The Fact/Fiction Dichotomy in Adam Thorpe's Historical Novel "Hodd"

Seminar Paper, 2017

10 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The fact/fiction dichotomy in Hodd
2.1 How is authenticity achieved?
2.1.1 Framing
2.1.2 Setting
2.1.4 Narrative tricks
2.2 Indicators for fictionality

3. Hodd as a work of Historiographic Metafiction

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

I know I can’t change the future, but I can always change the past. Insight and knowledge change the past. It is the past not the future which is infinite. Our past was appropriated. I am one of the people who has to re-appropriate it. (Toni Morrison qtd. in Kürschner 149).

Even up to today there is the common belief that history and fiction have to be strictly divided. History is practised by historians who analyse authentic sources, associate them and write them down for people interested in history whereas fiction is a literary genre for everything based on an invented plot. However, there are novels trying to fill the gap between fiction and history built on true events like Hilary Mantle’s Wolf Hall at Henry the Eighth’s court or they can just recall a mental image of a specific time period like Umberto Eco’s The Name of The Rose the 13th century. These so-called historical novels deal with the past and their key aim is both to instruct and delight. However, their authenticity can be doubted and for the reader it is difficult to ascertain whether an information given belongs to the fictive part which the author has invented or to the part which uses authentic material. This term paper analyses Adam Thorpe’s Hodd, a historical novel published in 2009, a supposedly Latin translation of an allegedly lost Middle English manuscript that fundamentally changes the image of Robin Hood. Adam Thorpe uses different techniques to achieve authenticity with his novel, but there are also traits neglecting the reliability of his narration. First these techniques and their function will be analysed and then the focus will shift to Linda Hutcheon’s postmodernist genre of historiographic metafiction which redefined the use of historical material in fiction and the meaning of literature for history in the 1960s questioning whether Hodd is a novel which uses historiographic metafiction. The last part will sum up the findings and embed the topic in a broader context.

2. The fact/fiction dichotomy in Hodd

2.1 How is authenticity achieved?

2.1.1 Framing

A framing narrative for a historical novel can give the impression of authenticity. In How Novels Work, John Mullan states that “the framing device is…the fictional explanation of how a narrative has been discovered or recorded…the frame (or explanation surrounds the rest of the narrative” (qtd. In Hughes 22). In Hodd the framing narrative is an English translation “from a soiled Latin manuscript” (Thorpe, “Hodd”). This Latin manuscript is, then again, a translation from a lost 14th century Middle English text written by the nameless narrator in Hodd. In order to avoid writing the novel in Middle English, Adam Thorpe in the preface introduces a middleman Francis Belloes, a scholar who was a soldier during World War I and who discovered the manuscript in a burning house and translated it into English. It is notable that the pseudo-editing process of Hodd is rather complex. Kürschner argues that historical novels (and in particular historiographic metafiction) could not do without instances of heteroreferentiality, i.e. intertextual references to fictional and non-fictional texts. (Kürschner 157). The intertextual reference to a partly non-fictional text in Hodd is for example the manuscript of the ballad Robin Hood and the Monk from 1450, whereas the reference to a fictional text is the manuscript which has been translated by Belloes Carroll states that many writers of historical fiction prefer to write some form of explanation how they have played with history (269), in this case with a fictive manuscript. Furthermore, the author uses footnotes throughout the novel and then again, he ascribes the footnotes to the editing of Francis Belloes. Thorpe argues that footnotes – the book contains 400 of them – “remind you that the story is a document, soiled and transposed” (Thorpe, “Hodd”). As one can see framing a historical novel, can make for authenticity. Carroll claims that notes and a list of works cited are acceptable features in historical novels and that they are not only helpful, but also add authenticity to the work (265). When reading Hodd or a novel with a similar development history e.g. The Name of the Rose, the recipient at first sight is tempted to believe that the underlying textual background is genuine and replicable. Nonetheless, these historical novels are meticulously constructed by an author who tries to “re-appropriate” (Kürschner 149) the past.

