Franssen 2e begeleider: dr. R.G.J.L. Supheert Cijfer: 7

augustus 2005

Table of Contents


1. Introduction

2. The Historical Novel: From Scott to Postmodernism The Origination of the Historical Novel Imitation and Emulation The Passing of Scott s Popularity and other Changes in the Literary Field Changes in the Early Twentieth Century The Development of Alternatives From Modernism to Postmodernism Postmodernist Self-Reflexivity Historiography in the Making History in the Making

8 8 10 12 15 16 18 26 27 29 30 32 47

3. Self-reflexivity in A History of the World in 10 Chapters

Historiography in the Making History in the Making

4. Counterfactual Fiction and Uchronian Fiction in A History of the World in 10 Chapters Counterfactual Conjecture Uchronian Fiction


51 64

5. Reviewing the Results Uchronian Fiction or Self-reflexivity Parenthesis

70 70 74






Writing this thesis has been quite a journey for me. Looking back, I cannot remember exactly why I chose to write my thesis on A History of the World in 10 Chapters. I do remember that I took a class on postmodernist literature, taught by Aleid Fokkema, and that during this course I was introduced to the novel. Practical thinking made me consider a book for my thesis which I had become familiar with during one of the courses I had attended, and for some reason I ended up picking this novel. I asked Aleid Fokkema to be my mentor and she agreed. I think I started off doing not exactly badly, I increasingly spent less and less time on my thesis because to personal problems. Finally, I had to stop break off working on my thesis. For a year I did not study at all. In September 2004, I made a fresh start. Aleid Fokkema agreed to be my mentor again and I resumed working on my thesis. All in all, the process of finishing my thesis has not been an easy one. I still struggled with personal issues and working on my thesis was often a real battle for me. Another bump in the road was that Aleid Fokkema had to break off her mentorship. She arranged a new mentor for me, Dr Paul Franssen. Unfortunately this transfer lead to some delay, but the mentorship of Dr Paul Franssen has worked out. Today I finish my thesis and this is very special to me. There have been times when I considered breaking off my studies completely, and times when I did not think I would ever be able to finish my thesis, but after hard work and many struggles, I have succeeded, and this is great! If not fantastic. I do not feel I have succeeded all on my own. Friends and family have been there for me during my difficult times when I had stopped studying, and during my new effort to write my thesis. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my mum and dad for patience and, not unimportant, financial support. I would like to thank my friends Marleen, Anne-Marie, Hester, Christine and Saskia for their patience and support and good advice. Besides this, I need to thank God for being there for me through it all.

One other thing I would like to mention, is that in the long process of working on this thesis, Barnes novel has remained interesting to me. The novel, as well as the critical framework I used for my thesis, have proved to be tough material for me to deal with. Still, for most of the time I could not help but like Barnes book, if only for the sense of humour that is displayed in it. Allow me the freedom to quote you two passages from the text. The first is from Parenthesis, the half chapter in the novel. This fragment is taken from a passage where an Indian tribe is described which thrived, so that the Indians had a lot of time on their hands. Barnes relates how stealing from one another became what they liked to do and what they celebrated (235). This is where a humorous passage comes in:

As they staggered out of their tepees and another faultless day came smooching in from the Pacific, they would sniff the honeyed air and ask one another what they d got up to the previous night. The answer would be a shy confession or smug boast of theft. Old Redface had his blanket pilfered again by

Little Grey Wolf. Well, did you ever? He s coming along, that Little Grey Wolf. And what did you get up to? Me? Oh, I just snitched the eyebrows from the top of the totem-pole. Oh, not that one again. Bo-ring.

Finally, a passage from chapter nine, Project Ararat . Spike Tiggler, back from the moon, talks to his wife and utters this beautiful line: I went 240,000 miles to see the moon was the earth that was really worth looking at (259). and it

Albertina Hoogenboom

Chapter 1 Introduction

Ever since Julian Barnes published his first novel Metroland in 1980, his work has been received with much attention, by reviewers as well as by literary critics and, of course, the reading public. Especially since Flaubert s Parrot was published in 1984, every new publication of Barnes work has spurred increased activity at reviewers desks, bookshop counters, even on the internet and in university classes. This production of activity indicates that Barnes certainly has become an author of importance. People have opinions about him, his writing affects them. A number of critics have incorporated comments on Barnes in their writing on postmodernism, or have labelled his work explicitly as postmodernist, for instance Theo D haen, Linda Hutcheon, Elisabeth Wesseling.1 They have used Barnes work to illustrate their observations about postmodernist writing. In this thesis I would like to examine one of Barnes novels, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, in relation to postmodernism, the literary current that some critics have linked him to. About postmodernism, the last word has not yet been spoken. Ever since the term was first used in the 1930 s, and was more frequently used in the 1950 s and 60 s and from then on, critics have struggled with defining it. Contemporary critics agree that it has now become a label not just for a literary period, but for a wider cultural phenomenon, including fields such as architecture, the arts, philosophy and theology. In literature, it is still a current notion, and a much-debated issue. What critics seem to have most reservations about, is to give an overall definition of postmodernism. They describe a number of characteristics which
1 Theo D haen, Het Postmodernisme in de Literatuur (Amsterdam: Uitgeverij de Arbeiderspers, 1988), on pages 126 and 128. Linda Hutcheon, The Pastime of Past Time : Fiction, History, Historiographic Metafiction , Postmodern Genres, ed. Marjorie Perloff (Norman/London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988). E.g.: Postmodern novels like Flaubert s Parrot [ ] imply that . Barnes wrote Flaubert s Parrot.. Elisabeth Wesseling, Writing History as a Prophet: Postmodernist Innovations of the Historical Novel (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1991), e.g. on page 121.

they think might be called postmodern, but they do not claim: So, this is what postmodernism is all about. Hans Bertens goes as far as saying that in most concepts, and in practically all recent concepts of postmodernism the matter of ontological uncertainty is absolutely central.

However, as was said, most critics keep to giving a number of concepts

that seem to characterise postmodernist works. Some examples of these concepts are: ontological doubt, or plurality, an interest in (views on) history, the notion of the ex-centric, and an emphasis on values and normative codes, or on a lack of them. The first two of the concepts mentioned will be explained somewhat further. The forwarding of ontological issues is an activity that is noticed by all critics of Postmodernism. As mentioned before, Hans Bertens labels it as its central notion. The denial of any metaphysical, transcendental, or essentialistic order seems to me to be the central given of postmodernism. The postmodernist author rejects absolute truths. He rejects any ontological embedding/anchoring, as well as every system of values, every order, which presents itself as such.

Another phenomenon that has been marked by a number of critics is the postmodernist focus on history and on the perception of history. For example, in Het Postmodernisme in de Literatuur, Hans Bertens, speaks of de talrijke historische romans die het postmodernisme telt (translated: postmodernism s many historical novels ).4 In A Poetics of Postmodernism, Linda Hutcheon writes about historiographic metafiction , which is to her characteristic of postmodernism. Elisabeth Wesseling has devoted her doctoral thesis to a critical study of the postmodernist attitude towards history: Writing History as a

Hans Bertens, "The Postmodern Weltanschauung and its Relation with Modernism: An Introductory Survey," Approaching Postmodernism: Papers presented at a Workshop on Postmodernism, 21-23 September 1984, University of Utrecht, Douwe Fokkema and Hans Bertens 1986. 46. 3 Hans Bertens, Het Postmodernisme in de Literatuur, Van het Postmodernisme. (De Kunstreeks), ed. J. Boomgaard, Sebastian Lopez. (Amsterdam: Sua, 1985), 24-25. (Original quote: "De ontkenning van elke metafysische, transcendente, of essentialistische orde lijkt mij het centrale gegeven van het postmodernisme. De postmoderne schrijver wijst absolute waarheden af. Hij verwerpt elke ontologische verankering, en ook elk systeem van waarden, elke ordening, die zich als zodanig presenteert.") 4 Hans Bertens, Het Postmodernisme in de Literatuur (Amsterdam: Synthese, 1988) 128.

Prophet: Postmodernist Innovations of the Historical Novel.5 She states: the predominance of historical subject matter in postmodernist fictions can be regarded as something of a revival for the historical novel (2). She distinguishes what she calls the postmodernist historical novel, and explores its relationship to the classical and modern historical novel. In doing so, she comes to a description of the characteristics of this subdivision of postmodernist fiction (Wesseling vii). An interest in history can be found in Barnes work as well, for instance in the novels Flaubert s Parrot (1984), Staring at the Sun (1986) and A History of the World in 10 Chapters. In this thesis, I would like to take a closer look at A History of the World in 10 Chapters. More concretely, I would like to examine to what extent A History of the World in 10 Chapters bears the characteristics of a postmodernist historical novel as they are described by Elisabeth Wesseling, and also, if and how the novel deviates from Wesseling s descriptions, and what that deviation might mean. In short the question of this thesis is: does Julian Barnes A History of the World in 10 Chapters fit Wesseling s description of the postmodernist historical novel? To answer this question, the following steps will be taken. First, in chapter two, I will make clear what Elisabeth Wesseling means with the term postmodernist historical fiction. Secondly I will examine what examples can be found in Barnes novel of the characteristics of postmodernist historical fiction as they have been described by Wesseling. This will be done in chapters three and four. In chapter five, the results from chapters three and four will be reviewed, and it will be assessed if and how Barnes novel agrees with Wesseling s descriptions of postmodernist historical fiction.

5 This doctoral thesis has been published as a book: Elisabeth Wesseling, Writing History as a Prophet: Postmodernist Innovations of the Historical Novel (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1991).

Chapter 2 The Historical Novel: From Scott to Postmodernism

The aim of this chapter is to expound what Elisabeth Wesseling means exactly with the term postmodernist historical fiction. Wesseling does not present a clear-cut definition of the postmodernist historical novel. She outlines the genre of historical fiction as it has developed from around 1800 to the end of the 1980's, and ends up with a number of features which in her view characterise the postmodernist embodiment of the historical novel. A number of these features will be employed in analysing a historical novel from 1989, Julian Barnes s A History of the World in 10 Chapters, with the aim of establishing to which extent the novel fits Wesseling s descriptions of the postmodernist historical novel. This chapter of my thesis presents a summary of Wesseling s outline of the historical novel, from its origins to its postmodernist embodiment. This summary is to make clear what the characteristics of the historical novel were in the past, and how the genre has changed in the course of time. Some information from Wesseling s survey has not been included as I did not regard it relevant to my thesis. The descriptions of postmodernist fiction that this chapter ends with will be used in the following chapters to examine Barnes novel.

The Origination of the Historical Novel According to Wesseling, the genre of historical fiction entered a new phase in the late twentieth century, through postmodernist innovations. Certain new features that had been deviations from the usual generic repertoire at first became more commonplace, even characteristic of the genre. In order to make clear what postmodernist historical fiction imports, it is therefore useful to explore what the genre of historical fiction looked like before these changes took place. The origination of the historical novel may be situated toward the end of the

eighteenth century, when novelists started writing novels that simulated historicity in an attempt to uplift the prestige of their field of writing. However, the major breakthrough of the historical novel, and its definite establishment as a genre came with Sir Walter Scott and his Waverley, or 'Tis Sixty Years Since (1814) and the historical novels he wrote after that, commonly referred to as the Waverley Novels. One characteristic of the Waverley Novels, and of the early nineteenth-century historical novel in general, is the position the genre took up with regard to historiography. According to Wesseling, the historical novel took up a complementary position towards historiography. The historical novel presented itself as a vehicle for conveying historical knowledge (Wesseling 33). There were differences between the historical novel and historiography as well. The fictional element of the historical novel was not something its proponents tried to cover up. [T]hey held that the use of invention in the service of vivification, embellishment, and the fleshing out of details where historiography only offered rough outlines was a highly desirable compensation for the shortcomings of a stylistically unattractive historiography (Wesseling 32). Further on in her book, Wesseling mentions that historical novelists defended the use of invention in their works on didactic grounds: the historical novel could be a bridge between the reading public and historiography, which probably was tougher material to dig into. According to Wesseling, Scott argued that if readers would content themselves with mere appetizers,6 a modicum of knowledge would still be conveyed (45).7 It is useful to note that apart from minor alterations of historical data, Scott did not approve of gross violations of canonised history. Besides openness about its own fictionality, another feature distinguished the historical novel from historiography: the historical novel represented aspects of the past that had as yet not been dealt with as extensively by historians, namely the daily lives of ordinary people (Wesseling 33). Scott and his successors preferred domestic history to political history for writing material.

6 7

The appetizer meaning the historical novel. I am presenting a quote from Wesseling on Scott; this is not a literal statement from Scott.


A facet of the Waverley Novels that frequently received attention was its moral efficacy (Wesseling 47). Some of those who judged the Waverley Novels negatively in this respect ascribed this to the shallowness of his heroes (Wesseling 47). Scott admitted to being committed to historical rather than moral edification. His heroes were mediators, employed in reflecting their perceptions to the reader, rather than instruments for instructive revelations of an inner life. Wesseling states with respect to Scott's characters: Their perceptual activities, combined with the learned expositions of the external, omniscient narrator on the living circumstances of former epochs, make up an important part of the external realism or couleur locale which counts as the hallmark of the historical novel (49).

Imitation and Emulation8 In the wake of the Waverley Novels, novelists further expanded the generic repertoire of the historical novel, Wesseling comments (50). As for thematics, some of Scott s motifs became standard topoi, and others were added. Concerning ideology, historical fiction extended into diverging directions, from nationalism to Victorian morality (Wesseling 50). As for historical subject matter novelists explored materials, which, taken all together, cover the whole range of Western history from classical antiquity up to the near present (Wesseling 50). Wesseling stresses the fact that novelists basically remained within the matrix of the Waverley Novels, where strategies for integrating historical and fictional materials are concerned (51). She adds:

Novelists retained the basic features of Scott's formula by placing fictional characters and their adventures in the foreground, and by investigating how historical events impinged on the daily lives of ordinary individuals, while avoiding anachronisms as much as the contemporary state of the historiographical art would allow. Furthermore, they embedded characters in a closely detailed network of material living circumstances by way of extensive descriptions of the costumes, architecture,

The title for this section is taken from Wesseling's own section on this subject matter, see Wesseling, p. 50.


landscape, manners, customs and the like of former epochs. Most novelists treaded in the footsteps of Scott by locating the historical component of historical fiction in the recreation of the milieu of former epochs, rather than in the representation of epoch-making events or world-historical figures. Even to those nineteenth century authors who deliberately broke out of the confines of the Waverley model, Scott's oeuvre still constituted a fixed point of reference. (51)

One nineteenth-century exception Wesseling mentions is

the fictional biography or vie romance, which received definitive shape in the novels by Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton within the context of the English literary tradition. Contrary to the bulk of nineteenthcentury historical fiction, Bulwer s fiction not merely introduced thematic variations, but in fact altered the formula for integrating the historical and the fictional component, as well as the genre s relation to historiography. Bulwer sought to emulate Scott by boosting the historical reliability of the genre. (51-52)

Bulwer's novels displayed a kind of historical fiction that strove after a more solid claim to factual resonance. He engaged himself in quite thorough research, and did, as Scott had done, use fragments of legend and folkloric oral tradition as sources for his narratives (52). Besides this, he made historical individuals the heroes of his novels, and based his plots on the recorded careers of their lives (52). Wesseling: This set-up gave him reason to claim that his novels were made up of factual materials for the major part, and that the role of the imagination was restricted to the divination of the inner motives which might have compelled the subjects of his narratives to commit specific deeds (52).9 Bulwer s historical fiction stepped into a competitive position to historiography, instead of a supplementary one. Bulwer claimed that the reader could directly turn to his novels for sound instruction that could rival with historical studies for reliability [ ] Rather than supplementing history, he sought to outdo the historian at his own job (52, 53). Wesseling mentions the writer James C. Simmons, who viewed that, in Wesseling s words, laboriously researched novels such as

Wesseling continues after this: This resulted in a new type of historical fiction which became a vogue in the 1830s and 1840s (52).


Romola or The Cloister and the Hearth are just as much indebted to Bulwer as to Scott (53).10 Scott's work influenced historiography, the novel at large, and the historical novel in particular. Scott's influence on contemporary historiography concerned subject-matter and style. Scott reinforced the interest in customs, manners, and material environment over and against the focus on political history (Wesseling 53), indicated writing techniques and reminded historians of the attractions of a dramatized entrance into the past (Wesseling 53). As for the novel at large, the classical model of historical fiction was of the utmost importance to the development of the later realist novel (Wesseling 53). Finally, Scott's influence on the genre of the historical novel can hardly be exaggerated, at least where the first half of the nineteenth century is concerned, according to Wesseling (54). She states that Scott's work took up a vanguard position in the evolution of both the historical novel and its two neighbouring genres (54).11 It automatically follows from this that the further development of the historical novel was linked up with the passing of Scott's prestige and popularity later on in the nineteenth century (Wesseling 54).

