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Encountering ’this season’s retrieval’ : historical fiction, literary postmodernism and the novels of… Grubisic, Brett Josef 2002

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ENCOUNTERING 'THIS SEASON'S RETRIEVAL': HISTORICAL FICTION, LITERARY POSTMODERNISM AND THE NOVELS OF PETER ACKROYD by BRETT JOSEF GRUBISIC B.A., University of Victoria, 1992 M.A., University of Victoria, 1994 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY i n THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES (Department of English) We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA July 2001 © Brett Josef Grubisic, 2001 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department of The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date DE-6 (2/88) Abstract "Encountering 'this season's retrieval': Historical Fiction, Literary Postmodernism and the Novels of Peter Ackroyd" engages the novels Peter Ackroyd has published, and situates them within broader generic considerations and critical dialogue. Part I, an extended prefatorial apparatus, places Ackroyd and his published fiction within three historico-critical contexts: the problem of author-as-reliable-source and the disparate histories of (a) the historical novel and (b) postmodernism in general (and literary postmodernism in particular). By interrogating the histories and points-of-contention of these areas, this Part aims to problematize critical discourse enveloping Ackroyd's fiction. Part II, comprised of four chapters, discusses specific groupings of Ackroyd's novels. After providing an overview of relevant aspects of the novels and their reception by critics, Chapter A, "Moulding History with Pastiche in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde. Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and Milton in America." considers the multiple functioning of pastiche—often considered a mainstay postmodern implement—in Ackroyd's work. The chapter concludes that rather than achieving a singular effect in the novels, pastiche works in divergent manners and confounds the reading of past historical actuality they ostensibly represent. Chapter B, "The Presence of the Past: Comedic and Non-Realist Historicism in The Great Fire of London and First Light." provides an overview of relevant aspects of the novels, and then analyzes how the presence of comedy in otherwise sombre historical fiction interrupts the realism of the narrative. This chapter argues that while camp comic effects disrupt the authority of quasi-historiographic techniques they cannot fully subvert realism and so create a suspensive modality. Chapter C, "PastlPresent: The Uses of History in Hawksmoor. Chatterton. The House of Doctor Dee and English Music." interrogates elements of the past-present fugue trajectories of these novels in order to problematize schematic readings of their supposed cultural politics. ii Finally, Chapter D, "Those Conventional Concluding Remarks: The Plato Papers. (National) History and Politics," places Ackroyd's most recent novel (one uncharacteristically set in the future) within the preoccupations of his earlier fiction. The chapter concludes with a brief outline of future scholarship that would investigate the national Englishness constructed throughout Ackroyd's biographical and novelistic work. iii Table of Contents Abstract ii Table of Contents iv Part I: The Prefatory and the Introductory; or, The Situation of the Novel(ist), in Consideration of Authorship and the Potted, Contentious Histories of Historical Fiction and (Literary) Postmodernism 1. Portrait of the Artist as Multiplicitous Simultaneity 4 The Author Mediated Mediated self-representation (i)—Writer-as-revolutionary Mediated self-representation (ii)—Novelist-as-(fraudulent)-historian Mediated self-representation (iii)—rWriter-as-provocateur/trickster/liar Mediated self-representation (iv)—Writer-as-English-mystic Mediated self-representation (v)—Writer-as-conservative/non-postmodernist Mediated identity (i)—Ackroyd-as-enigma Mediated identity (ii)—Ackroyd-as-contradictory-mess/fraud Mediated identity (iii)—Ackroyd-as-postmodernist 27 Politics and Historical Fiction: Unearthing the Past with Fictions 21 (i) The Historical Novel: Past (ii) The Historical Novel: Present (a) The Post-War Novel (b) The Post-War Historical Novel (c) Naming the Prodigy (d) The Prodigy in Perspective 3. The Politics of Postmodernism: Framing the Debate 48 (i) What Do We Mean When We Talk About Postmodernism? (ii) What Do We Mean When We Talk About Postmodern Fiction? (iii) Linda Hutcheon: The Use and Abuse of Postmodernism (iv) Shaking Foundations?: Hutcheon's Historiographic Metafiction 4. Novel Situation 81 Part II: Novel Re-Situations A . Moulding History with Pastiche in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde. Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and Milton in America 90 1. Historical Novel Traditions Revisited 91 2rSituating The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde. Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and Milton in America 96 (i) Aspects of the Novels iv (ii) Critical Reception 3. "allusions that lead nowhere'V'the culture of pastiche" 115 4. Ackroyd's Acts of Pastiche 126 (a) Wilde Versus Milton: Figural Revisions 130 (b) The Marxs, Gissing, Babbage: Historical Bit Players 140 B. The Presence of the Past: Comedic and Non-Realist Historicism in The Great Fire of London and First Light 145 1. History Through a Comic Frame 146 2. Situating The Great Fire of London and First Light 149 (i) Aspects of the Novels (ii) Critical Reception 3. Camp Comedic Historicism 166 (i) The Comedy Effect (ii) Camp: c'est quoi 9a (iii) Reading Camp in First Light and The Great Fire of London 4. Effecting "extreme artificiality": A Note on 'Non-Realist Historicism' 189 C. PastlPresent: The Uses of History in Hawksmoor, Chatterton. The House of Doctor Dee and English Music 195 1. History-Telling, Category Making 196 2. Situating Hawksmoor, Chatterton. The House of Doctor Dee and English Music 198 (i) Aspects of the Novels (ii) Critical Reception 3. History: Inside and Outside the Story 227 (i) History Within the Worlds of the Novels (a) What Sort of Exemplar is Timothy Harcombe? (b) A Premature Death (c) Two Cases of Sudden Disappearance (ii) History/Novels/Audiences 243 D. Those Conventional Concluding Remarks: The Plato Papers. (National) History and Politics 255 Works Cited 268 v Encountering 'this season's retrieval': Historical Fiction, Literary Postmodernism and the Novels of Peter Ackroyd Parti: The Prefatory and the Introductory; or, The Situation of the Novel(ist), in Consideration of Authorship and the Potted, Contentious Histories of Historical Fiction and (Literary) Postmodernism 2 Why A Historical? There are many aspects of writing historical fiction, many problems and many challenges. Some of these are common to all types of writing, others are particular to the genre. A historical can be every bit as gripping a read as a contemporary novel, and may be even more so. An outstanding one will linger in the minds of its readers for many years: Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind, one of many notable first novels, is a classic example. But, far from being easier to write than contemporary fiction, it must be faced that historicals are, arguably, more demanding. So let us look at some of the reasons which tempt us to have a go. Not Because It Looks Easier—It's Not A historical novel may look like an easy option . . . Rhona Martin, Writing Historical Fiction [a guide] 3 If, as a translated Michel Foucault contended in 1971, "[w]hat is found at the historical beginning of things is not the inviolable identity of their origins; it is the dissension of other things. It is disparity" (1977 142), then the jumble of things found at the base of this project consists of books (and yet more books) and an organizing intelligence whose own style of contemplation is no exemplum of rationality, linearity or focus. The foundational books comprise two handfuls of novels—some twenty seven hundred pages of fiction—published by Peter Ackroyd between 1982 and 1999, as well as a much smaller handful of critical work that has begun to examine, analyze, classify and situate these novels as exhibiting X , belonging to Y or truly being an instance of Z. Contiguous with these latter pages are related fields of studies with whose tradition they engage and with which they partake in a mode of dialogue. While the ten novels may be said to represent or embody cases of X , Y or Z, even the scantiest of knowledge of theories of the novel genre—as promulgated by as disparate (and arbitrarily selected) a set of writers as Bakhtin, Leavis, Girard, Goldmann, Lukacs and Watt—will point to the complex polyvocality of the genre, and hint in turn at what might be called the genre's irreducibility, if not uncontainability. Of course, such an uncontainability would appear instantly to work against systemizing gestures typically enacted by critics. Though this study takes as axiomatic the fundamental irreducibility of the genre, it certainly does not disavow the possibility of productive discussion of traits, tropes and tendencies in individual novels or, indeed, an entire oeuvre. What it aims to dismantle (at least partially), however, is an ever-popular encapsulating approach to works of fiction whose principal effect is to securely situate a work within a stable tradition—though often at the cost of simplifying both work and tradition. Criticism of the novels published by Peter Ackroyd is just one instance of this popular critical tendency. To posit—as many have—that "Peter Ackroyd is a writer of postmodern fiction," for instance, 4 requires an extraordinarily selective reading of Ackroyd's novels as well as a feasible working model of the notoriously and hugely ambiguous term, "postmodern." That kind of critical system-building entails distortion and suppression, and as such requires no small degree of scepticism. The situation of the novel becomes complicated still further when placed in the context of something that Edward Said has described as the "worldliness" (34) of a text. He explains: The point is that texts have ways of existing that even in their most rarified form are always enmeshed in circumstance, time, place, and society—in short, they are in the world, and hence worldly. Whether a text is preserved or put aside for a period, whether it is on a library shelf or not, whether it is considered dangerous or not: these matters have to do with a text's being in the world, which is a more complicated matter than the private process of reading. The same implications are undoubtedly true of critics in their capacities as readers and writers in the world. (35) While Said's own critical gesture stands in partial service to his need to dispute early 1980s' criticism—which he believed had "placed undue emphasis on the limitlessness of interpretation" (39)—my more literal reading and (re)use of his term is designed to point out the fact that each novel has been published into a dispersed marketplace and then read and reviewed globally as well as subjected to intermittent (albeit global) scholarly scrutiny. And lest it be forgotten, the marketing divisions of the multinational publishing groups with whom Peter Ackroyd (posed as the text's source) holds his contracts, actively pursue the visibility of their author on television and in print interviews. These processes of dissemination produce an ambiguous and multiplicitous text-author identity that also saturates diverse discursive fields. (It is of course commonplace for some celebrated figure—in the thoroughly mediated social circles of film, politics, sports, arts—to be subject to the inquisitiveness of others. Media pundits speculate on the motivations of a politician's off-hand comment, the changes of style in the Hollywood star of the moment, or a banned-drugged incident involving a well-paid football player who also represents a multinational sports-wear conglomerate and has been generally considered a fine role 5 model for the young North American male demographic . . . . So it goes increasingly with literary figures. As publishing concerns—newly infused with the marketing ethos and funding capability of conglomerate capitalism—produce celebrated "star" figures in their much-interviewed, award-winning, best-selling authors (whose very incomes, personal quarrels and mode of attire are hotly reported in literary pages in newspapers around the globe), the kind of gossipy speculation formerly reserved for other, more popularly known icons now turns to the formerly rarely observed (when not wholly hermetic) writer of literature. There is, moreover, an ancillary development in the overlapping