2.1.2 Setting

In order to lend authenticity to a historical novel it is also important that the author creates a world that is credible and coherent for the reader. Hughes argues that readers want to be seduced into believing that the historical world an author creates is real (24). Readers of Hodd want to acquire knowledge about the life in the forest, about hermitage, cloisters, the figure of Robin Hodd, and the medieval time in general. To achieve authenticity Hughes claims that an author has to thoroughly describe physical details such as houses, clothes … (21). For example, Thorpe describes things that are sold at the market-square of 13th-century Nottingham: “… green cheeses and three cart mares beside a stall selling opium, rhubarb and precious camphor from venice …” (Thorpe 150). These accounts help to promote authenticity and foster a change of perspective for the reader. Furthermore, Hughes argues that the character’s “thought-world” needs to be depicted to give a sense of authenticity. Thought-world is the mindset of the character and Hughes claims that it needs to be “convincingly medieval and language, narrative, and dialogue, must reflect that thought-world” (5). The thought-world of the narrator in Hodd constantly changes throughout the novel and it depends on the father-figure that he has chosen. Starting as a young minstrel for an abbot and being deeply pious and religious (Thorpe 23), the narrator after entering Hodd’s group adapts to his wicked and impious world-view: “Indeed, the two lives were as different as mine own, for I had once been in the midst of God’s influence … and was now cast into the wastes of wickedness, as if cloven from mine own past” (Thorpe 115). Margaroni affirms that the sense of authenticity in a historical novel comes from the combination of imaginative empathy and precise detail (145) and both is evident in Hodd when the evolution of the character is taken into account.

2.1.3 Alterity

Hughes also claims that “an impression of alterity would add to, rather than detract from, reader’s sense of authenticity and to their belief that what they were reading was a naturalistic account of the period” (42). Things that give a sense of alterity could be superstitions, religious charms, dreams, strange ideas or magic (36). For example, Hodd and his group of outlaws have their own belief where “everything in nature [is] inhabited by the Spirit …, and that when it dies this Spirit within us, … [it] becomes the othwre (Thorpe 59). Even for a reader of historical novels a belief like this may seem odd, although it may allude to the neoplatonistic notion of the scintilla animae. Furthermore, there are mysterious scenes in the book where Adam Thorpe depicts Hodd’s tent which somehow changes with his mood. These scenes promote the notion of a dark and eerie account of medieval times. It seems that the amount of alterity peaks already in the first lines of the chapter where the reader is not sure whether the narrator is thinking in a stream of consciousness, Hughes also states that this scene is “certainly strange” (41).

The seas are folded over us, above our heads, the lower sea becoming the upper sea and yet still blue when not girt with sea mist, which is grey and melancholy. Some men when they look up see birds, but I see only a kind of fish... These fish are beaked and feathered, as we all know, and return to dry land to nest in trees... (Thorpe 1).

In summary, we could conclude that in order to have a naturalistic and realistic portrayal of the 13th-century, the reader needs to be dazed by peculiar concepts and strange happenings.

2.1.4 Narrative tricks

In Hodd Adam Thorpe uses different narrative tricks to achieve authenticity and to deceive the reader. The most conspicuous technique is his use of footnotes which usually are used in academic writing. The book contains 400 footnotes which Thorpe ascribes to the fictive translator Francis Belloes and they contain annotations, citations and bibliographies. Reading a historical novel in this case evokes the analysis of a historical source. Kürschner claims that “examining the footnotes, bibliographies, quotations or non-fictional intertexts in these novels supports the claim that metahistoriographic fiction takes up established historical knowledge” (158). Moreover, Adam Thorpe uses lacunae (Robson, “Hodd”) which means that he leaves out passages from the fictitious manuscript: “Here follow several pages of pious tendentiousness, which I again omit.” It suggests that an editorial choice has been made by Belloes and that the manuscript is at his hand. In addition, the book uses erratic spelling in order to convey the impression that the text is medieval. The name of the antagonist Robin Hood in the novel can be found as Hod, Hodde, or Hode. Little John becomes Litterl John or Litel John and the name Henry can be found as Henrie or Henri. This also fosters authenticity in the text since English spelling had only been standardised after Samuel Johnson’s dictionary of English in 1755. Furthermore, the text often uses the Latin original word or sentence in brackets next to the English translation. This also tricks the reader into believing that there has been someone – Thorpe names him Belloes – who translated and edited the manuscript.


Excerpt out of 10 pages


The Fact/Fiction Dichotomy in Adam Thorpe's Historical Novel "Hodd"
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
fact/fiction, dichotomy, adam, thorpe, historical, novel, hodd
Quote paper
Giuseppe Dennis Messina (Author), 2017, The Fact/Fiction Dichotomy in Adam Thorpe's Historical Novel "Hodd", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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