The Passing of Scott's Popularity and Influence and other Changes in the Literary Field Wesseling explains that comparatively few scholars have busied themselves with asserting when Scott s work began to be less esteemed. (Wesseling 54). Wesseling mentions two critics who locate the decline of Scott's popularity with the reading public in the 1880's. Concerning critical reception, Wesseling explains that Scott was a controversial writer, who harvested both praise and blame [ ] often coming from the same critic. Yet, we can infer

Romola (1863): was written by George Eliot. The Cloister and the Hearth (1861) was written by Charles Reade. The critic referred to is James Simmons. At this point, Wesseling does not refer specifically to one of Simmons works. She mentions two of them in her bibliography: - The Novelist as Historian: An Unexplored Tract of Victorian Historiography, Victorian Studies 14 (1971): 293305. -The Novelist as Historian: Essays on the Victorian Historical Novel (Den Haag: Mouton, 1973). 11 By neigbouring genres , Wesseling indicates historiography, and the novel in general.


from Hillhouse s comprehensive study of the reception of the Waverley Novels12 that Scott fared worse with the Victorian critics than with his contemporaries (Wesseling 55). Victorians pointed to the shallowness in characterization and morals, and became increasingly critical of Scott's treatment of history. Exposures of anachronisms and mistakes in chronology become far more frequent than they had been during Scott s lifetime (Wesseling 55). A third field to look at, when investigating the appreciation of Scott, is that of historical fiction. Wesseling mentions Heinz-Joachim Mllenbrock, who locates a lull in the production of historical fiction between the mid-1860s and the early 1890s and considers that the historical novels that were written after this period either did not conform to the Waverley model at all, or had but a tenuous relation to the more unhistorical embodiments of the Waverley model (Wesseling 55). Mllenbrock argues that the fact that Scott's work lost its model function had to do with developments in the novel in general, and in historiography. For instance, Victorianism produced more pressing demands on novelists concerning the display of moral acumen in [ ] analysis of their [his characters'] mental lives, while holding on to external realism as well (Wesseling 56). Besides this, historicism gained ground, which not only emphasized the historicity of outward living circumstances [ ] but also of norms, values and even of human nature itself (Wesseling 56). To Scott, the universality of human nature was a link with the past: As the historical novel derived its right of existence from facilitating the entrance into the past, the novelist should make the most of this link, according to Scott (Wesseling 57). The developments mentioned above made the writing of historical fiction more difficult. Already in 1847 an anonymous critic argued that, in Wesseling's words, the retrieval of the consciousness of our ancestors is a well-nigh impossible enterprise (57). Wesseling summarizes a quote from the anonymous critic on the issue as: the novelist can at best attain external realism, but he is almost bound to go awry where the detailing of the


James Hillhouse, The Waverley Novels and Their Critics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1936).


inner life is concerned (57). Writing historical fiction in the late-nineteenth century became an increasingly difficult task. Wesseling concludes her chapter as follows: As the novel became more and more committed to some sort of psychological realism around the turn of the century, the difficulties mentioned by James,13 that pivotal link between the two centuries, would become an insurmountable obstacle and require of the ambitious novelist to either ignore the genre altogether or invent radically new alternatives for the Waverley model (58). In the twentieth century, Scott's grip on eminent literature was gone. Wesseling presents a quotation from Virginia Woolf from 1924 in which she states that Scott is one of the authors who have no more impact on others, and Wesseling argues that at that time it had seemingly become a general opinion that the form of the Waverley novels had become outdated. Wesseling states on pages 67 and 68: I have argued that the nineteenth-century historical novel was gradually cut off from its moorings in the novelistic and the historiographical domain. Twentieth-century developments in the writing of fiction and history but intensified this process. She explains that Practicing novelists themselves have explained which features of Scott's fiction made the Waverley model pass in their eyes, among whom Virginia Woolf (68). She says that Woolf criticized Scott on psychological grounds (68). Woolf was discontent with the lack of psychological depth in The Waverley Novels (68). On Woolf's criticism on Scott and on some contemporary colleagues Wesseling states: Woolf blamed Scott and other materialists for their failure to do justice to the complexity of human consciousness (68). Wesseling continues:

Virginia Woolf's essays testify to a transformation of literary norms and values which put a high price on psychological introspection as an indispensable attribute of the novel form. Reality was considered to be too complex and diffuse to be dealt with in a pseudo-objective manner which neglects to pay due attention to the consciousness that perceives and interprets reality, or so Woolf argued. (68)

I.e. the difficulties of representing the consciousness of individuals from the past. This is mentioned in a quote from Henry James (Wesseling 58).



Both Virginia Woolf and Hella Haasse, a Dutch historical novelist, connect

the preoccupation with the individual consciousness to a changing perception of reality [ ] Both refer to the fact that the idea of external reality as a stable and intelligible totality was becoming increasingly problematic during the first half of this century, a development which fostered inquiries into the complex relations between the knowing subject and the outer world. Within the realm of literary art, this development was translated into a shift of interest away from the supposedly objective representation of empirical reality toward an investigation of the ways in which the individual consciousness plays an active and projecting, rather than a passive and reflecting role in forming images about itself and the outer world. (Wesseling 69)

This applies to the Modernists, who, according to Wesseling, focused on the ways in which the spatial and temporal aspects of external reality impinge on our consciousness (69).

Changes in the Early Twentieth Century Wesseling comments as follows on developments in the field of historiography: The intellectual developments referred to above14 did not leave the discipline of historiography unaffected either. Here the idea of history as an orderly and meaningful process with an inherent dynamics and purpose was thrown into doubt, which had inevitable consequences for the status of historical knowledge (70). In the early twentieth century questions began to arise in the field of the philosophy of history concerning the objectivity and impartiality of professional historicist historiography (Wesseling 70). One of the more radical critics of historicism was Theodor Lessing. He pointed out that the attribution of meaning and shape [to history] proceeds according to the interests of the historian (71). Other matters brought up by critics were the denial of an objective, autonomous existence of history (71) and the perspectivist nature of historical knowledge (71). The former issue was based on the


This refers to the developments I represented in the text before this paragraph.


assumption that history only comes into existence as an object of the historian's thought (71). The latter issue dealt with the fact that our versions of history are necessarily determined by the interests of the present. Another topic, similar to this, was foregrounded by R. G. Collingwood, who wrote about the a priori imagination (71), which means that historians, before selecting their data and forming a picture of the past, already have an image of that past which influences the selection of the data and the final picture they form. The changing perceptions and the criticism on historicism and historiography were bound to influence the literary genre of the historical novel. As was mentioned above, the classical historical novel took up a complementary position towards historiography and functioned as a means of propagating historical knowledge. However, the critique of historicism made it increasingly difficult for novelists to be able to substantiate their historiographical pretensions.

The Development of Alternatives According to Elisabeth Wesseling, it was only after the Second World War that writers, with the postmodernist innovations of the historical novel, began to develop an alternative for the classical model in order to express an awareness of the fact that the meaning and intelligibility of history could not be taken for granted anymore (73). In this phase the historical novel is not so much complementary to historiography as it takes up a metahistorical position towards it. Instead of propagating historical knowledge, postmodernist writers inquire into the possibility, nature and use of historical knowledge (73). This does not mean that in the first half of the twentieth century, no efforts at all were made by innovative writers to search for ways of adopting historical materials. To some extent the Modernists engaged themselves in this effort, although the works that resulted from this effort were not immediately recognised as innovations of the genre of the historical novel. Instead of focussing on the external world, modernist writers were more interested in


the inner world, or the individual consciousness, as Henry James called it (Wesseling 75). With respect to historical fiction this concern resulted in (1) examinations of the ways in which an awareness of the past shapes one's mental makeup, and (2) a continual concern with the question of how knowledge of the past can be acquired in the first place. Elizabeth Wesseling mentions three characteristics of modernist historical fiction: -The subjectivisation of history. In Scott's novels, the characters were rather vehicles for conveying historical information than of any interest in themselves, because the focus was on depicting the external world. In modernist fiction, it is the other way around: history becomes a vehicle, a determinant in the forming of a personality. The focus is on the development of character, in which history plays a part. This gives way to a subjective use of history. - The transcendence of history. This relates to the way in which past and present were traditionally linked. In classical historical fiction, different points of time in history were linked as different stages in the same historical process. In modernist historical fiction, the links between historical moments are drawn in various other ways, for instance, through mythical motifs, similarity or repetition. The link becomes more of a symbolic one. - Self-reflexivity. This concept concerns itself with epistemological issues. Wesseling states her definition of self-reflexivity, which applies specifically to historical fiction (82), as follows: a strategy, or rather a bundle of strategies, which disrupts the supposedly direct relation between [ ] two levels of reality (83). With two levels of reality Wesseling refers to the level of the res gestae of history (the deeds performed in the past) and the historia rerum gestarum (the narratives about the res gestae) (82). Elizabeth Wesseling restricts self-reflexivity in historical fiction to two expressions of this phenomenon: explicit commentaries by historian-like characters, and multiple focalisation. The first feature adds a narrative level, and stresses that history is a projection of the historian's consciousness. The second feature is more implicit. It juxtaposes diverging views on the same subject matter,


without discriminating between true or false versions (83).

From Modernism to Postmodernism Having described the modernist historical novel, Elizabeth Wesseling makes towards a description of postmodernist historical fiction. Wesseling claims that not all of postmodernist historical fiction can be seen as continuous with modernist self-reflexivity (93). A number of postmodernist historical novels contains gross violations of canonised history (93), and, according to Wesseling, much more can be said about this salient phenomenon when we realize that postmodernist novels which falsify history have a metahistorical orientation and generic context which diverge from self-reflexive historical fiction (94). Next, Wesseling undertakes to depict the generic context she refers to. Wesseling s starting point for describing the generic context of historical novels that alter canonised history is science fiction. Wesseling states that the postmodernist infringements upon canonized history (94) can be seen as a hybrid of the historical novel and science fiction. To explain this, Wesseling first shows a number of similarities between science fiction and utopian fantasy. Next, she brings in the concepts of genre and mode to clarify the relationship between utopian fantasy and science fiction. She claims: we may state that the bulk of science fiction partakes of the utopian mode [ ] we can paraphrase this observation by stating that science fiction has become the modern avatar of utopian thought (96). Wesseling adds that the alternate worlds of the utopian mode were positioned in a place somehow beyond the confines of empirical society, or in an unknown time, that is, the future, and that science fiction has perpetuated both tendencies in its futurological and cosmological variants (96). Wesseling adds to this the statement that more alternate worlds are possible: they may also be projected backward in time, into the past (96). She poses: Perhaps now the outlines of a possible rapprochement between the historical novel and science fiction are becoming faintly visible (96), and: In order to detail the gradual


advances of the two genres, let me describe a number of ways in which the historical and the utopian imagination can confront each other, and engage in an ever closer correspondence (94). One of these ways is fiction in which utopian fantasies about an ideal society tinge representations of the past (96). Another one is fiction in which nostalgic dreams about the past affect conjectures about the future (96). However: the futurological element in historical fiction, and the historical element in futurological fiction remain implicit. The explicit settings of both types of fiction are clearly either the past or the future (97). Having said this, Wesseling introduces the next step in her line of argument by stating: A closer rapprochement between the two genres can be exemplified by novels which combine features of both historical and science fiction within a single work (97). She then discusses two novels that are set in the Middle Ages, and also use a typical science fiction motif: time travel (97). In two of these novels, the main character is transported from the present back into the Middle Ages. In one of these novels a dream initiates the leap back in time, and in the other one, it is a blow on the head that launches the main character to the Middle Ages. A third novel Wesseling mentions, pictures a man who becomes unstuck in time, and travels to the alternate world of the planet Trafalmadore (99). Wesseling concludes her section on these three novels by stating: these novels do

not yet overtly negate canonized history. Rather they embed historical materials within the type of defamiliarizing context that one would associate with science fiction (99). Wesseling moves on to a third stage in this entanglement of the historical novel and science fiction, which merges historical materials and utopian fantasies about alternate worlds in such a manner that alternate histories are the result (100). Wesseling continues: Fictions which belong to this category change canonized history in ways one cannot ignore (100). And later on she adds:

Changes are wrought upon canonized history by effecting shifts among the various factors that played a role in a given historical situation or series of events. These shifts produce a counterfactual course of


events which can either be more or less desirable than the way in which things actually turned out. Thus, historical events and persons may be transferred from one epoch to another, losers of a power struggle may be turned into winners or vice versa, world-historical figures may be made to set out upon an alternative course of action, causal weight may be shifted from one historical factor to another, etc. (100)

Wesseling indicates that: Alternate histories are inspired by the notion that any given historical situation implies a plethora of divergent possibilities that far exceed the possibilities which happened to have been realized (100). Wesseling states: To my knowledge, literary scholarship has not thus far paid much attention to alternate histories (101). She reports that she has not yet found an English term for alternate histories. However, The German and French languages [ ] have a highly illuminative concept, namely Uchronie. The term is used in two different ways, only one of which interests me here [ ] it has [ ] been used [ ] in order to refer to the type of counterfactual fantasy which devises alternatives within the confines of documented history (101). Wesseling adopts this term, only she continues to use it as the term uchronian fantasy (or uchronian fiction). Quoting the title of an 19th century work by Charles Renouvier, which to her captures what uchronian fantasy conveys,15 Wesseling states: Uchronian fantasy locates utopia in history, by imagining an apocryphal course of events, which clearly did not take place, but which might have taken place (102), and: Uchronian fiction may be regarded as a subspecies of counterfactual historical fiction, that is, fiction which deliberately departs from canonized history. Counterfactual falsifications of history need not necessarily be informed by clearcut utopian ideals, although this is often the case (102). Wesseling also explains that the invention of alternate histories may be quite a rational and responsible intellectual endeavor, which, as such, can be of interest to professional historiography (104). Wesseling

The title is: Uchronie. (L Utopie dans l Histoire.) Esquisse historique apocryphe du dveloppement de la civilisation europenne tel qu il n a pas t, tel qu il aurait pu tre.



ends her section on uchronian fiction with the following statement:

Viewing uchronian fiction as a crossbreed between science fiction and the historical novel, we may distinguish the various contributions of the two genres to this mongrel form as follows. The historical novel has contributed the subject matter of collective history and literary strategies for vivifying historical materials, while science fiction has contributed the utopian mode, as well as strategies for altering a given set of circumstances and deducing an alternate world around such premises by means of the hypothetico-deductive mode of reasoning. (105)

The rest of Wesseling s chapter on the entanglement (100) of the historical novel and science fiction addresses three more issues. First Wesseling devotes some attention to the Parodic Nature of Counterfactual Conjecture (105). She says: We may [ ] ascribe a parodic aspect to counterfactual fantasies, in the sense that parodic texts incorporate their target texts , and: Evidently, the target of counterfactual conjecture is the reservoir of established historical facts and popular interpretations of those facts which makes up canonized history (105).16 The second issue Wesseling addresses is that of The Political Implications of Uchronian Fiction (110). She states: The political potential of postmodernist uchronian fiction is realized in its exposure of the intimate connection between historical knowledge and political power (110). She adds:

It is a commonplace that official historiography tends to write the history of the winners, a restriction which has a lot to do with the demand that the historian found his statements on documentary evidence. For the documents contain far more information about princes, statesmen, generals and other powerful public figures than about subordinated or defeated peoples and social classes, who usually do not have access to the channels of official culture and rarely make the records. The selective nature of the historical records in itself already accounts for the inextricable entanglement of historical knowledge and political power. If one strives to comply with institutionalised, academic criteria for validity by abiding by

It seems to me that Elizabeth Wesseling uses the terms counterfactual conjecture, counterfactual fantasy and counterfactual fiction as synonyms.



the records, one not only aspires toward intellectual respectability but contributes to the perpetuation of a given distribution of power. (110)

Wesseling points out that Uchronian fiction [ ] disputes the monopoly of the realized possibilities on the land of reality by making alternate developments visible (110).17 Wesseling then pays attention to the legitimating function of historical knowledge (110).

Time and again, canonized history has been compromised by a legitimating role. If historical discourse tacitly depicts history as an objective process with an inherent motin [sic] and purpose of its own, then any particular status quo is to be regarded as the inevitable outcome of an inexorable development, whose right of existence is beyond dispute and to whose extension into the future we must acceed. For this reason, the seizure and continual extension of power is often accompanied by the rewriting of history [ ] The legitimating function of historical knowledge explains why the counterfactual parodies of postmodernist historical fiction seek to remind us of the contingency of history, as a necessary precondition for the disruption of the status quo. It also explains why they attempt to inscribe the losers of history into our historical memory. To counter canonized history with rival versions does not so much aim at remedying the partiality of the first, [ ] but to strengthen the position of subordinated groups in the present and to suggest possibilities for greater equality in the future. (110-111)

Wesseling indicates the tendency of writers of uchronian fiction to

identify sympathetically with those who suffered rather than made history, by redistributing the roles of winners and losers in actual history. This counterfactual shift does not mean to compete with canonized history where veracity is concerned. Rather, it aims to remind us of the power struggles which preceded the institution of a specific distribution of power, and to make us aware of the contingency of the outcome of such historical struggles. [ ] Therefore, uchronian fantasies are devised in the hope that, although they are admittedly untrue, they may perhaps come true at some point in the future. (111)

The phrase land of reality refers to a quote from Winston Churchill which Wesseling presented just before the sentence I ve quoted here. It says: Once a great victory is won it dominates not only the future but the past. All the chains of consequence clink out as if they never could stop. The hopes that were shattered, the passions that were quelled, the sacrifices that were ineffectual are all swept out of the land of reality (Wesseling 110).