circles of literary journalism and academic scholarship. In no special order, for example, a writer may be known to be well and widely reviewed, win a literary prize, negotiate a spectacular contract with a high-profile publisher. The religious beliefs, marital woes, public spats or (in the case of Martin Amis) orthodontic transformations of that same author are reported in near equal volume. Authors are conflated with their work and with the bits of information that comprise their dispersed mediated identity. The essential nature of the celebrated author/author's work is so inextricably bound with their media identity that the two become one through the silent process of naturalization. In like manner, critical endeavour situates the work of the (always already mediated) author within fields of apparently irresolute politico-cultural significance. The effect is contradictory, at once stabilizing and/or categorizing author and work (author is X , work is Y) and rendering firm the terms of definition (author is a realist, the work is experimental) while effectively obscuring the fact that the terms themselves are in fact subject to historical evolution, open to interpretation and by no means transparent and self-evident or set like so much poured concrete. To say "Author X is a realist" is also to risk asking "How is 'realism' defined (and why) and how does Author A fit into that category? (and if she does not, what does that signify for author, critic and category?)") A contemporary celebrity-author, Peter Ackroyd provides an illuminating case-study of both this newly mediated and disseminated figure as well as the critical morass at 6 its centre. The sample categorizing sentence I offer here—"Peter Ackroyd writes historical novels in a postmodern vein"—sounds sensible enough in part because is a passable distillation of numerous citations of the author found in book reviews, newspaper articles, interviews and scholarly articles and studies. Though it declares something ostensibly matter-of-fact, if we stare at the sentence long enough, the apparent self-evident stability of the terms slowly erodes. For instance, if Peter Ackroyd writes remarkable "postmodernist historical novels" (as Amy Elias, Geoffrey Lord, Malcolm Bradbury and Brian Finney note), is~a noteworthy practitioner of "historiographic metafiction" (as judged by Linda Hutcheon, Susana Onega, Alison Lee and Aleid Fokkema) or is one of the most famous British writers of the "historicised" novel (as Steven Connor states), it is equally clear that terms like "postmodern" and "historical novel" have histories (and hence are subject to both interpretation and temporal change). The histories of these terms reveal critical differences, mutations of form and, to borrow Michel Foucault's (translator's) felicitous words, "haphazard conflicts" (1977 154). So that sample sentence has now suddenly gaped open, become a veritable wound/cavern/orifice (please choose the apt metaphor) that demands illumination. Broken open like a nut, "Peter Ackroyd writes historical novels in a postmodern vein" requires examination, a taxonomy, some elucidation. Any discussion of my hypothetical and distillatory and ostensibly revelatory Ur-sentence, then, necessitates another,..prefatory discussion of the terms which comprise it. If critics in general claim that "Peter Ackroyd writes historical novels in a postmodern vein," it is crucial to comprehend the undeniable history and variety of the words being employed. Overlooking these vital factors can only serve to hamper productive discussion and assure the success of critical approaches in need of closer examination. This project's first section, "The Prefatory and the Introductory; or, The Situation of the Novel(ist), in Consideration of Authorship and the Potted, Contentious Histories of Historical Fiction and (Literary) Postmodernism," might be best understood as a prefatory frame. Unlike the normally brief and introductory preface, however, the admittedly lengthy 7 one here foregrounds, contributes to and informs the discussion that follows. It also reflects my own working through of the complexities of key terms and concepts, and by doing so may prove illuminating or at least memory refreshing for additional readers whose familiarity with the history of historical fiction or of postmodernism I cannot presume. The four chapters subsequent to Part I—which examine the permutations of comedy, significance of pastiche, the modalities of historical-use and nationality-profiling/constructing in the novels of Peter Ackroyd—gain greater resonance only when they are placed in context to the matters raised here and speculated on in advance. These concerns—discussed individually over the following sections—include the troubling, multiplicitous positioning of the author himself, the lively, epoch-spanning history of the historical novel and the contentious and complex history of postmodernism (particularly literary postmodernism). Again, the solid statement, "Peter Ackroyd writes historical novels in a postmodern vein," necessitates a situating of the putatively straightforward words that are its elements. Only then can discussion of the meanings of history in the novels of Peter Ackroyd proceed with the precision that it demands. 1. Portrait of the Artist as Multiplicitous Simultaneity A few savage tribes eat [books], but reading is the only method of assimilation revealed to the West. The reader must sit down alone and struggle with the writer, and this the pseudo-scholar will not do. He would rather relate a book to the history of its time, to events in the life of the author, to the events it describes, above all to some tendency. As soon as he can use the word "tendency" his spirits rise, and though those of his audience may sink they often pull out their pencils at this point and make a note, under the belief that a tendency is portable. E . M . Forster, 1927 (8) No, that morality idea comes from the desire of the literary critic to find moral lessons in literature. That's the great vice which the English and Americans share, the belief that great works of art are available for moral purposes, for elucidation. But I never met anyone who became a better person for reading a n o v e l . . . . But there are many people indoctrinated with this belief that somehow literature is a branch of ethics, or a branch of sociology. A deep fear of pleasure, of course, lies at the heart of the academic study of literature. Whereas all I want to do is give people a bit of pleasure, a bit of slap and tickle. It's true! Peter Ackroyd, 1988 (McGrath 47) What we discern as "history" is, after all, only the sum of various interpretations of the past . . . . The past exists only as an extension of the 8 present, or, rather, as a myth by which we choose to explain the present. If Mrs Thatcher chooses to emphasise the virtues of the Victorian middle class, she is no less "right" or "wrong" than those who wish to emphasise the disadvantages of the Victorian working class. Peter Ackroyd, 1983 (1983b 16) The author mediated Who is Peter Ackroyd? In what way does it matter? There is a direct answer to the first question that, by happy coincidence, points out an answer to the second. Peter Ackroyd is a male born in London, England on October 5, 1949. He grew up in council-flat housing with parents named Graham and Audrey (Whiteside). Graham Ackroyd subsequently deserted the family (Riddell 20), leaving his wife and her mother with the task of raising the son. After attending what he calls "a bad school run by Benedictine monks" (Onega 1996 209), Saint Benedict in Ealing, Ackroyd studied at Cambridge (First-class Honours (English); M . A . (1971)) and Yale (1971-73). His thesis at Cambridge focussed on American literature, specifically James Baldwin, Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison. "The Goldfish Sonata," Ackroyd's debut as a published poet, appeared in the March 1971 issue of The Curiously Strong, a Cambridge poetry journal devoted to experimental work (Onega 1998 1-2). Later that same year, Ouch. Ackroyd's first collection of poems, was gathered in an edition of The Curiously Strong wholly devoted to Ackroyd's verse. Other poetry collections include London Lickpenny (1973) and Country Life (1978); The Diversions of Purley. and Other Poems, published in 1987, combines and retitles poems from the two earlier volumes. Ackroyd received a Mellon Fellowship in 1971 and studied at Yale for two years. There, he wrote Notes for a New Culture: An Essay on Modernism (1976), a cultural history and artistic manifesto. Notes calls for a revivification of English culture and a rejection of a humanism which, Ackroyd claims, "has turned out to be an empty strategy, without philosophical content or definitive form" (147). 9 Following his return to London, Ackroyd worked for several years as a journalist. He was employed in a variety of editorial positions by the Spectator: he acted as literary editor (1973-1977), managing editor (1977-1981) and film critic (until 1986). Since the mid-1980s, Ackroyd has been a principal book reviewer for the London Times. During his tenure as a magazine editor, Ackroyd published Dressing Up: Transvestism and Drag, the History of an Obsession (1979), a historiographic work that investigates cross-dressing, a phenomenon the author deems a "fundamentally inexplicable" behaviour that expresses a "repeated need for inversion and disorder" (10).' While writing Dressing Up. Ackroyd simultaneously carried out research on Ezra Pound, which lead to the publication of the first in a prodigious number of biographies. They include Ezra Pound and His World (1981), T.S. Eliot (1984), Dickens (1990) (distinct from the supplementary work, Introduction to Dickens (1991), and the introductory essays for twenty Dickens titles published by Mandarin), Blake (1995), The Life of Thomas More (1998) and London: The Biography (2000). In 1981, furthermore, Ackroyd began to write a series of well-received and best^selling novels. To date those novels are: The Great Fire of London (1982), The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983), Hawksmoor (1985), Chatterton (1987), First Light (1989), English Music (1992), The House of Doctor Dee (1993), Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (1994; U.S. title: The Trial of Elizabeth Creel. Milton in America (1996) and The Plato Papers (1999). In addition to his Times of London reviews, Ackroyd's regularly writes on books for The New Yorker and The New York Times. Currently at work on a biography of Shakespeare, Ackroyd is also well-attuned to the nuances of public relations; his "voice" is thoroughly dispersed in the media upon the publication of any of his books. In addition to his routine television and print interviews, Ackroyd has recently made news because of the £650,000 publisher Basil Blackwell paid him for his Dickens and Blake biographies and the £1.24 million contract he arranged with 'Curiously, later works like The Plato Papers (1999) and London: The Biography (2000) purge this title altogether from their otherwise thorough listing of Ackroyd's previous publications. 10 Sinclair Stevenson for the eight books that began with The Life of Thomas More, continued with The Plato Papers and which will include biographies of Turner, Defoe and Shakespeare. Even the AIDS-related death of Ackroyd's longtime partner, Brian Kuhn, in 1994 was widely reported in British daily newspapers. Prodigious book publication, noteworthy eccentricity and eyebrow-raising monetary exchanges have, in short, propelled Ackroyd into the kind of literary celebrity possessed by a Martin Amis (or perhaps a Dame Barbara Cartland). What the preceding breathless recitation of astounding facts and figures connotes is that Peter Ackroyd maintains a significant presence in the British literary landscape; that, as his oracular journalist friend Brian Appleyard predicts, he may be "by increasingly common consent.. . likely to be one of the few English writers of his generation who will be read in a hundred years' time" (50). (And/or: "He is also, again by common consent, the funniest man in London, a luncher of genius and a brilliant drinking companion" (50).) So, Ackroyd is a boon companion, sells many books and is paid handsomely for his efforts. His authorship has no little authority. Yet the questions—Who is Peter Ackroyd? In what way does it matter?