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All Writers Are Border Walkers: Emma Donoghue Between History and Fiction in Astray and The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits

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Historical fiction has gained a degree of popularity among readers in the last two decades it has not enjoyed since the fashion for writing novels about national history was set by Sir Walter Scott in the early 19th century. Later in that same century, however, the value of historical fiction as such was challenged by historians who were eager to make history a science, they claimed that academic historical writing provided an objective view of the past based on archival research and was therefore fundamentally superior to historical novels. A devaluation of historical fiction took place which is still felt today. In the context of this opposition of history and fiction, Emma Donoghue's recent historical fiction offers a fresh approach to the genre. The aim of this article, after reviewing the issue of its relationship to history, is to analyze Donoghue's innovative combination of fiction and the archive in two collections of short historical fiction, The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (2002) and Astray (2012). Donoghue's own reflections on her work are applied in this analysis, as well as the theoretical approach to this kind of fiction by Lubomir Dolezel.

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This interview/article expands on Emma Donoghue’s role in contemporary Irish culture. Introducing Donoghue as novelist, playwright, and cultural historian is a critical biography which, through the metaphor of travelling along borderlands covers over twenty years of Donoghue’s background, life, and works.
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What is history? This question has been asked for centuries and there is still no single accepted answer. Many different opinions exist, with different methodologies and theories providing different answers. This article aims to rethink the idea of history as it was known to the German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886) and reflect whether it is still relevant today. For a number of years, I have examined the concept of objectivity attributed to Ranke by looking at his private life and how it influenced his historical writing. In previous studies, scholars have examined Ranke's works, his use of language and how he dealt with specific areas of history. By examining his private life, I hope to not only provide an understanding of Ranke as an individual, but also shed new light on him as a scholar. Due to the fact that his wife was from Ireland, I have briefly examined his History of England and contrasted his treatment of Irish history with his account of English history. It shows that Ranke's Irish history was written from a pro-Catholic viewpoint, which is the opposite of his usual pro-Protestant outlook. It also shows that Ranke, like many other historians, did not always follow his strict self-set goal in his historical narrative. In this article, I want to argue that despite a number of problems that have been acknowledged with Ranke's understanding of the ontology of history, modern historians should still be interested in Ranke as a historian: So, why should modern historians ever contemplate reading Ranke for instruction on what they do today? Is he still central to historical thinking and practice? In this essay, I shall place this discussion within the larger debates on the nature of history as it is understood today.
Article
With Possible Worlds of Fiction and History, Lubomír Doležel reexamines the claim - made first by Roland Barthes and then popularized by Hayden White - that "there is no fundamental distinction between fiction and history." Doležel rejects this assertion and demonstrates how literary and discourse theory can help the historian to restate the difference between fiction and history. He challenges scholars to reassess the postmodern viewpoint by reintroducing the idea of possible worlds. Possible-worlds semantics reveals that possible worlds of fiction and possible worlds of history differ in their origins, cultural functions, and structural and semantic features. Doležel's book is the first systematic application of this idea to the theory and philosophy of history. Possible Worlds of Fiction and History is the crowning work of one of literary theory's most engaged thinkers. © 2010 by The Johns Hopkins University Press. All rights reserved.
Article
The argument most frequently made on behalf of historical fiction is that, if responsibly done, it can stimulate interest in the study of history. But I'd like to offer a stronger argument, based on my experience working in both forms: if properly understood, the writing of historical fiction can be a valuable adjunct to the work of historians in their discipline. A novel can be as accurate as a history in telling what happened, when, and how. It can, and should, be based on careful research and rigorous analysis of evidence. But the distinction and advantage of the fictional form lies in the way it uses evidence and represents conclusions. The novel tests historical hypotheses by a kind of thought-experiment: assume that events are driven by the conditions and forces you believe to be most significant—what sort of history, what kind of human experience, then results? For the thought-experiment to work, the fiction writer must treat a theory which may be true as if it was certainly true, without quibble or qualification; and credibly represent a material world in which that theory appears to work. We should not suppose that thought-experiments, however elegant, make empirical tests unnecessary. But as the history of modern physics shows, without such experiments, the forward movement of knowledge becomes slower and more difficult. Moreover, because the novel imaginatively recovers the indeterminacy of a past time, the form allows writer and reader to explore those alternative possibilities for belief, action, and political change, unrealized by history, which existed in the past. In so doing, the novelist may restore, as imaginable possibilities, the ideas, movements, and values defeated or discarded in the struggles that produced the modern state.
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