The paragraph that follows this quote is presented below:

Uchronian fantasy speculates about the future by way of a detour through the past. This detour, it seems to me, is the only remaining possibility for utopian thinking in the face of the demise of progressivist, meliorative views on the course of the historical process. The straightforward projection of utopian ideals into the future presupposes the belief that human history proceeds through ever higher, better phases. It has become utterly impossible to cherish this belief after the genocide of the two world wars, the excesses of Stalinism and Western imperialism, and the threatening destruction of the natural environment which have been brought about by [the] very thing in which many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers had invested their hope for a better future: modern technology [ ] Moreover, counterfactual fantasy complies with the emphasis which contemporary social sciences and philosophy place on the extent to which the individual subject is determined by linguistic and languagelike social conventions. Where literature and literary theory are concerned, this shift in world view has instigated a reorientation toward esthetic concepts such as invention , originality , autonomy, indeed, on the concept of the individual subject in general, as articulated in the death-of-the-author theme. Consequently, the imaginative anticipation of the future which attempts to raise itself above extant social conventions has ceased to convince us. Uchronian fiction, however, does not attempt to anticipate the future ex nihilo, but to imagine it from unrealized possibilities that lie dormant in the past. (111-112)

Next, Wesseling introduces the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, who has described

the tragic course of twentieth-century history, and, indeed, the repeated successes of totalitarian regimes in general, as the bitter fruits of the kind of utopian idealism which has been raised upon the shaky grounds of historical amnesia. Some utopian thinkers can only hold out the promise of a happy future by blotting out the past. Such unfounded idealism, Fuentes argues, is bound to degenerate into either nave optimism which lacks consciousness of the constraints upon our possibilities for creating a relatively just society, or into cynical nihilism, when the stark contrast between airy dreams about the future and the corruption of the present leads to severe disillusionment. Moreover, fantasies of the future which suppress the past are amenable to totalitarianism: But the problem with the future as either despair of beatitude is that it is a future considered in the abstract: loosened from its historical bearings, separated from its cultural context and, thus,


easily kidnapped by a paramount philosophy manipulated by a paramount political or military power (Fuentes 1986: 338) [ ] Fuentes tentatively answers the question of how the Latin-American continent can stake out a future for itself by advocating a reconsideration of the past. This is not a call for a return to historical realism, but a plea for an imaginative approach to history which searches for hitherto suppressed alternatives to the status quo. (112-113)

Wesseling adds:

Thus, the type of historical consciousness which attempts to imagine the past from the perspective of the losers rather than the winners of history is the most reliable guide to a hopeful future.

[ ]

Fuentes essay19 greatly clarifies the liberties which postmodernist novelists take with canonized history. To interpret their departures from established historical facts as irresponsible and facile erasures of the distinction between fact and fiction amounts to being insufficiently aware of the emancipating political ethos which informs a considerable number of postmodernist historical novels. (113)

In the last section of her chapter on the historical novel and science fiction, Wesseling outlines a number of differences between modernist self-reflexivity and postmodernist counterfactual parody. They give a useful picture of the major differences between modernist and postmodernist historical fiction.

Both self-reflexivity and counterfactual conjecture relativize the distinction between fact and fiction, but they do so from different perspectives. Modernist writing demonstrates how diverging meanings can be attributed to the same fact, thereby bringing out the polyinterpretability of the historical record. Postmodernist counterfactual conjecture, quite differently, speculates about ways in which events might have taken an entirely different course, which foregrounds the malleability of the historical reality. (113)

It is not entirely clear to me whether this is Wesseling s own conclusion; a conclusion she draws from having discussed Fuentes material, or if it is a statement Wesseling uses to summarise Fuentes thinking. 19 Carlos Fuentes, Remember the future, Salmagundi 68-69 (1986): 333-352.



Wesseling quotes from an Andr Maurois novel, in which an historian talks to an archangel:

if all Possibilities have the same validity, why bestow the title of real on the one which I have lived, and that of unrealised on those others which, you say, are equally valid? (Maurois 1931: 53).20 Thus, postmodernist counterfactual conjecture derives the problematic nature of the distinction between fact and fiction from the contingency of the historical fact. The phrasing of the above quotation21 also points to a second difference between the two sets of strategies as implemented in modernist and postmodernist writing. Maurois historian expresses an awareness of the fact that the distinction between fact and fiction is not only an epistemological problem. The epithet real is, indeed, a title, which bestows a dignity upon the phenomena thus branded which implies a great deal more than their mere truth. Versions of history that receive this title are not only imbued with epistemological but also with political superiority to versions that have not come true. The metahistorical implications of counterfactual conjecture therefore reach beyond epistemology to an exposure of the ways in which versions of history function as instruments of power in the here and now. This political concern is all the more emphatic in those counterfactual fantasies which partake of the utopian mode. (114)

Unlike postmodernist counterfactual fiction, modernist self-reflexivity is not characterised by an awareness of the fact that the distinction between fact and fiction is not only an epistemological problem (see the above quote). The third difference between modernist self-reflexivity and postmodernist counterfactual fiction is the following. In modernist self-reflexivity the retrieval of the past

forms a subject of explicit reflection. Postmodernist counterfactual parody is far more implicit in this respect. Rather than explicitly reflecting upon historiographical constraints, it makes it metahistorical point by parodically inverting and exaggerating the rhetoric of historical representation. This parody is far more irreverent toward historiography than modernist self-reflexivity. While modernist writers still search for a valid representation of the past within the constraints of subjectivity, postmodernist

20 From: Andr Maurois, If Louis XVI Had Had an Atom of Firmness, trans. Hamish Miles. Squire 1931. (Wesseling s reference states: title. Trans. Hamish Miles. Squire 1931. 49-77.) 21 That is, the quote from Maurois novel.


counterfactual parodies exchange the concern with the possible validity of versions of history for a sustained inquiry into their functionality. (114)

Postmodernist Self-reflexivity Elizabeth Wesseling argues that self-reflexivity, which became commonly used by Modernists, has become an established literary device in historical fiction, and, in that way, is also a characteristic of postmodernist historical fiction, besides the phenomenon of counterfactual parody. To put it differently, counterfactual parody is a new element of postmodernist historical fiction, while self-reflexivity is a continuation of an earlier trend. Counterfactual parody to Wesseling is the most important addition to the repertoire of the postmodernist historical novel. Still, as self-reflexivity is continued in the genre, Wesseling pays attention to that aspect as well. Wesseling divides postmodernist self-reflexivity up into two kinds of self-reflexivity. The first is characterised by reflecting on Historiography in the Making (120). It builds upon the version of self-reflexivity introduced by Modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. As in modernist historical fiction, use is made of explicit reflection on the retrospective retrieval of the past, by way of a historian-like character, or external narrator, or by multiple focalisation. The other kind of self-reflexivity Wesseling mentions is new. It not so much reflects on the writings about history, but on the making of history itself. The making of history is exposed as if it were the writing of a story, or the imposition of a plot on a plotless reality (Wesseling 120). This type of self-reflexivity does not merely question the relationship between the res gestae and the narratives about them, it questions the very existence of the res gestae as an independent level of historical discourse (Wesseling 120). Next, I will represent Wesseling's further exposition of the two kinds of postmodernist self-reflexivity she has identified in historical fiction: historiography in the making and history in the making.


Historiography in the Making A number of features appear in postmodernist historical fiction, through which authors reflect upon methods of historical research and narration, so as to inquire into the ways in which the subjective imagination deforms the res gestae. I have numbered them one to five below.

1. Partiality of historical knowledge Postmodernist novelists [ ] expose the partisan nature of historical knowledge. They expressly draw our attention to the highly self-interested motives which cause their historianlike characters to set out on a quest for the past (121). This agrees with what philosophers of literature like Lessing have said about historical knowledge, namely that it is shaped by emotional needs, such as a need for identity. Inevitably, historical narratives are of a partisan nature as well. They project the historian's image into the past. According to Elizabeth Wesseling, the idea that our versions of the past constitute an incurably partial and preconceived body of knowledge, seems to have become widely accepted among postmodernist novelists (122).

2. Unreliability of sources This feature points out that authentication of true material is next to impossible. One way in which novelists foreground this aspect is by demonstrating the ambiguity of relics from the past.

3. Selectivity Selectivity limits our perspectives on the past. There are three causes for this. A. [W]e have to make do with whatever relics happen to have survived the wear and tear of


time (125). B.
The second cause is epistemological. As the critical philosophy of history has pointed out, our insights into the past are determined by the type of questions we put to the source materials [ ] R.G. Collingwood has explained the perspectivist nature of historical knowledge by arguing that the historian aims at the construction of a coherent picture of the past, or a web of imaginative construction, as he calls it [ ] Accordingly, the historian only selects as noteworthy those historical data that fit into the picture which he has in mind. (125-126; italics mine)

C. Political selectivity: only the individuals and collectivities that made the records, are of historiographical interest. It is not so much the sufferers of history that historiography is interested in, but the victors, the politically successful.

4. Narrativity (teleology) Postmodernist novelists expose the autonomy of narrative conventions. Rather than representing an order inherent in history, they show teleological continuity to be a sign of the historical imagination at work, and they foreground the literary features of the narrative representation of history.

5. Enclaves of authenticity In some novels, there are still some enclaves of authenticity. These novels contain signs that point toward the possibility of valid, authentic historical knowledge, such as a certain hierarchy of more or less trustworthy data, or references to a known, realistic, factual historical context (e.g. events, individuals).


History in the Making The second type of postmodernist self-reflexivity Wesseling describes, works via shifts from one level of historical discourse to a lower, more fundamental one (Wesseling 135). The first level is that of the historian's discourse [which] is shown to reflect the subjective preoccupations of the historian and his narrative instruments, rather than historical reality (135). The second level is that of the sources for historiography, which are shown to be tinged by subjective desires and perhaps even deliberate forgery (135). The third level is that of the actual historical events. Even these are robbed of their self-evidence by suggesting that the making of history follows fictional scenarios which, in their turn, have likewise been determined by linguistic tropes and topoi (135). Wesseling states that different types of subject matter are addressed by texts that deal with the issue of history in the making, namely aesthetic history and political history. Next, she quite elaborately illustrates this by looking at a few novels which represent the treatment of either of these two kinds of history. I will not reflect more of this here. Wesseling has presented quite a clear outline of the features of self-reflexivity in the postmodernist historical novel. In the next two chapters, they will be used in analysing Julian Barnes' A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters. Chapter three focuses on self-reflexivity and chapter four deals with counterfactual and uchronian fiction.


Chapter 3 Self-Reflexivity in A History of the World in 10 Chapters

Having described what, in Wesseling s opinion, the characteristics of postmodernist historical fiction are, the next aim is to assess if and how these characteristics are reflected in Barnes A History of the World in 10 Chapters. The approach of this chapter will be to take the characteristics of self-reflexivity and examine if, and how they are reflected in the novel. The next chapter will do the same with the characteristics of counterfactual and uchronian fiction. Whereas this chapter and the next one focuses on the examination of Barnes novel and the findings of this examination, more extensive comments on the results will be provided in chapter five. Before starting the assessment of the novel, a concise introduction to the novel is called for. As the title of A History of the World in 10 Chapters suggests, the novel consists of ten chapters and a half which deal with world history. However, as the combination A History indicates, it is not about world history as it is generally seen, or at least not a representation of world history as it is generally seen. The chapters are set in various times of history, ranging from Noah s Flood up to the twentieth century.22 There are major time gaps between these periods in history, and the chapters are not placed in chronological order, as for times in history they describe. Thus, the novel does not offer an allencompassing overview of world history, but rather zooms in on a number of events in specific moments in time. Some of the chapters are clearly based on well-known historical events, others are based on less known events, or merely have a historical setting, but no specific event as their basis. Here is a short overview of the chapters:

There is also a chapter about heaven in the novel, chapter ten, which is called The Dream . One might be inclined to think that heaven deals with the future, which means the novel actually deals with world history ranging from the Flood to heaven. However, the title of the chapter suggests that it deals with a dream, and besides that, I do not think heaven is a place in time, but a place outside of time and so I judge it correct to say that the novel deals with history from the Flood up into the twentieth century. One other difficult case could be Parenthesis which seems to be set in a contemporary time, at least in the twentieth century, but indications that it takes place later than the twentieth century were not found.


1. The Stowaway: a woodworm s version of the Flood. 2. The Visitors: the cruise ship Santa Euphemia is hijacked by a Black Thunder group (Arab terrorists). 3. The Wars of Religion: Set in the sixteenth century. Presents a legal case against woodworm. 4. The Survivor: At the time of the Cuba Crisis (1962), Kath Ferris sails away from the destruction of the world. 5. Shipwreck: On the event concerning the shipwreck of the Medusa (1816) and Gericault s painting of the event (1819). 6. The Mountain: Amanda Ferguson sets out on an expedition to Mount Ararat (1840) 7. Three Simple Stories: -In 1964, a young man comes into contact with a survivor of the Titanic disaster. -Narrative of Jonah and other survivors of being eaten by a big fish, e.g. James Bartley (1981). -The St. Louis, carrying many Jews on board, is kept from landing on various shores (1939). 8. Upstream!: Letters written by Charlie, an actor, to his girlfriend. Charlie is part of a film crew shooting a film in the jungle. Parenthesis: The half chapter; it focuses mainly on the issue of love. 9. Project Ararat: Spike Tiggler, who has walked on the moon, embarks on a search for Noah s Ark on Mount Ararat (1970 s). 10. The Dream: A dream (it is suggested) about heaven.

To analyse A History of the World is not an easy task. The novel addresses many issues, many of which are addressed explicitly, and some of them implicitly, and it is quite a


complicated task to draw exact boundaries between these issues and say: this element clearly expresses a concern with the partiality of historical knowledge as part of historiography in the making, for instance. It is sometimes even hard to distinguish between counterfactual conjecture and self-reflexivity. Given these circumstances, the section on self-reflexivity, which follows this paragraph, will be organised as follows. The features of self-reflexivity will be taken one at a time, and the text searched for expressions of this particular feature. This will not necessarily mean that the examples from the text fit Wesseling s descriptions of the features exactly. Some may not agree with Wesseling s comments completely, but have enough affiliation with them to be placed under the heading of a particular feature. In this way, the several features are used as tools to detect signs of self-reflexivity in the novel. The novel consists of one, or rather ten and a half chapters, which differ from each other in many respects, for instance: the periods of history that are described, the types of text (letters, diary fragments, documents representing old legal procedures, plain narrative text), style of writing, tone, points of view (first-person or third-person). In a way, one could say that the novel is not a harmonious whole. Statements that apply to one chapter may not apply to another, or to the novel as a whole. Therefore, the reviewing of each feature in the novel will be illustrated with examples from various chapters, in order to come to a convincing conclusion.

Self-reflexivity: Historiography in the Making Partiality of historical knowledge On page 23 of my thesis I presented this feature in the following way:

Postmodernist novelists [ ] expose the partisan nature of historical knowledge. They expressly draw our attention to the highly self-interested motives which cause their historian-like characters to set out on a quest for the past (121). This agrees with what philosophers of literature like Lessing have said about


historical knowledge, namely that it is shaped by emotional needs, such as a need for identity. Inevitably, then, historical narratives are of a partisan nature as well. They project the historian's image into the past. According to Elizabeth Wesseling, the idea that our versions of the past constitute an incurably partial and preconceived body of knowledge, seems to have become widely accepted among postmodernist novelists (122).

The first elements signing an affiliation with the issue of partial historical knowledge can be found in the first chapter of Barnes novel: "The Stowaway". The narrator of this chapter is a woodworm who was a stowaway on the Ark during the Flood, and he directly addresses the reader. Woodworm, as he shall be called in this thesis, presents us with his account of the Flood, and his perceptions of Noah and his family. It is safe to say that his presentation differs considerably from the Biblical account and traditional Christian views of it. Woodworm is very much aware of this fact. He explicitly deals with the issue in his narration, and stresses the authority of his own version:

Now, I realize that accounts differ. Your species has its much repeated version, which still charms even sceptics; while the animals have a compendium of sentimental myths. But they re not going to rock the boat, are they? Not when they ve been treated as heroes, not when it s become a matter of pride that each and every one of them can proudly trace its family tree straight back to the Ark. They were chosen, they endured, they survived: it s normal for them to gloss over the awkward episodes, to have convenient lapses of memory. But I am not constrained in that way. I was never chosen. In fact, like several other species, I was specifically not chosen. I was a stowaway; I too survived; I escaped (getting off was no easier than getting on); and I have flourished. I am a little set apart from the rest of animal society, which still has its nostalgic reunions: there is even a Sealegs Club for species which never once felt queasy. When I recall the Voyage, I feel no sense of obligation; gratitude puts no smear of Vaseline on the lens. My account you can trust. (4)

In other words: the other animals have their reasons for backing up certain versions, and, as Woodworm explains later on in the narrative, so do human beings. However, his own account is supposed to be neutral and trustworthy.


