Hannah's place : a neo historical fiction

  • Elanna Herbert

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The creative component of my doctoral thesis articulates narratives of female experience in Colonial Australia. The work re-contextualises and re-narrativises accounts of events which occurred in particular women's lives, and which were reported in nineteenth century newspapers. The female characters within my novel are illiterate and from the lower classes. Unlike middle-class women who wrote letters and kept journals, women such as these did not and could not leave us their stories. The newspaper accounts in which their stories initially appeared reflected patriarchal (and) class ideologies, and represented the women as the 'other'. However, it is by these same textual artefacts that we come to know of their existence. The multi-layered novel I have written juxtaposes archival pre-texts (or intertexts) against fictional re-narrativisations of the same events. One reason for the use of this style is in order to challenge the past positioning of silenced women. My female characters' first textual iterations, those documents which now form our archival records, were written from a position of hegemonic patriarchy. Their first textual iteration were the record of female existence recorded by others. The original voices of the fictionalised female characters of my novel are heard as an absence and the intertext, as well as the fiction, now stands as a trace of what once existed as women's lived, performative experience. My contention is that by making use of concepts such as historiographic metafiction, transworld identities, and sideshadowing; along with narrative structures such as juxtaposition, collage and the use of intertext and footnotes, a richer, multidimensional and non-linear view of female colonial experience can be achieved. And it will be one which departs from that hegemonically imposed by patriarchy. It is the reader who becomes the meaning maker of 'truth' within historical narration. My novel sits within the theoretical framework of postmodern literature as a variant on a new form of the genre that has been termed 'historical fiction'. However, it departs from traditional historical fiction in that it foregrounds not only an imagined fictional past world created when the novel is read, but also the actual archival documents, the pieces of text from the past which in other instances and perhaps put together to form a larger whole, might be used to make traditional history. These pieces of text were the initial finds from the historical research undertaken for my novel. These fragments of text are used within the work as intertextual elements which frame, narratively interrupt, add to or act as footnotes and in turn, are themselves framed by my female characters' self narrated stories. These introduced textual elements, here foregrounded, are those things most often hidden from view within the mimetic and hermeneutic worlds of traditional historical fiction. It is also with these intertextual elements that the fictional women engage in dialogue. At the same time, my transworld characters' existence as fiction are reinforced by their existence as 'objects' (of narration) within the archival texts. Both the archival texts and the fiction are now seen as having the potential to be unreliable. My thesis suggests that in seeking to gain a clearer understanding of these events and the narrative of these particular marginalised colonial women's lives, a new way of engaging with history and writing historical fiction is called for. I have undertaken this through creative fiction which makes use of concepts such as transworld identity, as defined by Umberto Eco and also by Brian McHale, historiographic metafiction, as defined by Linda Hutcheon and the concept of sideshadowing which, as suggested by Gary Saul Morson and Michael Andre Bernstein, opens a space for multiple historical narratives. The novel plays with the idea of both historical facts and historical fiction. By giving textual equality to the two the border between what can be considered as historical fact and historical fiction becomes blurred. This is one way in which a type of textual agency can be brought to those silenced groups from Australia's past. By juxtaposing parts of the initial textual account of these events alongside, or footnoted below, the fiction which originated from them, I create a female narrative of 'new writing' through which parts of the old texts, voiced from a male perspective, can still be read. The resulting, multi-layered narrative becomes a collage of text, voice and meaning thus enacting Mikhail Bakhtin's idea of heteroglossia. A reading of my novel insists upon questioning the truthfulness or degree of reliability of past textual facts as accurate historic records of real women's life events. It is this which is at the core of my novel-an historiographic metafictional challenging by the fictional voices of female transworld identities of what had been written as an historical, legitimate account of the past. This self-reflexive style of historical fiction makes for a better construct of a multi-dimensional, non-linear view of female colonial experience.
    Date of Award2005
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorMaureen Bettle (Supervisor), Hazel Smith (Supervisor) & Auriol Weigold (Supervisor)

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