Making History and Making it Over

The Role of Metafiction for the Understanding of History


Essay, 2007

9 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Excerpt

Contents

Introduction

The Concept of History and Fry’s Interpretation of History

Short Digression on Metafiction

Michael Young and his “Meisterwerk” as Metafictional References

Metahistoriography and Cultural Memory - Outlook

List of Works Cited

Introduction

Our time – this refers to the major part of our population - of demystified heroes and legends, has only a vague understanding of history and struggles for its interpretation.

History in this context does not only mean the mere sequence of specific incidents and events that cannot be changed retroactively by any access to the past. This concept is furthermore a discussion on these events that is their interpretation. That means that history is and in this form it is most likely to be perceived, the connection of object and subject, referring to the events in the temporal past and its spectator in the present. This creates a subjective ribbon that connects temporal past and present by dint of an interpretive frame. Indeed the past cannot be changed, but its interpretation and analysis can be.

This is exactly the approach of Stephen Fry who provides with his novel Making History a possible answer to the question, how Germany and the world might have developed without Adolf Hitler. Supported by historical facts and enriched by fictitious elements, Fry’s novel affords the reader a manual for the exposure to one’s own past and distorts the understanding of history of the broad majority who ascertains a single man, Adolf Hitler, to be the root for all evil.

The following text tries to analyze the role of historical fiction for one’s accomplishment of history in general and how Fry in particular does away with the common view that history is barely more than the sequence of big men’s big actions.

Therefore, I would like to proceed from the assumption that Making History is a critical metaphor for the work of historiographs who create history by interpreting, omitting and stressing of historical facts. The novel also expresses one’s responsibility for the past one builds his present and future on. Fry uses his protagonist’s thesis, the “Meisterwerk” as a metafictional element to clarify the meaning of historical fiction for developing the understanding of history. Furthermore I will try to clarify the novel’s affiliation to the genre of metahistoriography after a short theoretical digression about this literary field.

The Concept of History and Fry’s Interpretation of History

Usually the term history means all that was and happened in the past. It refers to something completed that cannot be changed due to access from the present. It is also “unrepeatable” – at least in a strict sense. In the case of Making History this logical approach does not work anymore. In his novel, Fry does change the historical plot from the 1st june of 1888 and thus converges to the postmodernism’s discourse on historiography and reality. It raises the question, whether historiography has to be regarded as fiction. Lionel Gossman offers a good account of Fry’s assumed writing intentions: “Modern history and modern literature […] have both rejected the ideal of representation […]. Both now conceive of their work as exploration, testing, creation of new meanings, rather than disclosure or revelation of meanings already in some sense ‘there’” (Hutcheon 15f).

So Fry’s novel is not about victims of the Nazi terror and how they cope with their past. It is about historiography in general and the thin ridge a historian walks on while analyzing and interpreting past events. Although the past cannot be changed – the author will stick to the differentiation between the term past as the events and the term history as their textualised interpretation – their interpretation can be. Postmodernism has assumed that history only exists due to textuality and must hence be regarded as fiction, too. Postmodern writer Linda Hutcheon, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, expressed this as follows:

“History is not made obsolete: it is, however, being rethought – as a human construct. And in arguing that history does not exist except as text, it does not […] deny that the past existed, but only that its accessibility to us now is entirely conditioned by textuality. We cannot know the past except through its texts” (Hutcheon 16).

This concept of textuality refers not only to written texts but to a society’s collective and cultural memory including the spoken word and traditional narrations since history is not sensible directly. The following digression intends to give a short overview of metafiction and especially of Linda Hutcheon’s concept of metahistoriography as a help to identify Fry’s novel as metafictional.

[...]

Excerpt out of 9 pages

Details

Title
Making History and Making it Over
Subtitle
The Role of Metafiction for the Understanding of History
College
Free University of Berlin  (Englische Philologie)
Course
Historical Novels Through Time
Grade
1,3
Author
Year
2007
Pages
9
Catalog Number
V90976
ISBN (eBook)
9783638052245
ISBN (Book)
9783638944991
File size
426 KB
Language
English
Notes
Zitat des Dozenten: ein auf hohem analytischem und theoretischem Niveau argumentierender, gedankenreicher Essay. Die verwendete wissenschaftliche Literatur ist sehr gut ausgewählt und wird gut in die eigene Argumentation eingebunden.
Tags
Making, History, Making, Over, Historical, Novels, Through, Time
Quote paper
Stefan Zeidler (Author), 2007, Making History and Making it Over, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/90976

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