It is interesting to examine if Woodworm indeed comes across as a neutral source of information. Woodworm states his position as one who was not chosen, a stowaway, a

survivor, one who escaped and flourished, one who is not obliged to anyone, and, because of his position, a neutral source. However, the weakness of the above quoted statements on other animals is, that they boomerang back on him. It is questionable that the status of being specifically not chosen did not have any effect on his version, just as the position of those who were chosen affected their versions of what happened. Besides this, Woodworm s narration shows a number of instances where it is obvious that he views things from a different point of view than human beings do. For instance, he portrays animals as thinking, rational beings, and mentions an instance of animals offering up a petition to Noah (Barnes, 14). Woodworm seems to perceive things from an animal point of view, or at least, from a woodworm s point of view. The effect of this can be that the version of history he presents is put somewhat in perspective. Woodworm s identity (that of a woodworm) does play some role in his perception of events. When he states that Noah was bad-tempered, smelly, unreliable, envious and cowardly (16), this may come as a shock to those who hold to traditional Christian views. However, when one page later they read that Woodworm looks down on Noah s outward appearance, for instance, because he cannot grow his own hair except around his face, they see how subjective Woodworm s views can be. However, the fact that his account is likely to contain bias, or restrictions because of a woodworm s point of view, is not a solid ground for rejecting all of its contents. Despite some cracks in Woodworm s authority as a neutral source of information, part of his criticism does make a point. This will now be illustrated with the use of two quotes. The first quote is on pages 4 and 5:

the waters were upon the earth for a hundred and fifty days? Bump that up to about four years [ ] Your species has always been hopeless about dates. I put it down to your quaint obsession with multiples of



Probably a statement like this will not convince many true-blue adherents of the Christian faith of the alternative dates Woodworm brings forward. However, it is true that certain numbers play an important role in the Bible, and the above quote may cause some to wonder about the influence that important numbers may have had on the writing of history. Another passage states:

Some of those scholars who devote their lives to your sacred texts have even tried to prove that the Noah of the Ark wasn t the same man as the Noah arraigned for drunkenness. (29)

Woodworm mentions this in trying to illustrate the way in which humans attempt to deal with the problems that some historical facts produce for them. Historical data can cause an inner conflict when they clash with a person s personal beliefs, and this, as is shown in the example Woodworm relates, can lead to a forced treatment of the data involved. The example in the above quote is an extreme case of this forced treatment. Another chapter that draws attention to the partiality of historical knowledge is chapter five, Shipwreck . This chapter is divided into two sections. The first section describes the events concerning the shipwreck of the Medusa in 1816, and the second section focuses on Gericault s painting of the shipwreck, the process of painting that was involved as well as the final outcome of this process. The first part of chapter five relates how the Medusa set sail on the 17th of June 1816, as part of an expedition for Senegal [which] consisted of four vessels (115). The text relates the journey from its departure to its shipwrecking, up until the moment fifteen survivors are picked up from a raft, about two and a half weeks later, and adds some information on what happened to a few other victims of the Medusa tragedy. The period of time between the shipwrecking and the rescue is related in most detail. It is the manner in which the events are described which is interesting


in this section on partial historical knowledge. On the one hand, it seems the text is an impartial description of the things that happened. Except for the opening and ending passages, it is a chronological account which mentions much data. However, there are small signs that the speaker is not completely neutral. For instance, when the narrator of chapter five, part I, relates one of the mutinies that took place on the raft, he ends his description with: By the time the villains were subdued, the raft was laden with corpses (118). The label of villains seems somewhat partisan. It reoccurs shortly after this: taking the villain by the hair . and this villain is also called a treacherous underling (119).

Unreliability of Sources The second feature to be examined is that of the unreliability of sources. This feature points to the difficulty of authenticating true material, for instance by demonstrating the ambiguity of relics from the past. The issue of unreliable sources is addressed directly and indirectly in Barnes novel. Chapter three deals with the authenticity of a historical document. The text of this chapter represents the proceedings of a legal case against woodworms, held in the sixteenth century. The woodworms are charged for having eaten the woodwork of a church in Mamirolle, including the roof, and the throne of the Bishop of Besanon. When the Bishop had sat down in his throne, it collapsed and the bishop had become mentally handicapped as a result. The presented proceedings of the case are preceded by an introduction which brings the aspect of authenticity to the attention of the reader. The source of the text is mentioned: the Archives Municipales de Besanon (p. 61), and the author of the introduction underlines the interest the case could have for legal historians. Next, it is stated that the following documents [ ] do not represent the entire proceedings. Parts of the proceedings have been left out, as it was assumed that references to these proceedings in the actual presented document would suffice. The speaker of the introduction claims: nothing [is] absent from the essential structure and argument of the case. The reader is


supposed to trust the competence of the person(s) who decided what would be included in the documents. Next, the Translator s note reveals that the manuscript was written in one and the same hand, which means we are not dealing with the original submissions as

penned by each lawyer s clerk, but with the work of a third party who may have omitted sections of the pleas. So, the manuscript is a representation of a representation of a case, and it is claimed once, and suggested another time that the contents have been edited. At the end of the introduction the translator states: I have done my best to render the sometimes extravagant style of pleading especially of the unnamed procureur des habitans

into a comparable English (62). So, on top of the document coming from a third hand, it is a translated text, and not an easy one to have to render into comparable English, because of the particular style of pleading presented in the source language. In conclusion it can be said that the introduction to the case, including the translator s note points out that a number of the text s aspects are likely to have influenced its authenticity, that is, its authenticity as a trustworthy reflection of the case as it took place in 1520. The ambiguity of relics surfaces in two chapters. In chapter six, Amanda Fergusson sets out on a journey to mount Ararat to intercede for her father s soul. Miss Logan is her companion for the expedition. On their journey they meet an Armenian priest who claims no one has ever ascended the mountain they want to climb. Later on in their conversation, he offers them a black amulet, which he claims to be a piece of bitumen from Noah s Ark. Amanda rejects the offer, explaining they are not likely to believe the amulet to be authentic if the mountain is impossible to climb. The priest maintains that the piece of bitumen could have come down from the mountain in a miraculous way, or by a bird. The episode on the amulet ends with the ladies and the priest parting without a bargain being struck (155). No decisive answer is given about the question of the authenticity of the amulet. It has to be stressed, that the episode described only takes up a paragraph in a twenty-five page chapter and does not play a role in the rest of the narrative.


Elements that can be related to issues of authenticity and of reliability of sources also occur in chapter seven: Three Simple Stories (141). The chapter contains three parts. The first part relates the story of a young man who teaches for one term at a crammer. During this time he becomes acquainted with Lawrence Beesley, who founded the school and, now in his mid-eighties, still lives on the premises of the school. Beesley is a well-known survivor of the Titanic disaster. The data that could confirm this fact, however, are endowed with some ambiguity. Beesley still keeps a blanket embroidered with the name of the ship that picked him up after the disaster. However, some of Beesley s family members think the embroidering dates from some time after the rescue. These family members are labelled sceptical (173), and no solid ground is given for their claim. Still, the fact remains that the issue concerning the blanket s authenticity is raised explicitly. A final example of ambiguous relics can be found in chapter nine: Project Ararat. Chapter nine is about Spike Tiggler. As an astronaut, he has walked on the moon, and it was right there that he experienced God s voice telling him to go and find the Ark on the Ararat in Turkey. Some time after his return, Spike starts to take this calling more seriously. After a period of publicity and raising money, he sets out on an expedition to the Ararat, together with Dr Jimmy Fulgood, college basketball star turned geologist and scuba-diver (267). At a certain moment they indeed find something: a human skeleton. Spike is convinced they have found Noah s remains, which are miraculously well-preserved. However, when part of the skeleton is researched, it turns out it belongs to a woman and is about one hundred and fifty years old.23 Spike had been so ready to believe in miracles, that he had assumed the bones were Noah s. If it was not for up-to-date research methods, the opposite could not have been proved.


This seems to be a reference to chapter six, where Amanda dies on the Ararat.


Selectivity The third feature to be discussed is selectivity. Wesseling has described three issues related to selectivity that obstruct our perspectives on the past, which were mentioned before in the second chapter of this thesis. I will briefly introduce them again and present reflections of these particular issues in the text. The first issue related to selectivity points out that selectivity is caused by the fact that historians simply have to work with whatever relics survived history. This issue does not seem to play a major role in Barnes novel. Examples are not evident in the text. One passage that might be related to the kind of selectivity discussed here, is the introduction to chapter three, The Wars of Religion. This passage brings forward a translator who has to make do with the manuscript that describes the legal case. Some information can be gathered from the handwriting the manuscript was written in, and from the Archives Municipales de Besanon, but besides this, the translator can only guess about the omissions and changes that have taken place, and the manuscript is what he or she has to work with. Besides this passage, no other examples stand out from the text. The second aspect of selectivity points out that a person who searches for the past aims at a certain picture. In Wesseling s words: As the critical philosophy of history has pointed out, our insights into the past are determined by the types of questions we put to the source materials (Wesseling 126). Further on she states: the historian only selects as noteworthy those historical data that fit into the picture which he has in mind (126). So, the historian is aiming at a coherent picture of the past and this makes him or her selective towards historical data. An passage from chapter two, The Visitors corresponds with this feature. This chapter relates the hijacking of the cruise ship Santa Euphemia. Franklin Hughes, known as a television presenter, stays on board the ship as a guest lecturer. He is appointed spokesperson for the passengers (by the terrorists). When the leader of the hijackers tells Franklin about the procedure that will follow (namely: killing two passengers


every hour) if their demands are not met, Franklin suggests that it would be better to have things explained to the passengers. The next day, Franklin is told that his suggestion has been taken into consideration, and he is forced to take on himself the task of explaining to the passengers what is happening. How they are mixed up in history. What that history is (51). Franklin receives precise instructions for this, and he is to explain things exactly in terms of these instructions. On page 55, part of Franklin s speech is reflected as follows:

Hughes sketched an idyllic nineteenth century, all nomads and goat-farming and traditional hospitality [ ] He talked of early Zionist settlers and Western concepts of land-ownership. The Balfour Declaration. Jewish immigration from Europe. The Second World War. European guilt over the Holocaust being paid for by the Arabs [ ] Their [Jews] militarism, expansionism, racism. Their pre-emptive attack on the Egyptian air force at the start of the Six Day War being the exact moral equivalent of Pearl Harbour [ ] The refugee camps. The theft of land. The artificial support of the Israeli economy by the dollar. The atrocities committed against the dispossessed. The Jewish lobby in America. The Arabs only asking from the Western Powers for the same justices in the Middle East as had already been accorded to the Jews. The regrettable necessity of violence, a lesson taught the Arabs by the Jews, just as it had been taught the Jews by the Nazis. (55-56)

What is striking about this fragment of history, is that it is very one-sided. It focuses mainly on the crimes committed by Jews and those who supported them, and the suffering of the other party. This episode not only conveys subjectivity, but is also selective. It focuses on violent or criminal actions of the Jewish side, and leaves out the violence and crimes that came from their enemies. Franklin s speech aimed at a coherent representation of history, and only the data that fitted this representation were selected. Other straightforward connections to the second type of selectivity were not found in the novel. The third selectivity-related issue to be discussed is that of political selectivity. It focuses on the phenomenon that, in Wesseling s words, historiography can only concern itself with those individuals and collectivities who have made the historical record (Wesseling 126). According to Lessing, Wesseling states, political success is what is needed


to leave a mark on the records. Wesseling remarks on a quote from Lessing on this subject that historiography tends to write the history of the victors, while those who suffered, rather than made history are quickly erased from our historical memory (126). A concern with political selectivity is not so easy to detect in the novel. Still, here is one example from chapter four, which could be an expression of an affiliation with the issue of political selectivity. In chapter four, Kath Ferris displays a concern for reindeer. This has started in her childhood and continues when she grows up. At a certain point in the narrative, mention is made of a nuclear disaster in Russia, and the consequences it had for the reindeer that had become radioactive as a consequence. A significant passage on this: At first the plan was to bury the reindeer six feet down. It wasn t much of a news story, just an inch or two on the foreign page (85). However, even though it wasn t much of a news story, to Kath it is a major issue. She is also upset about what happens to the meat of these reindeer, and about the fact that later on it is decided the meat will be fed to the mink. The people around Kath do not understand her concern with these issues, and when it is described that she is upset about feeding the meat to the mink, the text says: Most people had stopped paying attention to what she was telling them by now (86). In this text, radioactive reindeer in Russia apparently are a minor news item to most people, but a major issue to Kath. This could be related to the issue of political selectivity in that it shows someone with a concern for those who are forgotten by others, and who are not an important news item. No other examples could be distinguished in the novel. One doubtful case is the following, another aspect of chapter four. While the story of this chapter takes place in the Cold War, it does not focus on the war, but on Kath. She is unimportant to the political scene, but Barnes choice for a subject in a chapter that (except for descriptions of Kath s earlier life) is set against the background of the Cold War. Maybe this could be seen as an expression of Barnes concern to focus on one who does not occupy the centre of the


political or historical scene. However, the example is not very clearly related to the issue of political selectivity.

Narrativity The fourth aspect of historiography in the making is that of narrativity. As was mentioned in chapter two of this thesis, this aspect focuses on teleology as a sign of the historical imagination at work, and on the literary features of the narrative representation of history (see page 24). One example is the novel as a whole. It is striking that certain themes or items keep occurring in the novel. For instance, the Ark or other boats occur several times: the Santa Euphemia in chapter two, Kath Ferris boat in chapter four, the Medusa in chapter five and so on. Besides this there are other reoccurring things. The most striking phenomenon is that of woodworm, which occurs in at least seven chapters. And, whereas the reoccurrence of boats in historical narratives is somewhat incredible, that of woodworm seems completely fabricated. Of course, in chapter one it is part of the narrative set-up. And in The Wars of Religion it is the subject of the chapter. Still, woodworm also occur in narratives in a very artificial way. For instance in chapter five, which is all about the wrecking of the Medusa, life on the raft, and Gericault s painting of the event. Then, in the last sentence of the chapter, woodworms pop up, when it is remarked on Gericault s painting: And no doubt if they examine the frame they will discover woodworm living there (139). Another example is the theme of separating the clean and unclean. It occurs in four chapters. In chapter one, on the Flood, it is not strange. However, it is also applied to the splitting up of passengers of the Santa Euphemia, according to their nationalities, in chapter two, and the throwing overboard of the ill from the raft of the Medusa, in chapter five. In chapter seven, part three, the St Louis is not allowed to let its passengers, for the most part Jews, disembark in Havana. When it is suggested that a number of them can disembark in


return for those who were supposed to go on board in that harbour, this is also compared to separating the clean from the unclean (184). Naturally, it can be argued that the reoccurrence of the above-mentioned elements has to do with the fact that Barnes was aiming at some kind of thematic goal. To counterbalance this argument some more examples will be given of other reoccurrences. For instance, the case of bitumen, a certain kind of substance that was used in the construction of the Ark, but also by Gericault in his painting. Bitumen occurs in three chapters. First in chapter five, on Gericault s painting, where it is mentioned Gericault used it to make the shadow as black as possible (139), and then in chapter six, where Amanda Fergusson is offered a piece of bitumen which had supposedly been part of the Ark, and Amanda s companion wonders: was that not the material used by artists to blacken the shadows in their paintings? (155). Finally, it reoccurs in chapter nine, which relates Spike Tiggler s search for the Ark: Jimmy [Spike s companion] was uncertain whether they were due to find the whole Ark [ ] or just some significant remnant: the rudder, perhaps, or some planks still caulked with bitumen (273). Besides the example of bitumen, there are a number of things that occur in two chapters, and in that way seem to connect these two chapters. For instance, in chapter four one of Kath s cats is named Linda, and in chapter eight another Linda occurs. In chapter one, Woodworm relates about the reindeer aboard the Ark: the reindeer were troubled with something [ ] long-term. [ ] the reindeer sensed something. And it was something beyond what we then knew. As if they were saying, You think this is the worst? Don t count on it. Still, whatever it as, even the reindeer couldn t be specific about it. Something distant, major long-term (13). This passage is an obvious reference to chapter four, where reindeer become victims of a nuclear disaster. A third example is that in chapter one, Woodworm relates that, in contrast to what supposedly really happened, Noah claimed that the dove was the bird that found the olive branch after the flood, and points to the fact that the dove


has received some kind of symbolical status by human beings. In chapter five, the men that are left on the raft are visited by a white butterfly: To some [ ] it seemed that even this could make a morsel. [ ] To yet others, this simple butterfly was a sign, a messenger from Heaven as white as Noah s dove (121). Even if Barnes was thinking about thematics when working repetition into his novel, the effect of it is that the novel comes across as a construction. In a number of cases, the repetition is so obvious that, whether intended or not, attention is drawn to the artificiality of the unity that is found in the novel. The main question is, naturally, whether Barnes intended to draw attention to this artificial unity. Maybe this was not his concern at all. Maybe he was aiming at dealing with certain thematics and was not concerned with self-reflexive notions at all. One passage from Parenthesis can give a clue about this question. Parenthesis is the part of the novel where Barnes reveals something of what he himself thinks of matters. This is shown in one of Barnes answers in an interview with Vanessa Guignery:

I suppose the point at which Parenthesis comes is the point at which I ve given a series of alternative narrations, dislocated in time and place, and it seems to me as a writer, at that point, that it is time to say something on my own part, on my own behalf. And at such a point, the reader would be quite justified in saying to the writer Well, what do you think about it? .24

Parenthesis contains a passage which could be helpful in assessing whether the recurrent items in the novel are merely there for thematic purposes, or if some self-reflexive concern might be involved here:

The history of the world? Just voices echoing in the dark; images that burn for a few centuries and then fade; stories, old stories that sometimes seem to overlap; strange links, impertinent connections. We lie here in our hospital bed of the present (what nice clean sheets we get nowadays) with a bubble of daily news drip-fed into our arm. We think we know who we are, though we don t quite know why we re here,

Vanessa Guignery,

History in question(s) : An interview with Julian Barnes, Sources 8, (Orleans: Universit

dOrleans Editions Paradigme 2000), 65.


or how long we shall be forced to stay. And while we fret and writhe in bandaged uncertainty voluntary patient?

are we a

we fabulate. We make up a story to cover the facts we don t know or can t accept;

we keep a few true facts and spin a new story round them. Our panic and pain are only eased by soothing fabulation; we call it history. (242; italics mine)

The words old stories that sometimes seem to overlap, strange links, impertinent connections seem to describe some of what has been dealt with in this section on narrativity. As is the case with other fragments from Parenthesis, the quoted passage seems to refer to the novel it is placed in.25 This means that when Barnes is inserting strange links, for instance, in the other ten chapters, he is not just aiming at thematics, or not aiming at thematics as a goal in itself. He is trying to say something about how he views history or historiography. For this reason I consider it plausible that at least part of the links between the various chapters are connected to the aspect of narrativity.