—have they been answered? One answer states that Peter Ackroyd is a brilliant and prolific writer, a winner of prizes, stupendous contracts and popular praise. The litany of occasionally banal details supplies a familiar, journalistic kind of representation, but leaves much of Ackroyd (and, more specifically, his work) untouched. After all, "brilliant" or "prolific" are virtually useless as critical descriptors despite their impressive sound. Another reply, my own on a given day, might be, "He's an author I enjoy reading." Again, that does not say much. The point this deliberation inevitably leads to is a relativistic truism: as always, much depends on who talks to whom, on whose words one chooses to disregard or accept. As open-ended as it may seem, this 2Appleyard makes an additional, anonymous—yet authoritative—appearance as a blurb on the paperback edition of The House of Doctor Dee: "'Our most exciting and original writer... one of the few English writers of his generation who will be read in a hundred years' time' —Sunday Times." 11 < answer can point out interesting critical turns. Consider the case of Peter Ackroyd's authorship, something that we often take at face value: Ackroyd, common sense tells us, is as he has been earlier described. But of course nothing is so simple. For example, some hold that since we live in an age of cultural pluralism—one marked (as the term suggests) by delirious networks of traditions, complicated strata of behaviour and contradictory modes of perceiving existence—there are only ever provisional answers (to any question, really) based on class position, culture, race, gender, etc. At the risk of advocating an absurd or at least unhelpful solipsism, the meaning of "Ackroyd('s work)" is then unique to each individual. Or else (see #3 in this section): we are implicated in postmodernism, a historical epoch and/or aesthetic style noteworthy for what Paolo Portoghesi (after Jean-Francois Lyotard) eloquently if vaguely calls "the fall of centered systems" (Docherty 1993 311), and hence admire (or deride: where do your ideologies lead you?) someone like Peter Ackroyd for . . . his game-playing, his cheeky subversions, his jouissance. Or else: we—consumers, purchasers of Ackroyd's product—are implicated in postmodernism, a historical epoch and/or aesthetic style marked by what Fredric Jameson famously delineates in apocalyptic colours, "a whole historically original consumers' appetite for a world transformed into sheer images of itself and for pseudo-events and 'spectacles'" (1991 18), and so stare with ovine complacency at a novelist such as Ackroyd and his dazzling legerdemain, his distracting literary pyrotechnics, his elaborate acts of pastiche. Who are we going to believe—and why? If the very nature of "we" alters as much as "Peter Ackroyd," how can "we" even begin to discourse? What might it mean to study a book or an author in such a cultural milieu? Is there a postmodern manner by which to study a 3A fiction, this "we." It is an illusion-making figure, a narratorial convenience. After all, "we" can mean the presumed handful of readers of this sentence or the unimaginable 357 million citizens of North America—never mind the more than six billion human inhabitants of the planet. In Imagined Communities. Benedict Anderson charts a history of consciousness-of-nation nationalism, and states, "[The nation] is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings" (7). 12 postmodern novel, a postmodern scholar whose counterpart is the postmodern author? While I am posing these questions with serious intent, it is not certain I am able or willing to answer them here—the terms are so broad and contentious, they have absorbed the attention of entire conferences (and assured countless careers in scholarship). If I am skirting matters of grand philosophy, there are none the less aspects that interest me. Foremost is the twice-iterated question: who is Peter Ackroyd? Play concerning origins and shell games about authenticity come frequently and easily in the novels and biographies authored by Peter Ackroyd. It is perhaps appropriate, then, that their author-figure "exists" in a hall of mirrors, as a multiplicitous simultaneity, any modality of which may stand in contradiction to another. This sort of ambiguous existence is not news, exactly; it is also a truism to say that individuals express different parts of themselves at different times and to different audiences. And, within the context of literary criticism, it is some three decades since Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes announced4 the end of the tyranny of (the cult of) the Author. And from an altogether different a critical milieu, more than five decades have passed since Wimsatt and Beardsley published their nothing-outside-the-poem manifesto, "The Intentional Fallacy." Some sixty years have passed, too, since E . M . Forster rejected "tendency criticism" in his 1927 Clark "'Writing," Roland Barthes explains in his 1968 essay, "The Death of the Author," "is the destruction of every voice, of every point of view" (142). Under the thumb of positivism, "the epitome of capitalist ideology" (143), however, "The author still reigns in the histories of literature, biographies of writers, interviews, magazines, as in the very consciousness of men of letters anxious to unite their person and their work through diaries and memoirs. The image of literature to be found in ordinary culture is tyrannically centred on the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions, while criticism still consists for the most part in saying that Baudelaire's work is the failure of Baudelaire the man — The explanation of the work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author 'confiding' in us." (143) At the close of his celebrated 1969 essay, "What is an Author?," Michel Foucault remarks that the "author-function" is a historical construct and as such far from immutable. He envisions a future diminution of the current centrality of authorship: "We can easily imagine a culture where discourse would circulate without any need of an author. Discourses, whatever their status, form, or value, and regardless of our manner of handling them, would unfold in a pervasive anonymity." (138) 13 Lecture. Yet despite the undoubted multivalency of Ackroyd, critics and others persist in directly connecting, for example, his public persona—variously: genius, an overdressed camp homosexual, a giggling drunk, a great writer, a bookish antiquarian, "lonely, has no life, is embittered and self-centered" (McGrath 47), and so on—to the putative excessive/inadequate/undeveloped qualities of his literary output. And it is not in journalism alone that this tendency persists. In Peter Ackroyd. the brief and to date singular study of Ackroyd and his oeuvre. Susana Onega often risks contravening the Wimsattian commandment against extracting meaning from the interpreted intention of the author. She in effect returns to Ackroyd's artistic childhood, and draws from it traits which provide a complete deterministic conceptual framework for the interpretation of his later novels. Onega links statements from Notes for a New Culture (a book Ackroyd himself rejected in an interview with Onega in 19965) to his poetic production in the 1970s, and concludes, "As we shall see, Ackroyd goes on to use the same technique in the writing of his novels" (10). The key, as Freud might have said, lies in his childhood. The gross effect of these acts of portrayal of course is to render a singular, easy-to-comprehend Peter Ackroyd. Whether it is Ackroyd-as-alcoholic or Ackroyd-as-evolution-of-technique, the image works as an explanatory paradigm. The paradigm, as such things are wont to do, neatens via categorization—with causal links the corporeal Ackroyd (a wealthy male living in London at this very moment) joins to the act of writing and to the illuminating, informing intelligence inside all the published work. If only things were so simple. Anything longer than a cursory glance, however, reveals Ackroyd's multiplicity. His public self-presentation and representations through media point, to employ Stephen Greenblatt's words in a new context, at identity as "manipulable, artful process" (2). In other words, it would not be remiss to suggest that He explains to Onega, "I wouldn't disown the book, but I would say that my own understanding of things has moved on since I was 20" and "I wouldn't exactly agree with the thesis of my criticism now, because it was written when I was very young" (218). He alludes to "other forces [and] other contexts" (218) that have gained in significance for him, but does not explain further. 14 Ackroyd's self-conscious (or not) performances render the tendency to rely on his corporeal authority or intent or control difficult; this lack of solidity in turn works to further question the supposed direct and untroubled relationship between author and text. To illustrate my point and underscore the core unreliability and/or multiplicity of "Peter Ackroyd," let me survey some of the many guises Ackroyd assumes. As for "mediated," my choice here is intended to convey the notion of "Peter Ackroyd" as intrinsically textual. That is, like our understanding of the historical past, we come to know the figure from what we read about him. Mediated self-presentation (i)—Writer-as-revolutionary Notes for a New Culture (1976), Ackroyd's "extended essay directed against our [i.e., British] declining national culture," aims to cure the "general malaise of English literature and literary studies" (9). In the essay, Ackroyd judges largely continental European artistic "Modernism" (as expressed by Mallarme through to Derrida) as vastly superior to the British tradition of literary realism, empiricism and humanism. Ackroyd claims that with very few exceptions, "England is a dispirited nation" which has "a social weakness that runs very deep" (146). The sole remedy for "the failure of our cultural and intellectual tradition" (146), he contends, is swallowing a large dose of continental Modernism—described by Ackroyd an anti-rational, non-representational aesthetic—that will aid the recuperation of the sickly tradition deeply rooted in English culture. Mediated self-presentation (ii)—Novelist-as-(fraudulent)-historian In each of his many interviews Ackroyd describes his writerly purpose as centred upon history. The nature of his overall schema regarding history varies from an epic and apparently megalomaniacal investigation of English History to a moderately scoped re-creation of a discrete historical moment. In 1992, Ackroyd described his project's modus operandi to John Walsh (1992) with unusual grandiosity: "In the back of my mind on a good day is the thought that I'd love to be able to reinterpret the whole of English culture from the beginning to the end. Sometimes, I set out the areas I haven't covered yet—the 15 Dark Ages, for instance" (5). More typically, as a novelist whose books observe the English past, Ackroyd has been certain to assert the image of himself as an assiduous student of archeology. In early interviews, he always described his painstaking research. "I wanted to assimilate the voice of the time, to train myself so I could write in that style without self-consciousness"(3), he told Elizabeth Kolbert in 1986. Talking to Walter Ross in 1987 he explained, "The whole point of the exercise in reconstructing the past was to give it immediacy, so I read everything I could from that period with the aim in mind of writing the language as easily as I could write ordinary twentieth-century English. It did take quite a lot of preparation" (3). The salient characteristics of Ackroyd's self-portrait—meticulous research and the perfect translatability of historical consciousness leading to faultless ventriloquism—lend themselves freely to a reading of the author as a highly ethical practitioner of the art of literary historical reproduction. At the same time, Ackroyd has presented himself as a cavalier pasticheur, a writer who plays fast and furious with the hallmarks of historiography and the historical novelist's vaunted aims of authenticity and verisimilitude. Revealing the genesis of Hawksmoor to Patrick McGrath, Ackroyd described his novel as "a patchwork of other people's voices as well as my o w n . . . . an echo from about 300 different books" (44). His self-described "process of assimilation" was both frantic and haphazard: The major book was Johnson's dictionary—that was invaluable.. . whenever I had to write a sentence about, say, someone looking out of the window, then I'd look up 'window' in Johnson, and there'd be all sorts of definitions, and phrases with the word in it, and these I also co-opted for the book. So it was a continual process of assimilation, all the way through. I've never admitted this before—I always went along with the tacit assumption that I'd made it all up. In fact I hadn't. But there's nothing wrong with that—it's like montage, similar process . . . . I enjoy stealing things if I can. (45) Walking with Matthew d'Ancona (1993) in Clerkenwell, London after the publication of The House of Doctor Dee. Ackroyd said, "[Dee's] house would have been here. But of course I made it all up" (2). Mediated self-presentation (iii)—Writer-as-provocateur/trickster/liar 16 ..."I thought the idea of being a writer was to make things up. I just made it up. She had such a nice laugh, I couldn't resist" (4), Ackroyd told Mark Lawson in 1995. He was referring to a previous interview in which he had informed a journalist that he spent one hundred pounds on each of his weekly visits to the circus. The journalist subsequently passed the information off as a revealing vignette—psychologically illustrative of the aftermath Ackroyd's traumatic childhood. This puckishness extends further than interview high jinks. When pressed by McGrath to clarify his intent in Hawksmoor, Ackroyd exclaimed, "I don't know what I'm doing. I don't think I'm aspiring to do anything actually. (Laughter) I'm not!" (45). In a lengthy interview with Susana Onega, Ackroyd narrated the origin of the fictional interludes in his biography of Dickens: "I just got tired of writing a straightforward biography, and I wanted to make it more fun, for me as well as the reader" (213). A moment later (in interview time) he replied "Oh, yes, all the time" to Onega's oddly-phrased query about Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. "Do you sometimes use historical facts that are not true?"