History as a Kind of Writing: Textual Strategies in Contemporary French Historiography

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

In academia, the traditional role of the humanities is being questioned by the “posts”—postmodernism, poststructuralism, and postfeminism—which means that the project of writing history only grows more complex. In History as a Kind of Writing, scholar of French literature and culture Philippe Carrard speaks to this complexity by focusing the lens on the current state of French historiography.

Carrard’s work here is expansive—examining the conventions historians draw on to produce their texts and casting light on views put forward by literary theorists, theorists of history, and historians themselves. Ranging from discussions of lengthy dissertations on 1960s social and economic history to a more contemporary focus on events, actors, memory, and culture, the book digs deep into the how of history. How do historians arrange their data into narratives? What strategies do they employ to justify the validity of their descriptions? Are actors given their own voice? Along the way, Carrard also readdresses questions fundamental to the field, including its necessary membership in the narrative genre, the presumed objectivity of historiographic writing, and the place of history as a science, distinct from the natural and theoretical sciences.
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About the author

Philippe Carrard is a visiting scholar in the Comparative Literature Program at Dartmouth College. He is the author of Poetics of the New History: French Historical Discourse from Braudel to Chartier and The French Who Fought for Hitler: Memories from the Outcasts. He lives in New Hampshire and Switzerland.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Mar 7, 2017
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Pages
264
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ISBN
9780226428017
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / France
History / General
Literary Criticism / European / French
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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This study examines how debates about history during the French Revolution informed and changed the nature of the British novel between 1790 and 1814. During these years, intersections between history, political ideology, and fiction, as well as the various meanings of the term “history” itself, were multiple and far reaching. Morgan Rooney elucidates these subtleties clearly and convincingly. While political writers of the 1790s – Burke, Price, Mackintosh, Paine, Godwin, Wollstonecraft, and others – debate the historical meaning of the Glorious Revolution as a prelude to broader ideological arguments about the significance of the past for the present and future, novelists engage with this discourse by representing moments of the past or otherwise vying to enlist the authority of history to further a reformist or loyalist agenda. Anti-Jacobin novelists such as Charles Walker, Robert Bisset, and Jane West draw on Burkean historical discourse to characterize the reform movement as ignorant of the complex operations of historical accretion. For their part, reform-minded novelists such as Charlotte Smith, William Godwin, and Maria Edgeworth travesty Burke’s tropes and arguments so as to undermine and then redefine the category of history. As the Revolution crisis recedes, new novel forms such as Edgeworth’s regional novel, Lady Morgan’s national tale, and Jane Porter’s early historical fiction emerge, but historical representation—largely the legacy of the 1790s’ novel—remains an increasingly pronounced feature of the genre. Whereas the representation of history in the novel, Rooney argues, is initially used strategically by novelists involved in the Revolution debate, it is appropriated in the early nineteenth century by authors such as Edgeworth, Morgan, and Porter for other, often related ideological purposes before ultimately developing into a stable, non-partisan, aestheticized feature of the form as practised by Walter Scott. The French Revolution Debate and the British Novel, 1790–1814 demonstrates that the transformation of the novel at this fascinating juncture of British political and literary history contributes to the emergence of the historical novel as it was first realized in Scott’s Waverley (1814).
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