Enclaves of authenticity The fifth element of historiography in the making that will be examined is that of enclaves of authenticity, or, in other words, signs that point toward the possibility of valid, authentic historical knowledge. Examples of this are: a certain hierarchy of more or less trustworthy data, or references to a known, realistic, factual historical context.

Authenticity is hard to

find in the novel. The narratives rather focus on the many elements that stand in the way of objective knowledge than giving hope that such knowledge exists. However, two minor fragments might give room for authenticity. In chapter nine, Project Ararat, Spike Tiggler and his companion find human bones. Spike is convinced they have found Noah s remains. However, scientific research proves that the bones belong to a woman who has died about a hundred and fifty years before. Besides showing how unreliable human perception of evidence can be, this episode provides some
Other examples will be dealt with in chapter five of this thesis. The quotes are taken from the description of enclaves of authenticity in chapter two of this thesis. See page 24.
26 25


sort of grip in the form of science. Science, however, is not only put in a positive light in this novel, for instance, in chapter seven, part two. Here it is described that James Bartley got swallowed by a whale in 1891, was freed by fishermen the next day, and survived the incident. According to science, it would have been impossible for him to have survived more than a few minutes in the whale s belly (180), but still, it happened. Here, science is rebuffed by reality. The question is what the status of science then is, in the novel. In the fragment from chapter nine, it gives more security than mere human perception and insight do. In chapter seven, science is overruled. The answer could be that no absolute statements can be made on what medium has an absolute authority in the field of objective knowledge. Sometimes, science can be more objective about reality than humans can be. At other times, human experience can be more of an authority than science. One passage from Parenthesis renders further insight into the novel s attitude towards authentic knowledge.

We all know objective truth is not obtainable, that when some event occurs we shall have a multiplicity of subjective truths which we assess and then fabulate into history [ ] some [ ] version of what a charming, impossible fake [ ] But while we know this,

really happened. This [ ] version is a fake

we must still believe that objective truth is obtainable; or if we can t believe this we must believe that 43 per cent objective truth is better than 41 per cent. We must do so, because if we don t we re lost, we fall into beguiling relativity. (245-246; italics mine)

This passage is clear about the existence of objective truth: it is not obtainable. Still, people should believe in it, for more practical purposes. Maybe the ambiguity of this statement explains some of the ambiguity in the fragments that were mentioned above. Authenticity is denied, most of the time, but some room is left for alternatives. In chapter four more will be said about the content of the above quote from pages 245 and 246, on the alternative to objective truth that Barnes puts forward.


Self-reflexivity: History in the Making The second type of self-reflexivity that will be discussed in this chapter is that which Elisabeth Wesseling has labelled as history in the making. What is difficult about searching the novel for this kind of self-reflexivity, is that it is quite close to that of historiography in the making. The aims of the two kinds of self-reflexivity are clearly separated: the first kind of self-reflexivity, discussed above, reflects on the constraints upon historiography, and the second kind of self-reflexivity, to be discussed in the following, reflects on history itself. Still, in examining Barnes novel it is sometimes hard to distinguish between the two. For instance, the aspect of narrativity focuses on the structure historians impose on history, and this is very similar to history in the making, which, one could say, focuses on the fictionality of history itself. To cut it very short: history in the making doubts even the basic skeleton of history, historical events, by suggesting that historical events are made to happen in compliance with the same narrative conventions as those that determine the retrospective retrieval of the past. History as an objective existence is doubted. In chapter six, The Mountain, the issue of history as something that is made is brought up. To explain this, it is useful to illustrate Amanda Fergusson s way of looking at the world. Amanda is presented as a woman who believes in divine intent and God s plan. See for instance page 147: his [her father s] refusal to acknowledge the divine plan, and: How could her father have failed to recognize God, His eternal design, and its essential goodness? The proof of this plan and this benevolence lay manifest in Nature, and on page 148: Amanda discovered in the world divine intent, benevolent order and rigorous justice. Amanda sees God s purposes, plans and so on, in various things, but this is rather subjective a number of times. It is impressive to see what kind of consequences this has for her life. It is quite harmless to see divine intent in the way all kinds of fruit are fit for human consumption (see pages 147 and 148), but having to go on some kind of pilgrimage to


intercede for her father s soul, because she believes it to be appropriate (149) is a different matter. Somehow Amanda has become convinced that the way to save her father is to fetch grape juice from the vines in Arghuri,27 and when this mission turns out to be a disappointment, because the monks in Arghuri have made wine from the grapes (which tradition had forbidden, according to Amanda), she is convinced that getting snow from the Ararat will do the job:

We shall ascend the mountain. Sin must be purged with water. The sin of the world was purged by the waters of the flood [ ] We shall fill our bottles with snow from the holy mountain. The pure juice of Noah s vine we came in search of has been rendered impure. We shall bring back purging water instead. That is the only way to salvage the journey. (160; italics mine)

Passages like the one quoted above make one wonder about the subjective nature of Amanda s perceptions of what is appropriate or what needs to be done to intercede for her father s soul. This becomes even more manifest in the last section of chapter six, where the issue of history in the making seems to come in. After Amanda and her companion have retrieved the water from Mount Ararat, and they are on their way back down the mountain, Amanda slips and falls. She hurts her foot, and becomes weak. It is insinuated later on that Amanda had fallen on purpose. Miss Logan reflects on pages 167 and 168:

They had been crossing a scree; there had been many loose stones, and footing was difficult, but surely at that point they had been traversing a gentler slope, and her employer had actually been standing on a flattish stretch of granite when she had fallen. It was a magnetic mountain where a compass did not work, and it was easy to lose your bearing. No, that was not it. The question she was avoiding was whether Miss Fergusson might not have been the instrument of her own precipitation, in order to achieve or confirm whatever it was she wanted to achieve or confirm.

The place where Noah supposedly returned to his agricultural labours after the Flood , and where an ancient vine stock planted by the Patriarch s own hand was still present.



When Amanda is still weak another day later, she tells her companion that she and their Kurdish guide are to leave her the next day: Whether you return or not is immaterial. [ ]

I shall remember the Holy Scripture and wait for God s will. On this mountain God s will is quite manifest. I cannot imagine a happier place from which to be taken unto Him (165).

Accordingly, Miss Logan and the guide go down the mountain, and when the guide has safely brought Miss Logan to a village, he disappears and does not return. Weeks later, when Miss Logan is on her way home (Amanda has obviously stayed behind upon the mountain, to die there), she considers that it is possible the Kurd had been instructed by Amanda to leave her after bringing her down the mountain safely. He had, during their journey, always executed Miss Fergusson s commands with punctiliousness and honour (167), and had spoken to Amanda in private, the last night they were with her. It is never confirmed whether Amanda fell on purpose or not, or whether she instructed the guide to leave Miss Logan or not. Still, indirectly chapter six seems to concern itself with the issue of Amanda directing her own life. In chapter six it is fascinating to see what consequences deep conviction can have for someone s life. It can even lead to death. It is also fascinating that in this chapter, a woman who believes in the divine plan, seems to direct her own life. It is even suggested she set up her own death. The question is of course, whether this chapter is about what it can do to a person when he or she has certain strong beliefs or becomes lost in his or her subjective perceptions, or if it is about the opposition between a stable, independent reality and creating your own reality. It may be too absolute an assertion to claim the last option. The chapter seems to focus on matters of perception and not so much on the relation between a stable and a fictional reality, but still, at least in the last section of chapter six, it seems there is room for the question whether or not Amanda was directing her own life s end. Another question is, if this issue of directing your own life is present, whether this relates to history in


the making. However, since it does concern part of the course of Amanda s life, I thought it appropriate to include it in this section.


Chapter 4 Counterfactual Conjecture and Uchronian Fiction in A History of the World in 10 Chapters

Having paid considerable attention to the self-reflexive aspect of A History of the World in 10 Chapters, the next step is to assess whether the novel reflects something like Uchronian Fiction. First, as not all Counterfactual Fiction is Uchronian, the counterfactual quality of Barnes book will be examined as a separate issue.

Counterfactual Conjecture In her book Writing History as a Prophet Elisabeth Wesseling defines counterfactual historical fiction as fiction which deliberately departs from canonized history (Wesseling 102). She explains that the development of an alternative history may be quite a rational and responsible intellectual endeavor (104), and that Counterfactual conjectures are developed by way of a logical thought experiment, which attempts to answer the question What would have happened if . . ., using a hypothetico-deductive mode of reasoning (102). She ascribes a parodic aspect to counterfactual fantasies,28 in the sense that parodic texts incorporate their target texts. Some knowledge of the parodied text is indispensable for the recognition of its pendant within the new context of the parodic text . Wesseling adds: Evidently, the target of counterfactual conjecture is the reservoir of established historical facts and popular interpretations of those facts which makes up canonized history (105). Parodic texts , as Wesseling calls them (105),

recycle prefabricated textual materials, but with an ironic difference. The parodied text is not merely repeated, however, but modified by various strategies. An author may change the target by

As a reminder: the terms counterfactual fiction, counterfactual conjecture and counterfactual fantasy point to the same phenomenon, in keeping with Wesseling s use of the terms.



exaggerating some of its features as in a caricature, by turning it upside down, or by inserting it into a strikingly new context which exposes the target in a different light. (105, 106)

Another thing Wesseling points out is that counterfactual conjecture, despite its parodic aspect, does not necessarily degrade history (106). Barnes novel will now be searched for aspects of counterfactual conjecture as they are described above. All chapters will be reviewed separately. In this section I will merely examine what counterfactual elements can be found in the novel, but the possible causes for those particular elements will not be discussed. In practice, counterfactual fiction is not easy to discern. It is hard to draw the line between adjustments for fiction s sake, for instance, and counterfactual changes. Therefore, to draw this line, the afore-mentioned elements will be used as tools: deliberately departing from canonized history, developing a narrative from the question: what would have happened if . And also: parody of canonized history, and

modification of the parodied text by various methods, such as exaggeration, turning the text upside down, or inserting it into a strikingly new context. Chapter one contains a narrative that seems quite counterfactual at first sight. Woodworm s descriptions of Noah and of the events concerning the Flood seem to defy what traditional views have held for ages. In Woodworm s description the selection process before entering the Ark was harsh, the voyage on the Ark was one of hardships, and Noah is portrayed as a hysterical rogue with a drink problem (8). However, Woodworm also claims that his view of Noah and the traditional view are not necessarily in contradiction, but can coexist, for instance, if it is considered that Noah was a good exemplar of his kind at the time. Some of Woodworm s claims could be fitted into the Biblical narrative without much difficulty, even though they disrupt the traditional interpretation of that narrative. Still a few negations of Biblical facts can be found. For instance on pages 4 and 5, Woodworm changes some numbers: it supposedly rained for about a year and a half instead of forty days and nights, and the waters were upon the earth for a hundred and fifty days? Bump that up to


about four years. On page 6 the role of the serpent in the Fall (Genesis 3) is denied. Later on in chapter one, Woodworm claims that it was not the dove, but the raven who found the first olive branch (and that Noah has tampered with the facts). But stating that chapter one is counterfactual on the basis of these changes in data, does not seem a solid claim to stake. Apart from changes in data as mentioned here, the basic framework of the Biblical story remains intact: Noah built the Ark, animals are taken into the Ark, it rains for a period, the waters subside, a bird finds life on the earth, everyone leaves the Ark, there is a rainbow as a sign that another Flood will never happen. Thus, in a way, the basic framework of facts is left intact. Still, despite stressing at times that his view and the traditional view can coexist, Woodworm presents his narrative with an attitude of: you all look at it this way, but it was really different. And Woodworm s filling in of gaps, giving a twist to certain information, adding facts, this does seem to have a counterfactual effect, as it completely disrupts the traditional views on the Biblical facts. As mentioned above, Wesseling includes popular interpretations of those [established historical] facts in her definition of canonized history. In this text, popular interpretation of the Genesis narrative is disrupted. For this reason, chapter one could be labelled counterfactual. Chapter two, The Visitors, is inspired by a hijack that occurred in 1985. In October of that year, an Italian cruise ship, the Achille Lauro, was hijacked by Four heavily armed Palestinian terrorists.

Hijacking a cruise ship was a new tactic at the time. There are a

number of differences between the historical event and Barnes narrative. For instance, the hijack in Barnes novel seems to be a preconceived action, while information tells us that the hijack of the Achille Lauro was actually unplanned. The Palestinians on board were travelling to Ashdod, but their arms were discovered, and in a state of panic and confusion, they hijacked the ship, or so a faction of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) claimed it to be.30

29 30

See See


Another difference is, that in the historical event, only one passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed. In Barnes story, more than ten passengers are killed. The hijack is then ended by American Special Forces (Barnes, 58), while six more passengers are killed in the battle. Five of the eight terrorists are killed as well. In the case of the Achille Lauro, the hijackers were to be flown to a safe haven in an Egyptian aircraft, but they were forced down in Italy by the Americans, and the Italian authorities took them into custody. The hijackers were put on trial and convicted to prison sentences. This last difference between the two versions is interesting. It relates to the cause of the hijack in Barnes novel. Whereas the Achille Lauro hijackers demanded the release of fifty Palestinians from Israeli prison, the hijackers of the Santa Euphemia demand the release of three of their members from European prisons. Franklin says in his final speech: You may remember [ ] that two years ago a civilian aircraft carrying three members of the Black Thunder group was forced down by the American air force in Sicily, that the Italian authorities in contravention of international law compounded this act of piracy by arresting the three freedom fighters, that Britain defended America s action at the United Nations, and that the three men are now in prison in France and Germany (56). Thus, even though Barnes narrative is based on the Achille Lauro hijacking, on the other hand it seems to be a new hijacking, and the authorities dealing with the Achille Lauro hijack seems to be its cause. The issue here is to assess whether the differences between the historical event and Barnes account are of a counterfactual nature. First of all, chapter two is obviously a fictional story. During my research on the Achille Lauro event, no information was found that could indicate that a story like Franklin Hughes has actually occurred. Only the circumstances were based on reality. This reality differs considerably from the circumstances on the Santa Euphemia. A difference in the number of casualties and a difference between an unpremeditated hijack and one that looks like it had been planned, may not convince some that chapter two is counterfactual. The anachronism of making the ending of the


Achille Lauro hijack the cause of the Santa Euphemia hijack remains as a possible counterfactual element. What could help determine whether it is counterfactual or not, is to see if this is a case of parody. For an author to effect parody, the reader must be aware of the original history behind the fictional story, so for Barnes to attain parody, he must have had to estimate his readers knowledge of the historical event involved. It is difficult for a researcher today to establish Barnes estimation of his reading public. It may very well be that not many of them remembered exactly what the cause of the Achille Lauro hijack was, or how it was ended, so parody would not have worked with them. Besides this, chapter two seems to focus mainly on Franklin Hughes, a fictional character. A first conclusion could then be that chapter two is mainly a fictional story based on a historical event, in which Barnes does play with chronology and brings in a possibly counterfactual element. In the interview with Vanessa Guignery, Barnes says some things that can be helpful in assessing the chapter s counterfactuality. In the previously quoted excerpt from the interview, Barnes states:

I suppose the point at which Parenthesis comes is the point at which I ve given a series of alternative narrations, dislocated in time and place, and it seems to me as a writer, at that point, that it is time to say something on my own part, on my own behalf. (Guignery 65; italics mine)

The term alternative narrations is important here. It indicates that there is something alternative about the narratives in A History (or, at least the ones before Parenthesis ). Barnes does not speak about alternative history, or counterfactuality, and basing absolute claims upon a specific wording of things in an interview may not always lead to a solid statement. Still, Barnes statement indicates that he does not regard these chapters as mere fictional adaptations of historical events or people. As for chapter two this means that the story is an alternative, in one way or another, to canonised history. The story is obviously parallel to the historical event, but on the other hand it differs from it in a number of ways


(the location, the name of the terrorist group, the actions taken by the terrorists), which makes it seem quite remote from the historical event. The questions remain: is chapter two a fictional adaptation of a historical event, so is it based on that historical event, or is it merely inspired by the event, and is the story in itself meant to be an entirely different story than the historical one. I think these are hard questions to answer at this point. Anyhow, it is difficult to prove that Barnes was aiming at a counterfactual narrative, instead of a new story inspired by history. Chapter five of this thesis, which reviews the results found in this chapter and the previous one, will deal further with the counterfactuality of chapter two. Chapter three is based on legal procedures and actual cases described in The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by E.P. Evans (1906). This is stated in an Author s Note which can be found in the back of the novel, after chapter ten. The reference, to be clear, is to an existing work. According to the Author s Note , it seems Barnes was not focussing on one particular case, but drawing his inspiration from various cases. For this reason, counterfactuality does not seem like a relevant issue here. In chapter four, The Survivor , the story does not clearly represent a particular historical event. The narrative is fictional, except for its historical background. Whereas I have stated before that this background is the Cuba Crisis, a closer look reveals that it is never explicitly mentioned that this is the crisis referred to. It is clear that the crisis almost leads to a war, and that it can lead to a nuclear disaster; and because of a reference to tensions between the United States and Russia before the crisis, one is easily led to conclude that the reference here is to the Cuba Crisis, as part of the Cold War. One peculiar thing, however, is that during Kath s earlier life a nuclear disaster took place in Russia, which caused the reindeer to become contaminated. Historically speaking, nuclear disasters did occur in Russia before the Cuba Crisis, but the element of contaminated reindeer is particularly related to the Chernobyl disaster, which occurred much later than the Cuba crisis. The question then is whether a twist in chronology is implied, or if the crisis referred


to is not supposed to mean the Cuba Crisis at all. If the latter option is true, counterfactuality does not seem like a relevant issue anymore. If the first option is true, the question is if the anachronism in that setting (the Chernobyl disaster happening before the Cuba Crisis) means that the narrative is counterfactual. It is for certain that the anachronism, if that is what it is, is made recognisable for the reader. The nuclear disaster is specifically related to the Chernobyl disaster,31 and the crisis that almost leads to a war is related to the United States and Russia, and it is implied that the crisis can lead to a nuclear disaster. As for parody, the aspect of incorporating an existing text is present. When it comes to irony, as another aspect of parody that Wesseling mentions, the anachronism described seems to mock history itself rather than the historical events the chapter is concerned with. The chronology of history is disrupted as easily as it suits the narrator, it seems. Counterbalancing the presence of the anachronism in chapter four, is the fact that it is the only one present. In conclusion then, it can be stated that chapter four is set against a historical background that might include references to the Cuba Crisis. If this is indeed the crisis Barnes refers to, this chapter could be said to contain a counterfactual element, but it is not made specific in the narrative. Even if it were so, the narrative as a whole does not make a counterfactual impression. The first part of Shipwreck , chapter five, describes a historical event. It is stated in the afore-mentioned Author s Notes : The first part of chapter 5 draws its facts and language from the 1818 London translation of Savigny and Corrard s Narrative of a Voyage to Senegal. The two men mentioned were among the survivors on the raft. As was mentioned before, Wesseling has explained that parody demands some basic knowledge of the historical event on the reader s part. It is therefore unlikely that Barnes turned the report of the eye-witnesses into a counterfactual narrative, as the event was probably not wellSee page 85: cartoonists started making jokes, about how [ ] Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose because he came from Chernobyl. Other indications are the references to contaminated reindeer in Lapland and people watching the trail of the poisonous cloud that resulted from the disaster. Besides, the nuclear disaster took place only three years before Barnes novel was published, so it was probably something the reader remembered well at the time.


known to all readers in the 1980s. It is not useful to start researching what the differences might be between the witness report and Barnes account, as counterfactuality would not make a point because the reader is not familiar with the historical background. This also applies to the second part of chapter five, which relies heavily on Lorenz Eitner s exemplary Gricault: His life and Work (Orbis, 1982) (see the Author s note ). Chapter six, on Amanda Fergusson s pilgrimage to Mount Ararat, is not based on one event in particular. Barnes states on Amanda and her companion: they didn t exist, I made them up; but in terms of what the journey was, I obviously relied on historical documents, travels of the time (Guignery, 68). Because of this background, counterfactual elements are not an issue here. Chapter seven, part I is about the young man who meets Lawrence Beesley, survivor of the Titanic disaster. This story is based on reality. Barnes comments on this: That simple story is completely true, that s about me (Guignery, 66). Part II is based on the Biblical story of Jonah. The Biblical narrative relates how Jonah is called by God to preach against the city of Nineveh, because of its wickedness (The Holy Bible, Jonah 1.2). Jonah, however, takes flight, but during a voyage by boat, a violent storm arises. When it becomes clear he is the cause for their misfortune, Jonah, on his own suggestion, is thrown overboard by the sailors. The storm calms and Jonah is swallowed by a big fish. After three days and nights, it vomits Jonah out onto land. Next, Jonah does go to Nineveh, to tell them God will overturn the city forty days later. The Ninevites repent and God, accordingly, decides to spare the city. Jonah becomes angry at this, saying that this was the reason he did not want to go to Nineveh in the first place: I knew you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity (The Holy Bible, Jonah 4.4). Then, as Jonah sits outside of the city, watching it to see what will happen, God makes a plant grow to give Jonah shade. The next day, however, God makes the plant die


again, and uses the example of the plant to teach Jonah about his (God s) concern for Nineveh. Barnes narrative is not so much a fictionalised account of the biblical narrative. The narrator relates the biblical story of Jonah, filled up with his or her own comments, and then digs into the issue of Jonah s stay in the fish, its relation to art and to another account of someone eaten by a large fish. Even though Barnes text is quite negative in its interpretation of the Jonah narrative, the Biblical facts are not denied. The only exception seems to be a passage on the plant that God had caused to grow for Jonah. God makes the plant die again, and an explanation for this is given, but the Biblical one is different from the one provided in Barnes text. The Biblical passage states:

But God said to Jonah. Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?

I do, he said. I am angry enough to die.


But the LORD said, You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it

grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city? (The Holy Bible, Jonah 4.9-11)

Barnes text states: God s explanation [ ]: you didn t punish the gourd when it failed you, did you; and in the same way I m not going to punish Nineveh (176). Even though both quotes seem to come down to the fact that God cares for Nineveh, Barnes passage presents a somewhat illogical piece of reasoning on God s side, which adds to the very negative image of God in this part of chapter seven. Maybe this is the purpose of this counterfactual element. The negative image of God can also be a counterfactual element. Inserting various comments on Gods nature and actions, the narrator expresses his view of God as being cruel, competitive and so on, and the alternative explanation of the gourd story ties in with this. No interpretations of the Jonah story have been consulted in writing this thesis, but it


seems unlikely that God has been put in such a negative light in conventional explanations of the story. In a way, this narrative, despite its respect for most of the Biblical facts, contradicts the traditional reading of the Jonah story. The question remains whether this narrative is a counterfactual one. To those quite familiar with the Bible, the contradiction between the passages on the gourd may be striking. Those who are only vaguely familiar with the Jonah story, however, may not even notice the alternative explanation of the vine-story. Barnes displays a playful way of dealing with data, but some may not even notice. The negative image of God could be labelled counterfactual. Part III of chapter seven is based on a historical event. In May 1939, the ship St Louis left the harbour of Hamburg, destination Cuba. There were 937 passengers on board, most of whom were Jews. In fact, they were refugees, fleeing Nazi Germany. However, close upon their arrival in Cuba, the validity of the visas of most passengers was denied. As a consequence, the passengers, a few people excepted, were not allowed to disembark. After much fruitless negotiation, an attempt to land in the United States, negotiations with a number of South-American countries, and another attempt to land in Cuba, appeals to political and religious leaders, the St Louis was forced to land in Europe again. The passengers were taken up by Belgium, The Netherlands, Great Britain and France. Barnes account of the St Louis event does not seem to contain any obvious counterfactual elements. Barnes states on the narrative: I think when you get near areas like Holocaust, unless you are particularly a special witness of them [ ] then I think you have to be very very careful about using them in any way. They re almost sacred subjects (Guignery, 68). This does not rule out counterfactuality in the narrative, but it does not make major digressions of historical fact likely either. Chapter eight, Upstream! is a difficult case. It consists of letters written by Charlie to his girlfriend. The letters were written in the South-American jungle, where Charlie was


part of a film crew shooting a film there. The letters relate what happened in the jungle. Charlie, and his co-actor Matt play the roles of two Jesuit priests in a film based on a true story. This story involves two Jesuit priests who, some hundreds of years earlier, had travelled upon the Orinoco on a raft, together with some Indians, with the raft capsizing at a certain moment. When the twentieth-century film crew is rehearsing for filming the event of the raft capsizing, an accident occurs and Matt, Charlie s colleague, is lost in the river and not found again. The story of Charlie as well as the story that the film is about are not well-known. On the discussion board of the Julian Barnes website, two suggestions are made as to the background of chapter eight.32 One person suggests a documentary on Spanish conquistadors who went upstream the Orinoco, in a way that reminded her of Barnes chapter. Another person puts forward the film The Mission (1986).33 This film is about two Jesuits in South America. When their mission becomes part of Portuguese territory, and the mission is ordered closed by the pope, the Indians living there become the prey of Portuguese slave traders and the Jesuits are faced with the choice of how to react to this: with or without violence. Whether either of the two suggestions on the discussion board have anything to do with chapter eight, the differences with Barnes narrative are major. Maybe it can be said that the documentary, the film and chapter eight have been based upon general information on Jesuit missions, or even explorers, in South America. And, maybe Barnes has been inspired by the phenomenon of turning issues like this into a film. Against such a general background, counterfactuality is not a useful issue to discuss. Parenthesis is a kind of monologue and it is suggested that the narrator can be identified with Barnes himself. In the interview mentioned before in this chapter of my thesis, Barnes suggests this himself. It would be quite an investigation to check the facts concerning the narrator s life that are presented, and it will not be done here. Chapter nine is

32 33 Under discussion board see the subject of A History & history. The Mission, dir. Roland Joffe, Warner Brothers, 1986.


based on historical data. Chapter nine deals with Spike Tiggler, a former astronaut who sets out to find Noah s Ark on Mount Ararat. Spike s story strongly resembles the history of James Irwin, also an astronaut who experienced God on the moon and later went on an expedition to Mount Ararat. Barnes narrative is clearly a fictionalised narrative. It reveals some private moments between Spike and his wife Betty of which it is hard to imagine that similar moments between Irwin and his wife are publicly known. An omniscient narrator is present, as thoughts and feelings of Spike and Betty are revealed of which, again, it is hard to imagine Barnes draws from publicly known data. There are differences between history and Spike s story. One difference between Barnes narrative and Irwin s life is that Spike s story takes place about three years later than that of James Irwin. Two other major differences between reality and story are the experience of God on the moon, and the focus on the Ararat expedition after the moon trip. When Spike is on the moon, he hears God s voice telling him to go and find Noah s Ark on Mount Ararat. This is his basic experience of God. Of James Irwin, it is said that his experience was one of feeling God s presence, and also of being reminded of a Bible verse from Psalm 121: I ll look into the hills from whence cometh my help.

In chapter nine,

Spike is busy raising funds for his expedition within a year s time of the space flight, and, together with reading his Bible this is what is mentioned as the action that flows from his newly found convictions. James Irwin followed a different course. He resigned from the Astronaut Corps a year after his space flight and became the founding president of the High Flight Foundation, and [sic] interdenominational evangelical organization [ ] The organization operates religious retreates [sic] and tours to the Holy Land.

The first date

mentioned for one of his Ararat expeditions is 1982, which was about ten years after his space trip. It seems that the Ararat expeditions were part of his religious life. In Spike s case, the Ararat expedition is pictured as the first main consequence of his experience on the
34 The website that mentions the episode of Irwin quoting Psalm 121 does not mention which translation of the Bible the quote was taken from. See: 35 See the website mentioned in footnote 34.


moon. The difficulty is, to establish whether the differences between the two versions are minor adjustments or essential contrasts. Again, as in previous chapters, the reality is that most readers will not even recognise the counterfactual elements if they were there. James Irwin was not a famous person, though he was probably well-known for a time. Probably most readers will not even know that chapter nine is based on history. It seems evident that Barnes deliberately strays from historical fact in the last section of chapter nine. The fictional character of the rest of the narrative, however, makes one wonder whether Barnes in any way meant to present a counterfactual narrative here. Chapter ten is about heaven, and it is suggested that the narrative is a dream. As the narrative is a personal story of a narrator whose identity remains obscure, the issue of its counterfactual aspect is irrelevant. Taking all the chapters of A History into consideration, it is obvious that Julian Barnes employs a playful way of dealing with historical facts. Chapter one seems the best example of counterfactuality. Chapter seven might be counterfactual in its negative portrayal of God as opposed to the conventional ways of explaining the Jonah story. Besides this, a number of chapters are based on historical facts, and deviate from them as well, but are still not easily labelled as counterfactual, for instance, chapter two ( The Visitors ), eight ( Upstream! ) and nine ( Project Ararat ). The least that can be said about chapter two and eight is that, in the interview with Vanessa Guignery, Barnes himself includes them in the chapters he states are alternative narrations : I suppose the point at which Parenthesis comes is the point at which I ve given a series of alternative narrations, dislocated in time and place (Guignery, 65). However, none of the three chapters mentioned (chapters two, eight and nine) can clearly be proven to be counterfactual. Chapter four is a different case, as it is not for certain that the flaw in chronology is actually present. The crisis that takes place after Chernobyl could well be the Cuba crisis, in which case chronology has been tampered with. However,


this cannot be proven beyond a doubt. In chapter five, more will be said about the counterfactual nature of Barnes novel.

Uchronian Fiction Barnes novel contains a few counterfactual elements. The next question to answer is whether it contains elements of uchronian fiction as well. Uchronian fiction has been defined as fiction which locates utopia in history by imagining an apocryphal course of events (Wesseling 102). Uchronian fiction is a subspecies of counterfactual historical fiction (Wesseling 102). Counterfactual fiction has been looked at in the previous section, and it has become clear that Barnes novel as a whole is not a clear case of counterfactual fiction. This does not mean that it has become irrelevant to examine the novel for uchronian elements. Besides its counterfactual aspect, uchronian fiction bears other features, and it would be interesting to see what can be found of these in Barnes book. Next, characteristics of uchronian fiction will be put forward and Barnes text will be examined for these characteristics. One of the most characteristic features of uchronian fiction, is that it imagines the future from unrealised possibilities in the past. In other words, an alternative present or a new future is imagined from thoughts like: what would have happened if not x but y had won the war? It has been stated above that Barnes novel as a whole is not clearly counterfactual, and so it is unlikely that this feature of imagining the future from an alternative past is emphatically present in the novel in its described form. Chapter one has been labelled as counterfactual. Woodworm presents an alternative past, but the question is if this envisages possibilities for the future. Utopian ideals that might be present are that in the future more attention will be paid to the fate of animals, or their importance in the world or in history, or that people will employ a more balanced way of reading scripture. This last ideal could also apply to chapter seven where the narrator depicts God as quite the opposite of what traditional explanations might say about the Jonah narrative.