— Yes, O.K. I don't know why I do these things. I think it is possibly because I have such a loose hold on the truth. I mean, continuously we are inventing ourselves as a person, so that I don't find any real sacrosanct quality about so-called facts and so-called truths. I mean, that's probably rather wicked of me or impious of me to do that. But as far as I'm concerned, everything is available for recreation or manipulation. (214) Eight years earlier, he had described his biographical work on T.S. Eliot in a similar vein: This is another thing about biography, how cruelly deceived most readers of biography are—because on the whole, the most important things are made up by the biographer. They have to be. You have to link things up, and you have to find your own little ways to do this, and you create a character who bears no living relation to any living person that ever was, and the poor reader of the biographer reads it and thinks, well, this must be right. But it never is. (McGrath 46) Mediated self-presentation (iv)—Writer-as-English-mystic From even his earliest interviews, Ackroyd assured his audience that he was by no means an ordinary historical novelist guilty of what Henry James deemed "fatal cheapness" (332). For example, he told Walter Ross in 1987 that, "I'm not so much interested in 17 writing costume dramas or anything of that kind; I'm much more interested in playing around with the idea of time" (3). The exploration of time and history, in interviews and novels alike, has led Ackroyd to a what he calls "territorial imperatives" (Lawson 4), a kind of transhistorical "place" that for him contains the quintessence of Englishness. He said so to Rhoda Koenig in 1994 ("I believe in the pattern of circumstances forming a medium around us, so you move through it like water" (45)), and much the same to Brian Appleyard nine years earlier: "We can live only in the present, but the past is absorbed within the present so that all previous moments exist concurrently in every present moment" (52). For John Walsh (1992), Ackroyd utilized Rupert Sheldrake's notion of "morphic fields or morphic resonance," that is, "the ability of a race or a species to create a field round [sic] them in which the past and the present co-react" (5).6 For Ackroyd, the "race field" is a source of creativity. For Mary Riddell, Ackroyd explained his "vision," "When I realised I was inextricably linked with something, with London, subjects emerged as if by magic" (20). Mediated self-presentation (v)—Writer-as-conservative/non-postmodernist True to his spirit of self-contradiction, Ackroyd has significantly revised an earlier position regarding tradition and the utter necessity in England for continental European philosophy. Already during McGrath's 1988 interview Ackroyd had distanced himself from the influence of writers associated with postmodernism. "You mean Derrida and so on? . . . I haven't looked at them since [writing Notes for a New Culture]" (44).7 McGrath replies, "Hasn't it all stayed with you, though?" and Ackroyd confirms his lack of interest: "No it hasn't, no" (44). To Susana Onega's 1996 question, "Would you describe your work as postmodernist?" posed nearly a decade after those of McGrath, Ackroyd replies, Ackroyd discusses this notion of history and spirit in almost every interview he gives. See also: Billen (1992); d'Ancona (1993); Kolbert (1986); Lawson (1995); Riddell (1996). Ackroyd's statements of forgetfulness are remarkable. He told McGrath (1988) that after his Eliot biography, "I completely forgot about Eliot as soon as I'd written that biography. Haven't thought about him since" (45). Earlier, he claims that he never read fiction. When an interviewer reminded him he had written a thesis on the fiction of James Baldwin, he claimed to have forgotten. 18 "No, it's English. It's a completely different thing . . . . As far as I'm concerned, it's just part of the inheritance that goes back as far as a thousand years. It's nothing really to do with postmodernism" (217-18). Ackroyd's utterances are of course only part of the manufactured output of mediated Ackroyds. Additional versions are regularly produced by journalists assigned to "profile" Ackroyd and academy-based critics eager to assign his place in the literary pantheon. For example— Mediated identity (i)—Ackroyd-as-enigma Brian Appleyard (1985), a longtime friend of Ackroyd, described the complex personality of the author as innately mysterious: "the truth is it would be easier to drive a nail into a cloud than to define Ackroyd. He has made a profession put of evasion, camp denials and sudden changes of perspective" (50). Appleyard adds that in Ackroyd there is "a certain refusal to be caught in any definition, however seriously intended . . . . He has constructed exactly who he wants to be and how he wants to live" (50). (To support his claim, Appleyard relates Ackroyd's own statement that, "Each one [of my books] has recognizable elements of me, the campness, the sententiousness, the skills of language I learned as a child. Each one represents a kind of theoretical self, raised instead of oneself, which is why I am always reluctant to appear as myself (50)). Media identity (ii)—Ackroyd-as-contradictory-mess/fraud Riddell's 1996 profile of Ackroyd refers to rumours of the author as a "louche, hard-drinking figure, sprawled on sofas at literary parties loudly propositioning men, generally heterosexual, who caught his wandering eye" (19). Julia Llewellyn Smith reported in 1994 about Ackroyd's "constant contradictions," and noted "[t]he discipline of work, mixed with large quantities of drink are, he says, what keep him going" (16). In a hostile and lengthy Sunday Times profile, Rhoda Koenig openly wonders about 8Koenig is matter of fact about her dislike: "[Ackroyd's] reputation has also, no doubt, been helped by the number of literary journalists who find him delightful company, affable and bubbly, though little of these qualities is manifested to this interviewer" (45). 19 Ackroyd's talent, all the while tying his behaviour during the interview to the "increasingly hostile" (45) reviews his books have received. She ultimately compares his fiction unfavourably with that of Dickens: In Ackroyd's fiction, however, we are just joining the dots: without the warmth of full-blooded characters, all the meticulous set-dressing and literary name-dropping fails to keep the circular time vision from devolving into a kind of down-market occultism, a bookworm's version of I-am-you-and-you-are-me-and-we-are-all-together. (51) Koenig repeatedly connects the "lack of humanity" and coldness (51) she evidently detects in Ackroyd's novels to his alcohol-induced quirks and general excesses of personality. Media identity (iii)—Ackroyd-as-postmodernist Without explicitly defining their terms, many journalists place Ackroyd in the company of such "British postmodernists" as Julian Barnes, Jeanette Winterson and Martin Amis. What that seems to signify is that Ackroyd's work displays a degree of self-consciousness and formal experimentalism absent in more conventional realist fiction. In scholarly studies delineating the forms of postmodern fiction, moreover, Ackroyd's name is ubiquitous. Aleid Fokkema includes Ackroyd's Hawksmoor in his investigation of ten "'canonical' postmodern texts" (15), as does Alison Lee (who, as a former student of Linda Hutcheon, refers to the novel as "a postmodern historiographic metafiction" (1990 68)). In his encyclopaedic The Modern British Novel. Malcolm Bradbury sees the "'Victorian' conventions of narrative and literary morality, authorship and readership" as orthodoxies that "the postmodern writer must unpick" (4). Core members of this dismantling elite include Ackroyd along with such a disparate selection of authors as Margaret Drabble, David Lodge, Marina Warner and Graham Swift. Essays9 by Elias, Onega, de Lange and Fokkema in British Postmodern Fiction (1993) place Ackroyd's novelistic production centrally in postmodern discourse; Linda Hutcheon likewise sees a The preceding is a partial list. See also Connor (1994), Elias (1995), Finney (1992), Herman (1990), Hotho-Jackson (1992), Peck (1994) and Schnackertz (1994). 20 "postmodernist detective novel" (1988 156) like Hawksmoor as employing characteristic destabilizing techniques. (See #3 for additional comments and considerations.) 2. Politics and Historical Fiction: Unearthing the Past with Fictions Certain historians, sometimes whole generations of historians, find in certain periods of history nothing intelligible, and call them dark ages; but such phrases tell us nothing about those ages themselves, though they tell us a great deal about the persons who use them. R.G. Collingwood, 1956 (Holton 19) Often of course I must have done through ignorance what would horrify me if I could revisit the past. . . but one can at least desire the truth; and it is inconceivable to me how anyone can decide deliberately to betray it. Mary Renault, 1969 (McEwan 19) Despite the prevalence of Kitsch historical novels—the kind which become spectacular movies in the Cecil B. DeMille style—the state of the art of historical fiction is still high. Fleishman, 1971 (xvii) The "historic" novel is, for me, condemned, even in cases of labour as delicate as yours [Sarah Orne Jewett], to a fatal cheapness, for the simple reason that the difficulty of the job is inordinate and that a mere escamotage. in the interest of ease, and of the abysmal public naivete becomes inevitable . . . . The childish tricks that take the place of any such conception of the real job in the flood of Tales of the Past that seems of late to have been rolling over our devoted country—these ineptitudes have, on a few recent glances, struck me a creditable to no one concerned. Henry James, 1901 (332) (i) The historical novel: past As a site of inquiry, "the historical novel" has no less a complicated story than "Peter Ackroyd." It too has been subject to politicized interpretation and historical vicissitude: to say that "Peter Ackroyd writes historical novels" is to invoke nearly two centuries of a changing tradition—a tradition which poses questions about the very nature of historical knowledge as well as readers' relations to it. Despite the acute issues the historical novel genre raises, its origins as literature are modest. If the historical novel can be said to hold any pedigree, it is one tied to popularity and an impressive sales volume rather than one stemming from highly regarded perfection of form. There is no doubting that since the genre's rise in the early nineteenth century the prodigious literary genre has 21 been best-selling. Yet it has also been deemed by many as intrinsically corrupt. Condemnation began early—the Italian critic Zajotti called the genre "an immoral, irrational, hybrid form" (Manzoni 30) as early as 182011—and has persisted up to and 12 including the present day. Historical fiction has been judged a con, cheap, a mode of kitsch, dishonest, an embellishment, a betrayer of literary ideals and mere popular escapist entertainment. Even fictional protagonists know it: Joan Foster, the narrator of Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle (1976) and a guilty secret author of Costume Gothics herself, explains: Those books, with their covers featuring gloomy, foreboding castles and apprehensive maidens in modified nightgowns, hair streaming in the wind, eyes bulging like those of a goiter victim, toes poised for flight, would be considered [by her husband, a professor of philosophy] trash of the lowest order. (30) "'When he was writing in the late 1950s Lion Feuchtwanger calculated "more than 100,000 historical novels in verse and prose have been published in the past 150 years" (21). "Zajotti's contemporary in France, Stendhal, noted that "a thousand shadows are being spread over history proper" by the historical novel. And Stendhal believed the situation required an authoritarian remedy: "I believe that in the end, the authorities will be constrained to order these new novelists to choose: either to write pure histories or pure novels, or, at least, to use crochet hooks to separate one from the other, the truth from the falsity" (Manzoni 68). 