Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction

Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction

SUZANNE KEEN
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 298
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442679450
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  • Book Info
    Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction
    Book Description:

    A detailed examination of the growing genre of British fiction featuring archives and archival research, from A.S. Byatt?s Booker Prize?winning Possession to the paperback thrillers of popular novelists.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7945-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Contemporary Fiction, Postimperial Conditions ROMANCES OF THE ARCHIVE
    (pp. 3-27)

    The past few decades of British fiction have witnessed a proliferation of representations of archives in which scholarly and amateur characters seek information in collections of documents. Copious examples can be enumerated from serious and popular British fiction. These stories of archival research occur not only in postmodern novels and literary fiction, but also in popular sub-genres of the contemporary novel such as detective fiction, fantasies, gothics, and thrillers. Each of these sub-genres provides in its turn multiple examples of stories meeting my criteria to be called romances of the archive. They have scenes taking place in libraries or in...

  5. 2 Romances of the Archive: Identifying Characteristics
    (pp. 28-62)
    A.S. Byatt and Julian Barnes

    The recent British novel is saturated with representations of archival research. Though the postmodern romancer seems at home in a labyrinthine library, and the detective is traditionally allowed a certain amount of digging through papers, a startlingly large number of fictional characters of recent creation perform the intellectual questing scholars call research. A list of recent romances of the archive would include writers of four generations and jumble realistic and historical novels, fantasy, feminist fictions, social satires, tales of counterfactual future worlds, thrillers, postmodern historiographic metafictions, detective stories, and ‘serious’ literary fiction. No study of this length can hope to...

  6. 3 Wellsprings
    (pp. 63-96)
    Edmund Spenser, Henry James, H.P. Lovecraft, Josephine Tey and Umberto Eco

    The romance of the archive arises out of a rich tradition of precursors - British, American, European, and Latin American. Though later chapters establish the specific uses to which contemporary British writers put its various inherited traits, this chapter undertakes the genealogical work of identifying sources for the key elements of recent British romances of the archive. The description I proffer in the preceding chapter suggests that a romance of the archive contains character-researchers, endowed with the corporeality and round psychology of the realistic novel; romance adventure stories, in which research features as a kernel plot action, resulting in strong...

  7. 4 History or Heritage?
    (pp. 97-131)
    Penelope Lively, Barry Unsworth and Peter Ackroyd

    In the 1930s, historian Carl Becker reminded his colleagues that an ordinary man paying his coal bill might embark upon a research project that resembled, in all its fundamental strategies and actions, the making of history.¹ The story of events and consequences assembled by the good citizen refers to the most mundane occurrences in the past, but it results in a satisfying conclusion in the present - money owed gets paid on time to the proper person. To Mr Everyman, the uses of the past and the purposes of history, for which he would employ no such grandiose language, serve...

  8. 5 Time Magic and the Counterfactual Imagination
    (pp. 132-153)
    Kingsley Amis, Lindsay Clarke, Lawrence Norfolk and Nigel Williams

    The elaborate conspiracies and supernatural explanations of romances of the archive receive their fullest exploration in time-slip fantasy fiction for adults. Time-slip or time-shift stories are a popular variety of fantasy fiction in which characters travel back and forth between times, or otherwise evade the conventional limitation of characters to their life spans and fixed periods of existence. Like Peter Ackroyd’sThe House of Doctor Dee, the more fantastic romances of the archive flirt with the collapse of time and distance by making research a hazardous, magical activity that threatens to obliterate the self, as the object of research takes...

  9. 6 Custody of the Truth
    (pp. 154-180)
    P.D. James, Robert Harris, Peter Dickinson and Margaret Drabble

    Detective fiction inhabits a dramatically different mental universe than the one created by time-slip fantasy fiction, with consequences for the historical thinking in those romances of the archive that take on its conventions. In its classic forms (the whodunit or puzzler, the hard-boiled detective story, and the police procedural), it puts its trust in the availability of facts and the likelihood of their correct interpretation. In its postmodern form, the metaphysical detective story calls attention to this trust by emphasizing the ʻambiguity, ubiquity, eerie meaningfulness, or sheer meaninglessness of clues and evidenceʼ and the ʻabsence, falseness, circularity, or self-defeating nature...

  10. 7 Envisioning the Past
    (pp. 181-207)
    Alan Hollinghurst, Adam Mars-Jones, Robert Goddard and Stevie Davies

    Many contemporary British romances of the archive are neither fantasies, nor detective stories, nor postmodern historiographic metafictions. This chapter considers a set of more conventionally realistic novels, linked by their shared interest in gender, sexuality, and identity. They consider these topics from a variety of angles. Alan Hollinghurst’s first novelThe Swimming-Pool Library(1988) features a gay researcher who discovers Edwardian adventures and betrayals through archival research. Adam Mars-Jones’sThe Waters of Thirst(1993) confronts the AIDS crisis through the parallel suffering of a terminal kidney patient, who happens to be gay. Robert Goddard’s paperback historical-research thrillerPast Caring(1986)...

  11. EPILOGUE: Postcolonial Rejoinders
    (pp. 208-234)
    Derek Walcott, Keri Hulme, Amitav Ghosh and Bharati Mukherjee

    ‘The crucial difference between the major English literature of the first half of the 20th century and the major English literature of the second half is not that one was modern and the other postmodern,’ Michael Berube recently announced in an opinion piece in theChronicle of Higher Education. The late-breaking news: ‘The crucial difference is that one was produced largely in the United States, Britain, and Ireland, whereas the other was ... a global English-language literature’ (‘Teaching Postmodern’ B5). As teachers, critics, and wide readers of contemporary fiction know, this change has brought to the university syllabus, the Booker...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 235-250)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 251-272)
  14. Index
    (pp. 273-288)