The flaw in chronology in chapter two which makes the ending of Achille Lauro hijack the cause of the Santa Euphemia hijack, could imply the hope that governments in the future will find different ways of dealing with terrorism. Still, it would be hard to prove that the change in chronology implies some sort of hope for a new kind of future. The aspect of finding a new future in an alternative past is not very clearly or overtly present in Barnes novel. Another aspect of uchronian fantasy, is that its alternative histories are clearly untrue. They are not intended to compete with official historiography for truth value, to stake epistemological claims. This applies to chapter one. It has been pointed out before in this thesis that Woodworm s authority is undermined by his animal way of looking at things. Thus, the point of counterfactual fiction in this chapter is not that it actually happened the way Woodworm describes it. This also applies to the anachronisms in chapter two and four: the ending of the factual hijacking being the cause of the hijacking in chapter two, and the Chernobyl disaster occurring before the Cuba Crisis (if that is the crisis referred to). It is obvious that these are anachronisms. A third characteristic of uchronian fiction, is that it adopts a critical attitude towards certain political or social circumstances. It envisages alternatives, even alternative societies, for the future. Another expression of its political or social concern is a redistribution of roles. For instance: winners become losers and the other way around. There are a few instances of social or political criticism in the text. One chapter that puts forward political issues is chapter seven, part three, on the voyage of the St Louis. Besides illustrating the bad circumstances in Nazi Germany, attention is paid to the politics (and economics) that was involved in denying the ship access to the harbour of Havana, and some critical comments are made on the reluctance of other countries to take responsibility for the fate of the Jews. For instance, when the narrator mentions that the St Louis was nicknamed the ship that


shamed the world when it lay in the Havana harbour, it is said: The world, apparently, did not feel its shame so strongly that it moved its hand to its wallet (185).36 In chapter four, Kath is quite critical about various aspects of society. She is critical of governments as well. After the nuclear disaster that caused poisoned reindeer meat, the government allows meat to be sold that contains far too much radioactivity. Another aspect of chapter four is interesting concerning a critical attitude. One of Kath s concerns is how people treat animals. At Doctor s Gully, where she takes the boat, fish are fed daily, and people have to pay to watch them be fed. Kath thinks: nobody stops to think about the world any more. We live in a world where they make children pay to see the fish eat. Nowadays even fish are exploited, she thought (91). She is upset about the radioactive reindeer being fed to the mink instead of being buried:

I think they should have buried them. Burying things gives you a proper sense of shame. Look what we ve done to the reindeer, they d say as they dug the pit. Or they might, at least. They might think about it. Why are we always punishing animals? We pretend we like them, we keep them as pets and get soppy if we think they re reacting like us, but we ve been punishing animals from the beginning, haven t we? Killing them and torturing them and throwing our guilt on them? (86, 87)

This last quote ties in with chapter one, in which the human beings do not treat the animals well. Woodworm also portrays people as blaming animals, for instance in the case of a Hebrew legend that claims Noah obtained the concept of fermenting grapes from seeing a goat get drunk on fermented grapes (29). The weakness, however, of the criticism that chapter one and four utter concerning the relationship between man and animal, is that it is uttered by individuals who do not come across as utterly trustworthy: a woodworm and a woman who is psychologically unstable. Having presented these fragments from the text, it is still not a solid claim to stake that the novel bears a socially and/or politically critical mark.


Money was a major aspect of the admission of the refugees to Cuba.


Still, it is obvious that the human race does not get off unscathed, and it is sometimes criticised considerably. An other aspect of uchronian fiction is that it concerns itself with those who lost in history, rather than with those who won or were successful. Also, likewise, it is interested in those who did not make the records, or who were relegated to insignificance in the records (Wesseling viii). Chapter four is set against the background of the Cuba Crisis (or at least, some major political crisis), but it does not focus on those who are politically important. Instead it focuses on a politically unimportant, though fictional, individual. Kath herself expresses a concern for the losers in her world: animals, and especially reindeer. The tribe of Indians in chapter eight, Upstream , is an example of people that are forgotten by world history. Charlie expresses that the tribe had been lost for a few hundred years, after the feat with the two Jesuit missionaries, until they were rediscovered by the film s researchers. Charlie wonders if they will disappear again after the film has been shot, or be wiped out by some disease. The tribe is clearly not of world historical importance. The same can be said for people like Amanda Fergusson in chapter six. On page 53 I have explained that Barnes relied on historical documents for writing chapter six. It is not exactly clear whether these documents actually speak of Ararat expeditions. Still, even if historical documents were the source for Amanda s story, those documents are not of world historical importance to most people. The case with chapter six, however, is that it is strongly related to chapter nine, on Spike Tiggler, who is modelled on a more famous person. Maybe Barnes just needed another Ararat story for thematic purposes, and chose the subject matter for chapter six accordingly. A final issue in uchronian fiction is the connection between history and power. For instance, versions of history reflect political interests and function as instruments of power. The subjective origins of sources are pointed out, and the subjectivity of historiography is explained in political terms, for instance by showing that power play went into the making of


the historical records. In chapter one, Woodworm claims that Noah thought it more appropriate to state that the dove, rather than the raven, had found the olive tree. Page 25 states : Noah had it put about that the raven, instead of returning as soon as possible with evidence of dry land, had been malingering, and had been spotted (by whose eye? not even the upwardly mobile dove would have demeaned herself with such a slander) gourmandising on carrion. The raven, I need hardly add, felt hurt and betrayed at this instant rewriting of history. Together with the image painted of Noah and his family throughout chapter one, this passage illustrates how those in power rewrite history according to their liking. On page six, the Fall is described as Adam s black propaganda , which also suggests tampering with historical facts by humans. Chapter five enters upon the relation between the shipwreck of the Medusa and Gricault s painting of it. In part two, the narrator mentions a number of aspects of the shipwrecking that Gricault did not paint, and makes suggestions as to what Gricault s concerns were in painting this canvas. For instance, the narrator points out that Gricault did not paint the Medusa striking the reef ( 126), and concludes from this that Gricault s first concern was not to be [ ] political (127). He explains this as follows:

The Medusa was a shipwreck, a news story and a painting; it was also a cause. Bonapartists attacked Monarchists. The behaviour of the frigate s captain37 illuminated a) the incompetence and corruption of the Royalist Navy; b) the general callousness of the ruling class towards those beneath them. Parallels with the ship of state running aground would have been both obvious and heavy-handed. (127)

Somewhere among the narrator s suggestions, he comments on the title of Gricault s painting: The title of The Raft of the Medusa , incidentally, is not The Raft of the Medusa . The painting was listed in the Salon catalogue as Scne de Naufrage Scene of Shipwreck .

A cautious political move? Perhaps. But it s equally a useful instruction to the spectator: this


He had discarded advice from his crew.


is a painting, not an opinion (129). It is questionable whether the title of Gricault was actually a political move. However, it is possible that Gricault was indeed trying to keep his work of art from being read as an opinion. Either way, the narrator points to the fact that representations of history can become politically charged, and that this influences the creative process. However, while it cannot be denied that the narrator points at the relationship between politics and representation of history, it has to be stressed that the chapter focusses on the relation between history and art, not history and historiography. This section on uchronian fiction has shown that aspects of uchronian fiction are definitely present in the novel. The question remains whether this means that the novel, despite the fact that it is not clearly counterfactual, does carry some characteristics of uchronian fiction, or if the found results are expressions of other concerns, elements that may have little to do with uchronian fiction. This will be looked at in the next chapter.


Chapter 5 Reviewing the Results

Chapters four and five have produced a body of information on what characteristics of selfreflexivity and uchronian fiction38 can be found in A History of the World in 10 Chapters. One of the next questions to be answered is what this information actually says about the self-reflexive or uchronian quality of Barnes novel. Another question, which is the ultimate question to be answered in this thesis, is whether the novel, according to the information from chapters four and five, is a postmodernist historical novel as Elisabeth Wesseling has defined it. The structure of this chapter will be the following. First attention will be devoted to the self-reflexive nature of the novel and the uchronian nature of the novel, in this order. Having discussed these issues, the half-chapter, Parenthesis , will be discussed to provide further insight into the issues that Barnes novel is concerned with. Finally, conclusions will be drawn as to if and how the novel matches Wesseling s descriptions of the postmodernist historical novel.

Uchronian Fiction or Self-reflexivity The first issue to be discussed in this chapter is the self-reflexive nature of Barnes novel. It has become clear in chapter three that A History contains a number of self-reflexive elements. Several characteristics of historiography in the making can be found in the novel. History in the making is present as well, but only one example was found, in chapter six where Amanda Fergusson is shown to direct her own life. The question is, whether the novel can be labelled as self-reflexive on the basis of these results. It has been stated before that the various chapters of the novel differ in a number of ways and that the novel is not a whole, in a way, and that for this reason efforts would be made to find more than one
38 Counterfactual fiction and uchronian fiction will no longer be mentioned separately from now on. However, whenever a text is uchronian, this implies that it is counterfactual as well, as uchronian fiction is a subdivision of counterfactual fiction.


example of each feature of self-reflexivity. For some characteristics this proved possible, in other cases it did not. Still, I consider the examples that were found sufficient to state that self-reflexive issues play a major role in the novel. The second issue of importance is whether Barnes novel can be considered as uchronian fiction. As was shown in chapter four, some counterfactuality is present in the novel, especially in chapter one, The Stowaway. In a way chapter one could even be said to contain a utopian aspect: Woodworm s version of matters might cause people to develop a new view of the animal kingdom,39 and of their own species as well. In that way, it might influence people s behaviour towards animals for the better in the future. Other somewhat counterfactual elements could be found in chapter seven. Chapter seven presents the narrative of Jonah as quite different from traditional interpretations of the biblical passage. To abstract a utopian ideal from this alternative version could be somewhat farfetched. One possibility could be that the narrator tries to provide some counterbalance to traditional interpretations of the Jonah narrative that put God in a positive light. The aim would then be that in the future people will consider this bible passage in a more balanced way. But it is questionable whether this a utopian ideal.40 Also, uchronian fiction usually expresses some kind of hope for the future, or involvement in an emancipative cause. In the case of the Santa Euphemia narrative, the disruptive move could express a concern for what the western policies on terrorism could effect in the end: more terrorism. Its utopian ideal would then be that western governments will find different ways of dealing with terrorism. At the very least, the change in chronology could be an expression of political criticism. It has been argued in chapter four that the counterfactual elements in Barnes novel do not try to compete with historiography. In that way, the novel is akin to uchronian fiction. Also, some criticism of politics is uttered, which is the case in uchronian fiction as well.

39 For instance, by his descriptions of relations between animals, the cruelty of selection before embarkation, the suffering endured on the Ark. 40 In this section I have left out the example from chapter four, the anachronism of Chernobyl taking place before the Cuba Crisis, as I did not think it a very clear example of counterfactuality.


Besides this, A History focuses on unimportant individuals a number of times. But it is difficult to prove that this is an expression of concern with the losers in history or historiography. It is known that Barnes was looking for thematic unity, which could also be the motivation for picking out or inventing certain characters. The connection between history and power is exposed in the novel, though not many times. Considering these results, it is difficult to label A History as a uchronian novel. Chapter one, The Stowaway , does come quite close to being uchronian. It is counterfactual and it draws attention to the relation between power and historiography. Besides this, some other uchronian aspects seem present, which indeed connects the novel to the trend (uchronian fiction) that Wesseling has described. However, to state that Barnes novel is uchronian fiction seems like going too far. In the interview with Vanessa Guignery that was mentioned before, Barnes says some things that can help determine whether his novel is self-reflexive or uchronian in nature. He states:

I suppose the point at which Parenthesis comes is the point at which I ve given a series of alternative narrations, dislocated in time and place, and it seems to me as a writer, at that point, that it is time to say something on my own part, on my own behalf. And at such a point, the reader would be quite justified in saying to the writer Well, what do you think about it? . (Guignery, 65)

This passage has been quoted previously in this thesis. Barnes indicates that there is something alternative about the narratives in A History (or, at least the ones before Parenthesis). As was said before, Barnes does not say alternative history, or counterfactuality, and basing absolute claims upon a particular wording of things in an interview may not be the wisest thing to do. Still, the quote makes clear that Barnes does not regard the chapters referred to as mere fictional adaptations of historical data. The above quoted words on Parenthesis are succeeded by the following passage:


So, that part [ Parenthesis ] is mainly about love and truth, but it s also against part of what the book has already been doing, which is undermining traditional history. It s saying: It s no good just lying back and saying Well, we ll never work it out and it s no good saying Of course we understand history, all we have to do is apply the following theories or the following scientific principles or Marxist ideology, whatever. (Guignery, 65)

The first important issue in this passage is that Barnes labels his chapters, at least those preceding Parenthesis, as undermining traditional history. This seems to confirm the assessment that he does not see these chapters as mere fictional adaptations of historical material. The question is, however, what exactly Barnes means with undermining. It could mean trying to damage traditional history s credibility, as for factual accuracy. It could mean merely mocking traditional history with alternative representations of the past, or casting doubt upon traditional history by showing there might be other sides to the stories usually told. It could also mean exposing the conventions of traditional history. I think that most of these options apply to the novel, and that Barnes has tried to rob traditional history of the exclusive authority concerning historical truth. The question still remains whether A History of the World in 10 Chapters can be labelled as self-reflexive or uchronian fiction. At this point it is useful to state that Elisabeth Wesseling has explained that self-reflexivity and uchronian fiction are not always clearly separable in literature. She mentions on page 114 of her book that some self-reflexive novels occasionally address the political implications of historical research and narration, while some counterfactual parodies incidentally alter canonized history in ways which seem to make an epistemological rather than a political point. Maybe it is not necessary to try and distinguish whether Barnes novel is self-reflexive or uchronian fiction. It might be a mixture of the two. I think this is the case. A History clearly bears self-reflexive characteristics, but some uchronian aspects are present as well. One chapter in particular that is helpful in


determining what Barnes novel is all about is Parenthesis. It will be discussed in the next section.

Parenthesis Parenthesis is the half chapter, which has not yet received much attention in this thesis. While discussing this chapter of the novel, it is important to remember what Barnes has stated in the interview with Vanessa Guignery, namely that Parenthesis is at the point where it is time to say something on my own part, on my own behalf. And at such a point,41 the reader would be quite justified in saying to the writer Well, what do you think about it? (Guignery, 65). Parenthesis reflects some of Barnes own thoughts on a number of issues. The first few paragraphs of this section on Parenthesis will focus on what issues are dealt with in this half chapter. Later on these issues will be commented on. Parenthesis is a monologue on various issues. The first issue dealt with is love. Taking his own relationship42 as a starting point, the narrator puts forward various issues related to love, such as love and literature, the use of the phrase I love you, and the nature of love (how did it come into existence, what does it effect). Finally, the narrator claims he can tell us why to love:

Because the history of the world, which only stops at the half-house of love43 to bulldoze it into rubble, is ridiculous without it. The history of the world becomes brutally self-important without love [ ] Love won t change the history of the world [ ], but it will do something much more important: teach us to stand up to history, to ignore its chin-out strut. (240)

That is, the point after having given a series of alternative narrations, dislocated in time and place. See the quote on page 67. 42 As the narrator s partner is a female, and it is also suggested that the narrator could be identified as Barnes himself, I shall, for convenience s sake, assume that the narrator is male. 43 Before this passage, the narrator has drawn a comparison between love and half-houses (Barnes, 240).



Here, history and love are presented as opposed to one another. History is compared to a bulldozer, and is something we have to stand up to. Love saves history from self-importance and defends us against history. In the next paragraph of Parenthesis the narrator says that love makes people tell the truth. Next, the narrator states: We get scared by history; we allow ourselves to be bullied by dates [ ] Dates don t tell the truth. They bawl at us left, right, left, right, pick

em up there you miserable shower. They want to make us think we re always progressing, always going forward (241). The narrator then states that the date 1492 is always remembered, for Columbus discovery of the New World (241), but that 1493 is just as interesting, and he, indeed, tells an interesting story about Columbus return, how an ordinary sailor had been the first one to sight the New World, but that Columbus was awarded the prize for this achievement. The sailor supposedly moved to Morocco and became a renegade. Having stated the above-mentioned things on love and history, the narrator has more to say. The next quote is from page 242:

History isn t what happened. History is just what historians tell us. There was a pattern, a plan, a movement, expansion, the march of democracy; it is a tapestry, a flow of events, a complex narrative, connected, explicable. One good story leads to another. First it was kings and archbishops [ ], then it was the march of ideas and the movements of masses, then little local events which mean something bigger, but all the time it s connections, progress, meaning, this led to this, this happened because of this. And we, the readers of history, the sufferers from history, we scan the pattern for hopeful conclusions, for the way ahead. And we cling to history as a series of salon pictures, conversation pieces whose participants we can easily reimagine back into life, when all the time it s more like a multi-media collage, with paint applied by decorator s roller rather than camel-hair brush.