12ln "The Renanimators: On the Art of Literary Graverobbing," a 1999 Harper's Magazine article discussing American novelists from DeLillo to Doctorow, Jonathan Dee complains that fiction featuring figures from history has become a "veritable epidemic in the last twenty-five years or so" (77). Interestingly, the terms of Dee's discussion—"invention," "real life" and the "taboo" that works to maintain the distance between the two—are no great ideological distance from those employed by Zajotti or Stendhal. From a reverse position, in "Truth or Fiction? Rewriting the Past," Guy Vanderhaegh describes the difficulties he faced in writing his historical novel, The Englishman's Boy. Though Vanderhaegh considers historical fiction "an idiosyncratic way of contemplating history and its possible meanings" (B11), he was nevertheless troubled by this mixing of "truth" and "invention": "Conscientious historians would not do as I did, amend or doctor the evidence. Perhaps they might comment on its probable validity, but that is not possible in a novel. So as a writer of fiction qualified by an adjective—the historical novel—I continually confronted the problem: To what do I owe my allegiance? Do I serve history, or the artistic imperatives of fiction? In the end, when I faced a conflict, I answered what I perceived to be the needs of my novel, agreeing with Mark Twain who said, "First get your facts. Then do what them what you will" (B11). Roger G. Seamon's 1983 article, "Narrative Practice and the Theoretical Distinction between History and Fiction" provides a welcome (historicized) comment on the stark distinctions between serving history and artistic imperatives that Vanderheagh invokes. 22 The principal cause of complaint is seemingly ontological, and one whose roots stretch far into antiquity. In Zajotti's aforementioned dismissal, for example, it is not difficult to hear echoes of Plato's famous expulsion of poets from his Republic. Critics allege the historical novel represents a kind of miscegenation of genre or species: since these critics regard invention and history as having distinct properties and purposes, the intermingling of those discrete qualities can result only in monstrous offspring. A genre seen to be "combining novel and history, false and true" (Manzoni 30), the historical novel is then classified as at least obfuscatory, a kind of "dangerous supplement," as Jacques Derrida might suggest.13 A historical novel (Falsity) poses as a representation of history (Truth and/or an "explanatory paradigm" (Foley 1986 13): a duty-bound discourse whose purity of form and purpose is rarely questioned14), even though it is layered with invention, and so confounds ostensibly distinct and purposeful categories. More to the point, critics charge the historical novel sullies the sanctity of the historical record; with manifold deceptions, ploys and evasions, these opponents of the genre argue it works to dismantle a science-based, carefully archeologic historiography.15 With a woeful inadvertence, this fanciful 'Though Derrida is discussing speech and writing, it is provocative to substitute the terms, "history" for "speech" and "fiction" for "writing": "But the supplement supplements. It adds only to replace. It intervenes or insinuates itself in-the-place-of: if it fills, it is as if one fills a void. If it represents and makes an image, it is by the anterior default of a presence. Compensatory fsuppleantl and vicarious, the supplement is an adjunct, a subaltern instance which takes-(the)-place rtient-lieul. As a substitute, it is not simply added to the positivity of a presence, it produces no relief, its place is assigned in the structure by the mark of an emptiness" (145). l4By these authors, at any rate. Lion Feuchtwanger provides two unusual but pointed remarks in his study of historical novels. From Schopenhauer: "Clio, the muse of history, is as thoroughly infected with lies as a street whore with syphilis." Countess Liselotte, former courtesan at the court of Louis XIV, responded to a biography of the Sun King as follows, Feuchtwanger reports: "If such lies can be told about what we ourselves have experienced, what are we to believe about events which have been reported from the remote past? I am convinced that all history books with the exception of the Holy Scripture are as full of lies as a second-rate novel. The only difference is that the novels are more entertaining" (16). 'In "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" Michel Foucault presents via Nietzsche a challenge to the traditional historiographic enterprise which, he says, "assumes the existence of immobile forms that precede the external world of accident and succession" (142). In place of "the site of truth" (143) and "unbroken continuity" (146), Foucault serves "the ancient proliferation of errors" (143): "What is found at the historical beginning of things 23 supplementing of historical verities alludes to the very textuality of the written record itself—a chronicle whose own undeniable textuality and narrative conventions are never the less traditionally overlooked or suppressed. Since, critics reason, history tells us who we are, a story of fragments, a chronicle of half-truths or a palimpsestic record can only hinder our gaining of self-knowledge. Impure, a mongrel, a contaminant—falsified history on the one hand and fiction that uses history as an elaborate, decorative crutch on the other—the historical novel has intrinsic qualities that deem it ultimately satisfactory in no manner. At best, it is disposable "trash" entertainment. As Dee's "veritable epidemic" (77), the historical novel poses a threat, blurring the privileged branch of knowledge through which we may-eome to understand our historicized selves. The historical novel has been caught in this critical bind from its popular onset. Alessandro Manzoni's 1850 book-length essay, On the Historical Novel is an early, well-argued, influential and still persuasive example of the historical-fiction-as-false-idol position. It was written while the historical novel was reaching its first height of popularity in Europe and after the publication of Manzoni's own famous historical novel, I promessi sposi (1825-42). On the Historical Novel initially concedes the hypothetical worth of historical fiction, but ultimately repudiates the genre because in practice its compound nature is contradictory. Manzoni surrounds his epigrammatic conclusion—"A great poet and a great historian may be found in the same man without creating confusion, but not in the same work" (126)—with argumentation that lionizes history writing and literature (so long as each knows its proper place). Marking his literary predecessors as Aristotle's Poetics and the Ars Poetica of Horace, Manzoni bases his rejection on quasi-moral grounds. Since he believes positivistic historiography can lead to emancipatory knowledge, then the sly inventions of historical fiction can only confuse or hamper the right-minded is not the inviolable identity of [human] origin; it is the dissension of other things. It is disparity" (142). He adds further in the essay: "We want historians to confirm our belief that the present rests upon profound intentions and immutable necessities. But the true historical sense confirms our existence among countless lost events, without a landmark or a point of reference" (155). 24 historiographer's effort. Though Manzoni admits, "History, it is true, does not lack its tall tales, even its lies," he notes further, "But these are the historians' fault and are not endemic to the genre" (73). His faith, in short, resides in a reasonable, scientific historiography, one that clearly distinguishes between the inventions of fiction and the extractedTacts of historical study. Manzoni envisions history as the "orderly and systematic account" of human events, a cognitive map built by scrupulous historians from available evidence: History acts almost like someone who, when drawing a city map, adds in distinctive color the streets, plazas, and buildings planned for the future and who, while distinguishing the potential from the actual, lets us see the logic of the whole. History, at such moments, I would say, abandons narrative, but only to produce a better narrative. (75) Manzoni acknowledges that historical reconstruction may be a kind of narrative. Yet more significant for Manzoni, however, is that such reconstruction occurs with an eye on scientific principles and another on univocal Truth. On the other hand, the historical novel has fewer scruples, being "a species of a false genre which includes all compositions that try to mix history and invention" (81). In such a false genre fancy and objective fact are married, and the joining has unnatural consequences. Manzoni suggests that if history makes the reader doubt it is "because it intends to have you doubt"; and that is quite unlike the historical novel, "which encourages you to believe while at the same time removing what is necessary to sustain belief (74). History's philosophical doubt "brings the mind to rest" while the doubt provoked by the historical novel produces merely "disquieting" (74) states of mind. Other scholars of the historical novel seem temperate (or perhaps indifferent) when placed next to Manzoni's disdain or the Babel-is-imminent panic of Zajotti or Stendhal. In the twentieth century a number of studies bypass the ethical question underlying the assessment of the historical novel or collapse it with near tautological reasoning: for them, a "good" example of the novel is one which well captures the spirit of the times under observation. The underlying guideline relates to the fiction's high probability of 25 accuracy—if the representation does not wander too far from the known facts of history, then it is a success. Studies of the genre are always wary, however, admiring the genre's "good" aspects while warning how quickly a novel can descend into dishonesty and irresponsible decadence. In his 1924 essay, The Historical Novel, an apologetic Herbert Butterfield views the historical novel 1 6 "as a work of resurrection, a form of 'history,' a way of treating the past" (Preface), which, like "legends, the traditions of localities [and] popular ballads" (3), acts as a kind of substrate of historical consciousness, contributing to a generalized sense of the past. For Butterfield the historical novel aims "to make History speak for herself (31); it is "one of many ways of treating the past and of wresting from it its secrets" (112). A historical novel can never substitute for the proper study of history, though it-might serve well as a provider of an ethereal "something"— The novel does not replace the history-book; it is a splendid thing if it drives us to the history-book, if it provides us with something—some sort of texture—in which the facts of the history-book, when we come to them, can find context and a lively significance and a field that gives them play. (95) Like Butterfield, Helen Cam's survey pamphlet, Historical Novels (1963), finds in 17 historical fiction an instructive function that runs alongside its entertainment and "escape" elements. Cam imagines that such novels can "give the young a taste for history" (5) and "awaken the incurious, especially the young, to interest in the past" (19): "They can be for some, if not all, students of history a stimulus to the imagination and critical faculties and an education in human sympathies" (3). Along with Butterfield, too, Cam views historical novels as legitimate contributions to "historical understanding" (14). For Cam the historical novel—aj'form of literature ancillary to the study of history" (8)—is a complement and a "Butterfield eschews defining the genre (it "claims to be true to the life of the past" (3)), and instead presents an ill-defined novel-as-prosthetic theory: "Whatever connection the historical novel may have with the history that men write and build up out of their conscious studies, or with History, the past as it really happened, the thing that is the subject of study and research, it certainly has something to do with that world, that mental picture which each of us makes of the past; it helps our imagination to build up its ideas of the past" (Preface). 