Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Fabricating History

Fabricating History: English Writers on the French Revolution

Barton R. Friedman
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Fabricating History
    Book Description:

    Barton Friedman demonstrates the ways in which English men of letters in the nineteenth century attempted to grasp the dynamics of history and to fashion order, however fragile, out of its apparent chaos. The authors he discusses--Blake, Scott, Hazlitt, Carlyle, Dickens, and Hardy--found in the French Revolution an event more compelling as a paradigm of history than their own "Glorious Revolution." To them the French Revolution seemed universally significant--a microcosm, in short. For these writers maintaining the distinction between "history" and "fiction" was less important than making sense of epochal historical events in symbolic terms. Their works on the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars occupy the boundary between history and fiction, and Fabricating History advances the current lively discussion of that boundary.

    At the same time, this work explores questions about narrative strategies, as they are shaped by, or shape, events. Narratives incorporate the ideological and metaphysical preconceptions that the authors bring with them to their writing. "This is not to argue," Professor Friedman says, "that historical narratives are only about the mind manufacturing them or, more narrowly yet, about themselves as mere linguistic constructs. They illumine both the time and place they seek to re-create and, if by indirection, the time and place of the mind thinking them into being."

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5934-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. A Note on Texts
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    Some years ago at a conference on history and narrative art, hosted by the University of Wisconsin English Department, I watched one of the few historians to have ventured into that den of (mostly) literary critics and philosophers of history berate the assemblage for repeatedly insisting on the kinship between historical narrative and fiction Actually, the argument in which this indignant historian became embroiled had been adumbrated by Northrop Frye, who observes, in an essay entitled “New Directions from Old,” that though historians’ narratives (like those of poets) incorporate “unifying forms,” or myths, “to tell a historian that what gives...

  6. ONE Fabricating History
    (pp. 12-37)

    “Reasons and opinions concerning acts, are,” Blake proclaims in theDescriptive Catalogueto his exhibition of 1809, “not history Acts themselves alone are history “Thus he announces himself a partisan of the movement against Enlightenment historiography in the then budding (and still flourishing) debate over how, or whether, the past can be plausibly represented to those living in the present Acts, Blake adds, “are neither the exclusive property of Hume, Gibbon nor Voltaire, Echaid, Rapin, Plutarch nor Herodotus” (E, p 534) Reasoning historians all, they twist cause and consequence, and in separating acts from their explanations—proposing chains of cause...

  7. TWO Through Forests of Eternal Death: Blake and Universal History
    (pp. 38-66)

    In 1720, thirty-seven years before the magically Swedenborgian year of Blake’s birth, Charles Daubuz distinguished history from prophecy, arguing that “an Historian sets out the matters he relates in proper Words, such as we express our Conceptions by, and therefore shews the full Extent of the Things acted”, because his Words are adequate to our Notions But a Prophecy is a Picture or Representation of the Events in Symbols, which being fetched from Objects visible to one View, or Cast of the Eye, rather represents the Events in Miniature, than full Proportion, giving us more to understand than what we...

  8. THREE Lives of Napoleon: Scott and Hazlitt at Pens’ Points
    (pp. 67-108)

    Reading the political signs of the times in 1790, Edmund Burke prophesied Napoleon

    In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction, until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself Armies will obey him on his personal account There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things But the moment in which that event...

  9. FOUR At the Conflux of Two Eternities: Carlyle’s French Revolution
    (pp. 109-144)

    Surveying the political and social condition of England in 1829, Carlyle finds it an alarming sign of the times that his countrymen are busy reading the signs of the times “They deal much in vaticination,” he claims in the essay he entitles “Signs of the Times”(CME 2 56)Whatever he knew of Bicheno’s pamphlet,The Signs of the Times,or of the myriad other oracles, especially on the Revolution in France, it is no coincidence that Carlyle too lifted the title of his essay from Christ’s indictment (Matthew 16 2-4) of the Pharisees and Sadducees asking for a sign...

  10. FIVE Antihistory: Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities
    (pp. 145-171)

    In an essay published inThe National Reviewa year beforeA Tale of Two Cities(1859) appeared, Walter Bagehot likens Dickens describing one of those cities to “a special correspondent for posterity” Bagehot finds in Dickens a newspaperman’s eye for London life “His memory is full of instances of old buildings and curious people, and [because, as Bagehot sums up London, ‘everything is there, and everything is disconnected’] he does not care to piece them together . . each scene . . is a separate scene,—each street a separate street” Dickens, Bagehot concludes, is gifted with “the peculiar...

  11. SIX Proving Nothing: Hardy’s The Dynasts
    (pp. 172-198)

    “I left off on a note of hope,” Hardy wrote to his friend Edward Clodd in 1908 “It was just as well that the Pities should have the last word, sinceThe Dynastsproves nothing”¹ Thus, with a single pronouncement, he anticipates and would appar ently have dismissed almost eighty years of critical debate concerning the metaphysical significance of the Overworld in his drama of the Napoleonic Wars

    That Hardy meant what he told Clodd is underscored by his explanation of the Spirits in the preface he wrote to Part First in 1904 “They are intended to be taken by...

  12. Conclusion (Mainly about Conclusions)
    (pp. 199-208)

    When John Keegan asserts that the rout of the Old Guard at Waterloo marks the real end of the French Revolution, he treats the scene as a novelist might. to epitomize the conflict by which the Revolution, having displaced the ancien regime, is ultimately subverted and the ancien regime itself restored—the process by which, as the Hardy ofThe Dynastswould have insisted, history comes full circle. Historians of the Revolution would doubtless argue that, however dramatic, Keegan’s image of the Guard as revolutionary France broken at last veneers a tangle of forces to be unraveled and reordered only...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 209-228)
  14. Index
    (pp. 229-235)