This passage is about historiography. What people regard as history, it seems to say, is not the same as what really happened, it is what historians tell us. Next, attention is paid to


the structures that historiography has imposed on history: patterns, movement and so on. This specifically touches upon narrativity, which is one of the concerns of historiography in the making. Thus, the above quote seems to confirm the conclusion that the novel is concerned with self-reflexivity. The above quote is followed by another meaningful paragraph:

The history of the world? Just voices echoing in the dark; images that burn for a few centuries and then fade; stories, old stories that sometimes seem to overlap; strange links, impertinent connections. We lie here in our hospital bed of the present (what nice clean sheets we get nowadays) with a bubble of daily news drip-fed into our arm. We think we know who we are, though we don t quite know why we re here, or how long we shall be forced to stay. And while we fret and writhe in bandaged uncertainty voluntary patient? are we a

we fabulate. We make up a story to cover the facts we don t know or can t accept;

we keep a few true facts and spin a new story round them. Our panic and pain are only eased by soothing fabulation; we call it history. (242)

One of the remarkable things of this passage is that it seems to hint at aspects of Barnes own novel. Stories that seem to overlap, strange links, impertinent connections: this looks like a description of the novel as a whole, especially the connections between the chapters.44 The image of a patient in bed, with a drip in the arm, is reminiscent of chapter four, The Survivor. Part of this chapter takes place in some kind of hospital where Kath Ferris is being treated for her psychological problems. The drip in her arm is mentioned a few times. Besides this, Kath is the kind of person who sees connections between all kinds of things, in a way that most people do not. Kath, who suffers from psychosomatic symptoms, is told that she fabulates: the technical term is fabulation. You make up a story to cover the facts you don t know or can t accept. You keep a few true facts and spin a new story round them (109). Fabulation is also mentioned in the above quote. In Kath s case fabulation means that, for instance, she claims she left her boyfriend because of the war that had started (or
Some of these connections were described in chapter three of this thesis, under narrativity (historiography in the making).


so she thought it had), while denying this had anything to do with the state their relationship was in. At a certain point she starts living in a new story of her own, namely of being on a boat and landing on a deserted island. While leaving on a boat was what she actually did, she was found and admitted to hospital. Even then, she continued living in her own story and confused her moments of contact with the real world with nightmares. The second quote from page 242, unlike the first one from that page, does not clearly focus on historiography. The history of the world is described as: voices echoing in the dark; images that burn for a few centuries and then fade; stories, old stories [ ]; strange links, impertinent connections. It is not explicitly stated whether this is history as presented by historians, thus focussing on historiography, or the way all people deal with history. The second half of the quote given above is somewhat clearer in its focus. It stresses that fabulation is something we all do. And we mistake our fabulation for history. This paragraph of Parenthesis seems to express that, what people usually call history is a kind of mixture of various elements, or somewhat of a man-made construction. After the quoted paragraph, the narrator continues to speak on love, some of its effects, its nature. At a certain point, he claims that love is our only hope, and that we can believe this, while knowing it is likely to cause unhappiness in the short or long run. Next, a comparison is drawn with objective truth : We all know objective truth is not obtainable, that when some event occurs we shall have a multiplicity of subjective truths which we assess and then fabulate into history (245). But the narrator later adds to this:

we must still believe that objective truth is obtainable; or we must believe that it is 99 per cent obtainable; or if we can t believe this we must believe that 43 per cent objective truth is better than 41 per cent, because if we don t we re lost, we fall into beguiling relativity, we value one liar s version as much as another liar s, we throw up our hands at the puzzle of it all, we admit that the victor has the right not just to the spoils but also to the truth [ ] And so it is with love. We must believe in it, or we re lost. We may not obtain it, or we may obtain it and find it renders us unhappy; we must still believe in it. If we don t, then we merely surrender to the


history of the world and to someone else s truth. (245-46)

Love and truth have something in common: we must believe in them, despite their downsides. At this point, having presented much of the contents of the half chapter, it is useful to start assessing what this information says about the nature of the novel. Some of the issues touched upon are related to politics or society. For instance, the way people use or misuse the phrase I love you. Another example is that the narrator claims that love is

a starting-point for civic virtue. You can t love someone without imaginative sympathy, without beginning to see the world from another point of view. You can t be a good lover, a good artist, or a good politician without this capacity (you can get away with it, but that s not what I mean). Show me the tyrants who have been great lovers. (243)

Some more comments on the relation between politics and love follow this passage. Passages like these confirm that the novel is concerned with matters concerning society and politics, as was also stated in the section on uchronian fiction in chapter four. It must be said that the way these matters are dealt with here is not very uchronian-like, for instance in the direct approach to these issues, and in foregrounding love as the answer to most of these issues, even, it is suggested, to something like tyranny. Much of Parenthesis focuses on the problems that surround what is called history. History becomes ridiculous and self-important without love. We are scared by history and are bullied by dates. Dates do not tell the truth. History is not what happened, but what historians tell us, including their narrative techniques. History is made out of echoes, images, stories, connections. Fabulation is mistaken for history. Most of these issues have to do with self-reflexive issues rather than with politics or society. The recommended solution for these problems, namely (belief in) love, and belief in objective truth, despite their weaknesses, is not uchronian at all. Some of it could be identified with self-reflexivity. Believing in objective


truth, even if it is only partially obtainable, does seem like something that a self-reflexive novel could come up with. It is even reminiscent of the feature of enclaves of authenticity that was discussed in the section on historiography in the making . The solution of believing in love, on the other hand, is a new element, which in my opinion is not characteristic of either uchronian fiction or self-reflexivity. On page 246, the narrator slips in a (for Parenthesis ) new element: we must also believe in free will. [W]hen love fails us, we must still go on believing in it. Is it encoded in every molecule that [ ] love will fail? Perhaps it is. Still we must believe in love, just as we must believe in free will and objective truth. Free will is mentioned in other chapters as well. In chapter six, Amanda Fergusson declares to her companion: There always appear to be two explanations of everything. That is why we have been given free will, in order that we may choose the correct one (154). At the end of the chapter this issue reoccurs. Miss Logan, Amanda s companion, is struggling with her doubts concerning the nature of Amanda s fall on the mountain, whether it was an accident or caused to happen on purpose by Amanda herself? It is then stated: Miss Fergusson had maintained, when they first stood before the haloed mountain, that there were two explanations for everything, that each required the exercise of faith, and that we have been given free will in order that we might choose between them. This dilemma was to preoccupy Miss Logan for years to come (168). In chapter seven, part II, the narrator comments on the story of Jonah: there s a crippling lack of free will around or even the illusion of free will (176). What the narrator aims at, is

the fact that God is the one in control, and accordingly there is no room for free will. One chapter that focuses particularly on free will is chapter ten, The Dream. This chapter presents a dream about heaven.45 The character this chapter focuses on tells the reader about this dream, his own dream. What is striking about his portrayal of heaven is that it totally revolves around his own wishes and desires. Everything he desires is there in

It is suggested that the chapter relates a dream, but in an ambiguous way. The chapter starts with: I dreamt that I woke up. It s the oldest dream of all, and I ve just had it. I dreamt that I woke up (283).



exactly the way he likes it to be, and everything he wishes for happens. Heaven is how he wants heaven to be, which is made explicit several times. On page 304, the main character s assistant, Margaret, notes: We ve got free will sorted out here, as you may have noticed (304). Because of the set-up of chapter ten, namely that heaven is how the narrator wants it to be, it is hard to distinguish any facts or rules, or other absolutes that apply to the narrator s heaven. The main rule is that heaven is what one wants it to be.46 What is striking in the story of chapter ten, is that it becomes clear that every person there will eventually opt to die off , or, in other words, cease to exist. When the I asks Margaret how many people choose to die off, she answers: Oh, a hundred per cent, of course. Over many thousands of years, calculated by old time, of course. But yes, everyone takes the option, sooner or later (305). It seems that getting what you want, endlessly, at some point has been enough. One may enjoy it for ages, but in the end it cannot satisfy people without end. At some point all people will want an end to heaven, when they have had enough. There are varieties as to how long it takes people to come to that point where they want it to end. For example, lawyers and scholarly people last long. Writers and painters, on the other hand, last shorter. The main character thinks he might know an answer to the problem of wanting to die off in the end: wanting to be someone who never gets tired of eternity (308). Margaret explains that it has been tried before, but that there seems to be a logical difficulty. You can t become someone else without stopping being who you are. Nobody can bear that (308). This is quite an complicated matter. Margaret explains that one person who tried out being someone who never tires of eternity, said that it was changing from being a runner to being a perpetual motion machine. After a while you simply want to run again (308). Besides the question whether this is a plausible image of what it would be like to be
Some things that are mentioned in chapter ten seem to be exceptions to this rule. For instance, when the main character is disappointed, sad or worried, or when things happen he does not expect. It is also somewhat strange that the character s assistant supposedly suffers from a heart condition (291). Another peculiar aspect is that everyone is there, meaning also Hitler, Stalin and the like. Naturally, some of these exceptions could be explained by the fact that somehow they were part of the main character s desires.


someone who never gets tired of eternity,47 it is interesting that becoming someone who never gets tired of eternity is not pleasant in heaven. In the same conversation between the I and Margaret some other interesting remarks are made. These are present in the quote below, in which the I is the first one to speak.

It seems to me, I went on, that Heaven s a very good idea, it s a perfect idea you could say, but not for us. Not given the way we are. We don t like to influence conclusions [ ] However, I can certainly see your point of view. So what s it all for? Why do we have Heaven? Why do we have these dreams of Heaven? She didn t seem willing to answer, perhaps she was being professional; but I pressed her. Go on, give me some ideas. Perhaps because you need them, she suggested. Because you can t get by without the dream. It s nothing to be ashamed of. It seems quite normal to me. Though I suppose if you knew about Heaven beforehand, you might not ask for it. Oh, I don t know about that. It had all been very pleasant [ ]

After a while, getting what you want all the time is very close to not getting what you want all the time. (309)

Chapter ten seems like a thought-experiment about what heaven would look like if free will was the general rule. And it has become obvious that such a place cannot satisfy people endlessly. They can keep it up for ages, but not forever. It seems that there can be a catch to having a world where all your wishes are fulfilled. Not that this means it is not enjoyable, or something you would not ask for if you knew what it was like, according the above quoted passage. Free will is an issue in several chapters and in Parenthesis it is mentioned as something we should believe in, just as we should believe in love and objective truth (which also have catches to them). The question is why the narrator presents it as something so important. One suggestion: free will seems somewhat opposed to history as an objective

Can being someone else than before be unbearable if indeed you have become someone else?


process. One of the things Barnes novel pays critical attention to, is the idea of history being an objective process, with some kind of structure in it. History is not an independent phenomenon that heads in a certain direction (see the quote on pages 70 and 71). Stressing free will, then, is in accordance with this. Two more aspects of Parenthesis will be discussed in detail. The first aspect concerns the effects of not believing in love and truth that are mentioned. On pages 245 and 246 the narrator of Parenthesis explains that people should believe in love and objective truth. The reasons that are given for this are quite interesting. It is said that we should believe in objective truth, despite the fact that only a percentage of it is obtainable, because if we don t we re lost, we fall into beguiling relativity, we value one liar s version as much as another liar s, we throw up our hands at the puzzle of it all, we admit that the victor has the right not just to the spoils but also to the truth. A similar remark is made on love: We must believe in it [love], or we re lost. We may not obtain it, or we may obtain it and find it renders us unhappy; we must still believe in it. If we don t then we merely surrender to the history of the world and to someone else s truth (246). Belief in love and belief in truth are presented as weapons: against relativity, surrendering to other people s versions of history or truth and the history of the world. The narrator thinks there is a danger in not believing in love and truth, in a way that is reminiscent of a passage in Wesseling s book, on Robert Coover, a writer. On page 144, Wesseling states the following:

Stories are an indispensable means for orienting ourselves in a confusing and chaotic world, Coover argues, but when one of them gains a monopoly it becomes dangerous:

All of them [stories], though, are merely artifices

that is, they are always in some ways false,

or at best incomplete. There are always other plots, other settings, other interpretations. So if some stories start throwing their weight around, I like to undermine their authority a bit, work variations, call attention to their fictional natures. (Mc Caffery 1983: 68)


In other words, there is a danger to allowing one story a monopoly to the truth. In the quote from A History, the danger has to do with the fact that versions can be those of a liar or the victor (246). It does matter to which version you attribute credibility, the text says. The phrase victor is of interest here, because it has a political ring to it. It is reminiscent of the self-reflexive feature of political selectivity, which points out that the historical records focus on the politically successful. This could happen again if we allow the victor s version to triumph over other versions. The phrase is also reminiscent of the uchronian characteristic of foregrounding the relationship between history and power. Versions of history reflecting political interests, or functioning as instruments of power: these issues could become relevant in a situation where the victor gains the right to the truth. In short it can be said that the passages on page 246 of A History point out that relativity could lead to a situation where the versions of the wrong people are accepted. This is why we should believe in objective truth and in love. Among the wrong people is the victor, which seems significant, since it is a political term, and is reminiscent of a self-reflexive as well as a uchronian feature. Our attitude towards history is of importance to society and is relevant to politics. This to me seems akin to uchronian thought. Finally, it is interesting to mention that the form of a dream in chapter ten may be significant as well. Wesseling explains on pages 111 and 112 of her book that Uchronian fantasy speculates about the future by way of a detour through the past. This has to do with the demise of progressivist, meliorative views on the course of the historical process (111), which then translates into a demise of straightforward projection of utopian ideals into the future as well (111). On page 112 Wesseling says:

Moreover, counterfactual fantasy complies with the emphasis which contemporary social sciences and philosophy place on the extent to which the individual subject is determined by linguistic and languagelike social conventions. Where literature and literary theory are concerned, this shift in world


view has instigated a reorientation toward esthetic concepts such as invention , originality , autonomy [ ] Consequently, the imaginative anticipation of the future which attempts to raise itself above extant social conventions has ceased to convince us. (112)

Chapter ten presents a place where free will has been sorted out (304). It may be significant that Barnes has used the form of a dream to reflect this place. He has not naively tried to imagine a world where free will has been sorted out better than in the here and now. Maybe this means that, just like the authors of uchronian fiction, Barnes is aware of the inability of man to create a better society in the future, which in this case would be a world where free will has been worked out better. In conclusion it can be said that, based on the examples from the text and the statements that are made in Parenthesis, the novel is characterised by a self-reflexive focus. Some characteristics of uchronian fiction are present as well, but the self-reflexive aspect of the novel is more dominantly present. Elisabeth Wesseling has explained that some postmodernist historical novels are characterised by self-reflexivity, and Barnes novel can evidently be linked up to this trend. Some aspects of uchronian fiction seem to be present as well. Still, the novel as a whole could not be labelled as uchronian fiction.



In chapter 1 of her book, Writing History as a Prophet, Elisabeth Wesseling has stated that the predominance of historical subject matter in postmodernist fiction can be regarded as something of a revival for the historical novel (2). However, the postmodernists have dealt with history in a different way than their classical and modernist predecessors had. Wesseling has illustrated classical and modernist historical fiction in chapters III, IV and V of her book. The information from these chapters has been presented in chapter two of this thesis. Characteristic of Sir Walter Scott s novels was the complementary position it took up towards historiography. Characteristic of the classical historical novel were the descriptions of the couleur locale. Major anachronisms or clashes with historical records were avoided. Authors of the historical novel in the way of Scott also ascribed a certain didactic aspect to their fiction. Scott has influenced the genre of the historical novel for a considerable period of time. In the twentieth century, his influence on historical fiction is gone. Because of the rise of historicism and developments in the field of the philosophy of history, things looked quite different in the twentieth century. The historical novel was not very much in fashion with the Modernists, but still some renewal of the genre took place. Modernists introduced self-reflexivity, and worked this element into the narratives of their novels (instead of restricting it to prefaces and so on, like previous authors had done). In Postmodernism, selfreflexivity is continued. Also, a new kind of self-reflexivity appears, which does not reflect upon the making of historiography, but of history itself. It questions the very existence of the res gestae as an independent level of historical discourse (Wesseling 120).48 Besides this,

Postmodernist novelists [] depart from the traditional historical novel by inventing alternate


res gestae refers to the subject matter of historiography: the deeds performed in the past (as opposed to the historia rerum gestarum, the narratives about those deeds).


versions of history, which focus on groups of people who have been relegated to insignificance by official history. In this way, unrealized possibilities that lie dormant in certain historical situations are brought to our attention (What would have happened, if?). These apocryphal histories inject the utopian potential of science fiction into the generic model of the historical novel, which produces a form of narrative fiction one could call uchronian.

In the course of describing self-reflexive and uchronian historical fiction, Wesseling has mentioned certain characteristics of both types of fiction. In chapters three and four of this thesis, the characteristics of postmodernist historical fiction have been tried out on a novel from 1989, Julian Barnes A History of the World in 10 Chapters. This novel consists of ten and a half chapters, and deals with world history, but not in a conventional way. It has been interesting to find that this novel is quite concerned with self-reflexive issues. The novel displays a concern with self-reflexive issues such as the exposure of partial historical knowledge and narrativity. This last element explains peculiar reoccurrences of certain items, such as woodworms or bitumen.The counterfactual nature of Barnes novel is a less straightforward issue. A number of chapters convey narratives that are linked to historical data, but also differ from the historical data. And still, these differences between historical records and Barnes narratives are not easily labelled counterfactual either. Besides employing a playful way of dealing with historical data, Barnes also pays attention to the relationship between history and power. All in all, the novel can be seen as characterised by self-reflexivity. To label the novel as uchronian is a far more difficult venture.



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