'In her pamphlet Cam is not troubled by matters of definition. According to her, historical novels are those "which aim deliberately at re-creating the past" (3). 26 supplement, providing of course that the author has expressed the "proper respect for history" (8): The historical novelist has resources, as we have seen, from which the scientific historian is debarred. He may fill in the lamentable hiatuses with his own inventions. But he must keep the rules. His inventions must be compatible with the temper of the age—its morals and its psychology no less than its material conditions—and they must not be incompatible with the established facts of history. The novel that can do all this is a good historical novel. (19) Whereas Manzoni considers "invention" antithetical to true, single perspective historical understanding, Cam utilizes the historical novel as something close enough to history to serve "good" purpose; when well-wrought it admirably fulfills literature's educative function. The historical novel genre receives a politically-inclined treatment in a pair of influential works, Avrom Fleishman's The English Historical Novel (1971) and Georg Lukacs' The Historical Novel (1937; trans. 1962). Both studies are concerned with outlining the genesis of the historical fiction genre as well as theorizing about its ideological premises and assessing its ultimate value. Moreover, each is typologic18 (what it is) '"Scholars writing after Lukacs and Fleishman (and who are not wholly satisfied with their predecessors' criteria or methodology) attempt more structured definitions of the historical novel. In "The Kinds of Historical Fiction" (1979) Joseph Turner writes, "Aside from the tautology of common sense (all historical novels are novels about history), in short, all we can say in general about the genre is that it resists generalization" (335). Generalization he regards as critical folly—"Finally, and perhaps most importantly, because the very diversity of the genre frustrates our rage to generalize, and condemns our results—should we persist—to triviality: for there are at least three distinct kinds of historical novels (those that invent a past, those that disguise a documented past, and those that re-create a documented past), and therefore no single description can blanket all three without losing most of its significance" (335). Harry Shaw's The Forms of Historical Fiction (1983) provides an excellent survey of the problem of constructing a typology of historical fiction forms. He accepts the "intuitive" notion that "historical novels are works that in some ways represent historical milieux" (20), and later extends that intuition into an axiom: "Historical novels, then, are works in which historical probability reaches a certain level of structural prominence" (22). (By "probability" Shaw means, "our sense of a novel's 'fit,' both the way it fits the world it imitates and the way its parts fit together to produce a unified whole" (21)). Shaw admits that though his definition may seem "impotent and lame," it leaves open the possibility that "history may mean different things in different works" (22)—something he believes is missing from previous scholarship typing historical fiction. 27 prescriptive (what it should be) and apologetic (why its highest achievements are worthwhile). And though each author writes from markedly different political vantage points, the two share with Butterfield and Cam the opinion that historical fiction performs an important cultural function by teaching in an easily assimilated manner the fact of history and the weight of history on individuals and their cultures. Significantly, the two take as unquestioned the straightforward pedagogic function for literature; it is axiomatic to them that quality literature leads to quality thought and therefore to an enlightened readership. For them, what is particular to and special about historical fiction is that its ancillary history lesson makes clear the central role of the past in every reader's life. While in The English Historical Novel. Fleishman links the popular genre to such troublesome tendencies as nationalist "self-intoxication," "rhetorical didacticism" and "inordinate sentiment" (ix), he notes too that not all novels are kitsch to the degree of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (1936). Fleishman contends that the "greater achievements" (14) of the historical novel genre exhibit qualities that make them worthy of readerly (and scholarly) attention. Presenting an overview of the genre, Fleishman states that in order to qualify as "historical" commentators have in general agreed that a novel conventionally takes place forty to sixty years in the past, should include a "number of 'historical' events" and must feature a '"real"' historical personage (3). More than being a In History and the Contemporary Novel (1989) David Cowart arrives at four rubrics under which to discuss historical fiction. They are: "(1) The Way It Was—fictions whose authors aspire purely or largely to historical verisimilitude. (2) The Way It Will Be—fictions whose authors reverse history to contemplate the future. (3) The Turning Point—fictions whose authors seek to pinpoint the precise historical moment when the modern age or some prominent feature of it came into existence. (4) The Distant Mirror—fictions whose authors project the future into the past" (8-9). At the conclusion of his introduction Cowart touches on an "apocalyptic tinge" (29) seen in contemporary "historical fiction in an age of anxiety," which may or may not become an addition rubric for some later discussion. Finally, Murray Baumgarten adds lively philosophical provocation in "The Historical Novel: Some Postulates" (1975). Rather than saying what a historical is, he speculates about what issues the genre raises and what a critical response to it should entail. 28 simple set of techniques, the historical novel must also approach the matter of historical consciousness. Fleishman notes— [The historical novel] is an imaginative portrayal of history, that is, of past states of affair affecting human experience. The historical novelist provokes or conveys, by imaginative sympathy, the sentiment de 1'existence. the feeling of how it was to live in another age. To do this he must describe and interpret—more or less accurately—the states of affairs that called forth responses of the kind he wishes to portray (4) Historical fiction is valuable, Fleishman argues, because it asserts the material fact of history and thereby prompts thoughts regarding both the nature and centrality of the past. And though he concedes—anticipating work, such as Hay den White's seminal Metahistory (1973), which emphasizes the emplotted, narrative-like nature of historiography—that even though "the nature of the historical fact is problematic,"19 historical fiction can none the less provide (enlightening, entertaining) access to a past closed off from direct experience. Fleishman suggests alongside Cam that historical fiction has access to truths hidden from the historian, who can only ever rely on informed readings of material evidence: We might compare the historical novelist to the restorer of a damaged tapestry, who weaves in whole scenes or figures to fill the empty place which a more austere curator might leave bare. But if the insertion is made on the basis of sympathy, experience, and esthetic propriety, it can lend revived 20 expressiveness and coherence to the tapestry. (6-7) The key terms for Fleishman are "sympathy, experience, and esthetic propriety." Fleishman's high quality historical novelist is more akin to Freud's cautious archeologist (Gay 175-77), who through careful observation is able to enact a seamless "reconstruction of the scene" (185) in order to recover the original artifact (in his case a psyche), than Foucault's genealogist, whose patient documentation leads nowhere close to a singular and coherent originary moment (1977 139-154). The "accuracy" and "sympathy" of 19Unlike White, however, Fleishman expresses no particular concern with the fact-ness of history or the possible problem presented by the narrative nature of historiography. Neither places him in a philosophical quandary. 2"Cam's metaphor is that of a artist who paints realistic portraits (9) and colours in the gaps when the sitter is absent. 29 Fleishman's ideal historical novelists work to bring history alive for the reader. In doing so, they elucidate and educate, recovering the past and effecting heightened consciousness. Fleishman contends too that what "makes a historical novel historical is the active presence of a concept of history as a shaping force—acting not only upon the characters in the novel but on the author and the readers outside it" (15). He refers approvingly to "one of the finest of current historical novelists," Mary Renault, whose three philosophical principles supplement Fleishman's blueprint: historical novelists accept (a) truth in a novel as in correspondence with historical fact, (b) novelistic truth as speaking to the universals of human nature, and (c) historical novels enable liberation from provincialism (xii-xiii). While such terms as "truth" "universal" and even "fact" were becoming increasingly difficult to utilize unexamined when Fleishman published his book in 1971, he nevertheless adheres to a general model of literature as pedagogical, a vehicle of moral improvement: through an accurate representation of past events the historical novelist illustrates the weight of history as well as elucidates history's significance for the present day. Fleishman summarizes, "These principles of realist responsibility, universality of vision, and imaginative sympathy with the men of the past are those that make historical fiction a continuing and an estimable tradition in English and other literature" (xiii). Akin to an influential critical work like F.R. Leavis's The Great Tradition (1948), Fleishman's study views literature as a privileged transmitter of culture; with its historicist bent, this species of fiction teaches of the centrality of the past even as the culture reading about it progresses rapidly into the future. If Fleishman's evocation of historical fiction's underlying ideology conforms closely to a liberal humanism not far from that of Matthew Arnold—that its lessons for readers centre on communality, universality, and cultural progress and continuity—then Georg Lukacs' The Historical Novel expediently places the genre into the realm of direct political action. Lukacs begins by outlining what he sees as the true ("classical") principles of the genre, ones that will detach the novel completely from "remnants of the harmful and 30 not entirely vanquished legacy of bourgeois decadence" (17), and argues that historical fiction is a kind of realism, one that arose from a particular historical event (the French Revolution) and which was intertwined with the rise of nationalism, individualism and historicism. Lukacs further highlights the genre's role in instructing readers. The "true" historical novel—distinct from mere costumery or decadent escapism—is an enabling art form: it allows "men to comprehend their own existence as something historically conditioned, for them to see in history something which deeply affects their daily lives and immediately concerns them" (24). His exemplar, the "honest, keenly observant" (32) Walter Scott, published fiction which "endeavors to portray the struggles and antagonisms of history by means of characters who, in their psychology and destiny, always represent social trends and historical forces" (34). Lukacs elaborates— Scott's greatness lies in his capacity to give living human embodiment to historical-social types. The typically human terms in which great historical trends become tangible had never before been so superbly, straightforwardly and pregnantly portrayed. And above all, never before had this kind of portrayal been consciously set at the centre of the representation of reality. (35) Leading figures in Scott, then, "generalize and concentrate" (39) historical-social realities and by doing so highlight Marxist touchstones like class struggle and the determining influence of history.21 Marked by what Fleishman calls "Marxist progressivism" (49), Lukacs nevertheless shares with Fleishman the belief in the pedagogic and transformative power of literature. The arguments of both critics implicate a standard (or generic) reader who will learn history's clearly articulated lessons; an incommensurable history has no part in their hermeneutic project. Fleishman, concluding his study with a brief discussion of Woolf s Between the Acts (1941), remarks that the only authors "worth building hopes on" (257) after Woolf are Mary Renault and William Golding. For Lukacs, the historical novel circa 1937 remains under the reign of a democratic humanism and so is little other than "a 2 1For contemporary responses to Fleishman and Lukacs see Elisabeth Wesseling's Writing History as a Prophet (27-66) and Harry E. Shaw's The Forms of Historical Fiction (19-50). 31 decadent play with forms—the conscious violation of history" (251). His classical historical novelists (Scott, Manzoni, Pushkin, Tolstoy) stand unchallenged since only they "were able to grasp and portray popular life in a more profound, authentic, human and concretely historical fashion than even the most outstanding writers of our day" (333). Because of cultural conditions that preclude a revival of the classical historical novel (349), Lukacs awaits an emergent tradition that will not only eclipse the dominant decadent novel of history but approximate classical form while speaking of and to contemporary concerns, (ii) The Historical Novel: Present Societies have to reproduce themselves culturally as well as materially, and this is done in great part by putting into circulation stories of how the world goes . . . . It is through such stories that ideologies are reinforced—and contested, for subordinate groups struggle to make space for themselves, and attempts to legitimate the prevailing order have to negotiate resistant experience and traditions. Alan Sinfield, 1989 (2) In post-war art, however, the past in its three major manifestations of memory, tradition, and history, has reasserted itself, demanding attention, allegiance, and even homage from the present. By 1950, Western culture had begun to question seriously its break from the past, especially since the pastless present has given the world concentration camps, totalitarian governments, cold war, atomic bombs, and industrial pollution. David Higdon, 1984 (6) (a) The Post-War Novel For all their cataloguing capabilities, Fleishman and Lukacs appear not to have anticipated (and certainly do not address) their century's innovation in the (historical) novel form—a change that would seem to challenge their very comfort with the unassailed durability of history-writing, the knowability of the past and the conventionally educative role of literature. Concomitant with the emergence of this new form as well was a critical position more self-consciously politicized than seen in championing critics such as Butterfield, Cam and Fleishman. Whereas in 1924 Butterfield marvelled at the historical novel because for him it possessed the ability to give people "the consciousness that the world is an old world that can tell many stories of lost years" (96), several decades later the 32 cultural materialist Alan Sinfield observed that competing and divergent stories about how the world goes circulate freely. What is notably different about the two perspectives on "stories" is ideology. Whereas Butterfield imagines a wondrous tumult of narratives relating an alluring world of manifold mysteries, Sinfield ascribes ideological force to stories. For Sinfield some stories have greater significance than others, and come to reign largely unfettered because they are naturalized to the point of becoming self-evident truths. As a cultural critic he is interested in seeking out and unearthing alternate stories, ones that can offer other truths and lead to a transformation of culture itself. There is a large cluster of stories that centres on the progress of the English language novel after 1945. The stories are not entirely consistent, though any consensus would suggest that a not inconsequential permutation in the novel's contour has emerged during the past several decades. Yet what that change signifies is another story. For instance, within this narrative cluster it is not difficult to discover a story of rebellion, one that details the death of an austere and overbearing modernism or the death of a conservative nineteenth-century style realism. Nor is it a challenge to find a tale of radical transformation, one that emphasizes the novel's return to long-forgotten historical themes or the novel's veering toward subversive literary experiment. A number of critics utilize another kind of story, one describing "organic" growth, decline and revitalization. Patrick Swinden is characteristic of this approach, arguing that British novels of the 1940s and 1950s were part of a "a tradition . . . [that] seemed doomed to extinction," in part because 23 they had become infused with "imaginative anaemia and provincialism" (1). He views 22Sinfield argues that literary texts—just one aspect of cultural production—contribute to the contest over signs and meanings, but that they are "not necessarily conservative or radical": "The apparatus of literature has been made by people, and we can remake it..." (36). The "we" he speaks of are Interested in the emancipation of suppressed voices and identities. "Compare: Bergonzi (1970); Lodge (1971); Bradbury (1979); Stevenson (1986). While he avoids the conceptual vagueness of Swinden's organic metaphor, Steven Connor none the less expresses similar sentiment. He writes: "Over the course of the twentieth century, but with accelerating force in the years since 1945, the assurance of the special relationship between the history of Britain and global history has steadily been eroded. Where the history of Britain and the English-speaking peoples had at one time seemed to 33 novelists such as Elizabeth Bowen and L.P. Hartley, for example, as having effectively placed British fiction in a quarantine, protecting it from foreign influences while also depriving it of wider perspective. In like manner, Bernard Bergonzi nods approvingly at a comment by the poet Adrian Mitchell—"The disease of the British artist since 1945 has been a compulsion to stay small" (1970 66)—and suggests that compared to American fiction British fiction of the "fifties and sixties has been both backward- and inward-looking, with rather little to say that can be instantly translated into universal statements about the human condition" (56); most domestic contemporary novels, he laments, are by and large realist "nullity" (68). The story continues. After these dissolute decades, however, and in association with a revival of generalized history inquiry,2 4 writers began to publish novels representing what Swinden labels "a new mutation" (19). Though innovative, these novels were nonetheless ones "carrying within them much of the same genetic code that made their permutated forms so distinctive" (20). And, by his account, in being British they were ever-moderate, as always "preoccupied with establishing proper limits within which human beings can best conduct themselves" (12). The newly revitalized novel stood, in effect, on the shoulders of giants. Connected to a grand—yet a touch aged and woody—literary tradition, the new green scions (Bergonzi (1979) cites Berger, Fowles, and Farrell) hold the promise of youths who respect their elders even as they rebel. (b) The Post-War Historical Novel be identical with the history and development of culture in general, the final splintering of Empire and the redefinitions of world power after the Second World War made that association less than credible. The long, continuous narrative of Britain and the West began to seem narrow, arbitrary, even a bit ramshackle, in the light of all the omissions, glosings and distortions necessary to maintain its coherence. After the Second World War, Britain seemed progressively to lose possession of its own history" (1996 3). 24The revival is in turn tied to a reaction to the supposed historical amnesia and/or corrupt reign of modernism. According to the broad strokes of Elizabeth Dipple's narrative, "In the late 1950s and early 1960s when the time came to rebel against the overlordship of modernism, the hunger for the new was expressed by asserting Modernism's passe nature through a term that is combative and implies a surpassing of the recent past. And so Postmodernism was born" (8). 34 Formal and ideological change is particularly visible in fiction newly addressing history—if simply because in the decades leading up to and immediately following the Second World War the traditionally styled historical novel of any repute was resolutely out of fashion. A return of the history-themed novel was immediately noteworthy since it had been nearly extinct. Yet if, as David Higdon contends, the past reasserted itself via literature into contemporary consciousness, it did not only arrive in the shape of popular romance-centred costume histories and "classical" imaginings in the Lukacs mould. Joseph Turner remarks that defining historical fiction is something of a challenge in the twentieth century since authors working within the genre were coming to terms with and responding to the idea that "neither history nor fiction is itself a stable, universally agreed upon, concept" (333). Hinged to that realization are inevitable questions about the purpose and reliability of historiography and the "historical record" (not to mention historical truth and, in general, knowledge) as well as the purpose and reach of fiction. Harry Shaw observes, "The situation of historical fiction in our own century becomes more complex" (24), and draws readers' attention to the likelihood that for many authors the underlying premises for the writing of historical fiction had radically shifted. The complexity Shaw refers to largely regards the new found pluralism of historical fiction forms. In the current marketplace, for instance, books that conform loosely to what Fleishman, Renault, Cam and McEwan (Lukacs remains anyone's guess) might label commendable historical fiction remain plentiful. More numerous still are those that Fleishman disparages as "costume flummery" (255), novels which use history as a backdrop that decorates formulaic romance plotting. The innovation, however, is a species of historical novel that, as Steven Connor observes, "seems to lack, and only rarely to lament, the easy confidence in the capacity of fiction to encompass history, or plausibly to make that connection between small individual lives and the large tides of history" (134). Susana Onega describes the innovative form as one that strikingly combines, on the one hand, the intensely parodic, realism-undermining self-reflexivity of metafiction, inherited from modernism, with, 35 on the other, the historical element, suffused by the relish in storytelling, in the construction of well-made plots, carefully delineated characters and realism-enhancing narrative techniques characteristic of classic realism. (1995 7) Such fiction is considered to dwell on realism's gaps or elisions, frequently pointing to their undeniable (yet often denied) presence. Insofar as it is possible to speak of the genre holding a collective mandate, we might say that according to much criticism the new historical fiction aims to highlight the difficulty of representing history, comprehending and attaining historical consciousness and crafting the historical record. In this fiction, the pageant of history is a procession of infinite variety and complexity never observed by a witness with an unobstructed vantage point. Critical reception of and response to the new development in historical fiction falls broadly into two categories, which themselves bear no little resemblance to the remarkable achievement/artistic failure binarism of Lukacs and Fleishman. The first tends to be suspicious and occasionally antagonistic. A hybrid position that incorporates the views of Cam and Butterfield as well as those of Manzoni, it validates "classical" profile historical fiction-as-a means of exploring the past and learning from and about it. Here, critics rely on the similar kind of historiographic model seen in Manzoni in which the past is a stable (enough) referent made more solid still by the historical record—itself the ongoing cautious aggregation of physical evidence. An un-Manzonian sentiment, however, legitimizes historical fiction as a distinct kind of historical knowledge. The proviso of course is that the novelist reconstructing a past era must (a la Cam, Renault and Fleishman) remain 'true to the times,' portraying that epoch "more or less accurately" (4) as Fleishman sees it. Renault's statement that "the past is part of the human environment and should not be polluted by falsehood" (McEwan 18) provides this critical position with a principal credo. Such criticism takes for granted literature's supportive role in the educating of readers about familiar or easy to recognize past historical moments. Within that viewpoint, any gaps or lacunae of the historical record are a matter of cautious speculation and respectful reconstruction. What Cam calls the "lamentable hiatuses" (19) of history are considered 36 best filled with the probable and the precise (as possible), and not stained by irreverent invention. In fact, fiction lacking integrity and which might be stochastic in effect—that which does not actively contribute to a faithful completing of the historical puzzle—is positively discouraged. Neil McEwan (1987), for instance, argues as he examines the "threat to historical fiction today" (13) that able or right-minded historical novelists should avoid the temptation (183) of fantasy or propaganda.25 Card-carrying traditionalists must not, furthermore, succumb to the urge to "treat the past as though it were the present in a different costume, or to treat it like it were completely unlike what we know" (183) because, it is understood, the events and conditions of the past are pretty much what we expect—human nature here is assumed to be more or less constant from era to era and the teachings of history books more or less accurate and only hampered by the absence of available physical evidence which fiction can supply. Aligned with sentiments expressed by Fleishman, Lukacs and Renault, McEwan suggests that good and respectful novelists will also as a matter of course resist the seductive French theories like those of Roland 26 Barthes, and claims "historical fiction enriches our culture by protecting the past which in Barthes's theory falls away, like reality itself, leaving the dullness of solipsism to which all 25McEwan does not mention other threats but may well have had Lyotard's "What is Postmodernism?" (1983) in mind as he wrote the passage. Lyotard concludes: "The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have given us as much terror as we can take. We have paid a high enough price for the nostalgia of the whole and the one, for the reconciliation of the concept and the sensible, of the transparent and the communicable experience. Under the general demand for slackening and for appeasement we can hear the mutterings of the desire for the return of terror, for the realization of the fantasy to seize reality. The answer is: Let us wage a war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name" (Hassan and Hassan 341). 2 6For instance, in "The Discourse of History" (1967) Barthes asks, "Does the narration of past events, which, in our culture from the time of the Greeks onwards, has generally been subject to the sanction of the historical 'science', bound to the unbending standards of the 'real', and justified by the principles o f rational' exposition—does this form of narration really differ, in some specific trait, in some indubitably distinctive feature, from imaginary narration, as we find it in the epic, the novel, and the drama" (7)? He later asserts: "In other words, in 'objective' history, the 'real' is never more than an unformulated signified, sheltering behind the apparently all-powerful referent. This situation characterizes what we might call the realistic effect" (17). Foley (1986) comments, "For Barthes, the insistence upon a referent beyond textuality is not simply a gesture of epistemological naivete: it is an act of political repression" (34). 37 reductionism ends" (17). As Steven Connor notes, this traditional "mode of historical fiction confidently assumes its adequacy to the task of historical representation" (142). Perhaps in anticipation of Connor-like scepticism, McEwan asserts that [c]ertain facts, such as those of geography, are constant in historical times, and cannot be ignored. Between these and the most improbable wisps of legend there are countless layers of reliability in what survives, and our consciousness of a period is tiered accordingly. Historians deal with the realities of the past and with speculation. Historical novelists are privileged by our consent in their freedom to speculate but they are constrained by the real, and they will not hold attention unless they respect the past which is common to all readers. (12-13) Literally in the ground beneath our feet, then, the past is not something to be ignored; nor is it something "to be ruthlessly occupied and redeveloped" (177). Like Elizabeth Dippie, who is disdainful of the "perverse sense of chaos that characterizes the current fictional scene" (7), McEwan envisions an earnest literature penned by writers working in seeming concert to build a logical, educative representation of "our" past. Similar to McEwan, Marguerite Alexander in Flights from Realism constructs a "before" and "after" image of British fiction, and argues that post-World War II fiction is markedly different, more fragmented and less confident than that of earlier times. This lack of confidence is not especially productive. Alexander implies the existence of a more or 27 less unblemished Victorian epoch which stands in starkest contrast to the sullied culture of today, and conceives of contemporary/postmodern fiction as an "assault on common sense" fueled by the theories of Barthes and Saussure— The great English and American novelists of the nineteenth century shared with their readers certain assumptions—about the ultimate value of society, whatever specific criticisms of it might be made; about the place of the individual within that society; about the existence, if not of God . . . then a body of universal truths which included an agreed concept of human 7The distinction between writer and society is quickly extinguished here: for Alexander writers are emblematic or maybe synecdoches, their reflecting of "certain assumptions" actually also describes the state of the nation. If "nineteenth century novelists" (that teeming mass) shared a singular conception of, say, "the place of the individual in society," then we can confidently assume that so did most everyone else in England and the United States, 1800-1899. 38 nature—but that concord can no longer be said to exist, at least as far as 28 postmodern novelists are concerned. (4) In her account, these latter-day novelists are reflective, moreover, of a chaotic world and a response to the horror of war and the ever-present threat of nuclear assault: The fact of the 'unbelievable' happening, in recent and remembered history, has placed a strain on that distinction between the credible and the incredible on which the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century bourgeois realist novel depended. One of the terms of this 'contract' which implicitly existed between reader and writer was that the reader could only collude in a fiction that at least on some level held a mirror up to the everyday world, so that the fiction was to a degree neutralized by the everyday world that it reflected. And that everyday world, with its belief in reason and progress, had banished the supernatural except in practices of organized religion. (13) It is tempting to suggest that a nostalgia for "the real" is the foundation of such a critical position: that, faced with the very possibility of chaos or annihilation or meaninglessness, these critics look to literature and history for order and meaning, to tell, in short, a comforting story that makes sense of the world. But instead of seeing only easy-to-fault nostalgic sentimentality, it might be more appropriate to say these critics hold their faith in a project that works to assemble a relatively unified representation of human history instead of one that emphasizes the gaps in the story and the inherent difficult of adequately filling them. While they are not strict positivists like Manzoni, there is no doubting these critics accept the adequacy of literary representation and scientific reasoning; the very possibility of knowledge (historical or otherwise) is a matter that remains largely unquestioned in their criticism. The second critical position acknowledges and to an extent celebrates the "breakdown" of linearity and progress a scholar such as McEwan laments. Scholars like 28See Steinmetz also: "In the nineteenth century there existed nevertheless unanimity about one issue: if one spoke about history, one meant a single history, the history" (90). Later: "This nineteenth-century agreement about the existence of a single history fell to pieces in the course of the twentieth century; the break-up has been so radical that not only have different concepts of history emerged in the course of this century, but as we approach the millennium history as such has been put into doubt, questioned and unmasked as a construction, regarded as an invention engendered entirely by the human need to create meaning (and maintain power)" (91). 39 Scanlan, Gasiorek, Connor and McHale, holding a less panicked view of Alexander's "assault on common sense," tend to be suspicious of the ideologies that underpin traditional categories and societal conventions; they wonder openly about the stories that may be missing from history, and ask why. As a result, perhaps, they consider commendable that fiction which questions the truth of the historical record and invents or reclairnsjwith political intent) its obscured events. A l l the while, this mode of fiction is seen by apologist critics to take for granted that the worlds they imagine are not exactly, as Margaret Scanlan succinctly states, a positivist celebration of calibrated evolution: History as presented in the contemporary British novel is neither glamorous nor consoling. It is too diffuse to offer lessons, too unfinished to constitute a space into which we can escape, and we ourselves, implicated in the failures, cannot even enjoy its ironies comfortably. Whatever the authors' professed politics, their novels resonate with a profound pessimism about the consequences of public action. What actuates these fictions is not, then, a confidence that the past will teach us how to behave, but a quieter conviction that it is better to know than remain ignorant, even though much of what we learn is the enormous difficulty of understanding our lives historically. (16) Scanlan is no anarchist, however. She concedes the centrality of some kind of historical knowledge and the importance of attempting to understand moments of the past. She also accepts the challenge arriving at these planes represents. The primary difference between a position-like Scanlan's and that of McEwan concerns confidence. For Scanlan, historical knowledge is a complex and fluid thing, far more than a matter of the cautious arrangement of evidence. In keeping with Sinfield, Scanlan imbues the narratives of history with ideological weight, and accepts as a rule that some stories have greater impact than others and that one version of a historical instance can elide or erase another. Scanlan, building 29 from the work of Michel Foucault and viewing history as "the dispersed contents of the past" (4), welcomes the new fiction because it resists neat teleology and openly queries the significance of fissures, failures and blanks of historical awareness. This is not to say, as 29Cf. Foucault (1977): "History is the concrete body of a development, with its moments of intensity, its lapses, its extended periods of feverish agitation, its fainting spells; and only a metaphysician would seek its soul in the distant ideality of the origin." (145) 40 McEwan.would have it, that such criticism embraces meaninglessness or chaos or solipsistic hermeticism. Steven Connor presents another, less dismissive view, positing that the new novel of history offers an "enactment of the continuing need to inhabit history, however discontinuous and enigmatic it may" (1996 164). Contrary to McEwan and according to the second critical position, history in new historical fiction does not necessarily fall away into empty solipsism, though it might be said to become more a garden of forking paths than an easily travelled, well-marked road leading in only one direction toward enlightenment, (c) Naming the Prodigy In The English Novel in History 1950-1995. Steven Connor takes issue with what he views as the finally reductive and unproductive stances exhibited by a number of the convention-bound critics he surveys. He suggests that there is little that is particularly valuable about measuring the verisimilitude of a work, and instead asserts that "it is more interesting and profitable to ask what a novel does, intellectually, affectively, imaginatively, politically, with and in history than to ask merely what kind of truthfulness to history it displays or denies" (132). Connor's discussion of historical fiction is embedded in his broad query about the role narrative plays in human communication. He observes: Depending on the context, it may plausibly be said that a given narrative might act to persuade, explain, reassure, combine, transform, instruct, liberate, enslave, uplift, excite—in fact, to bring about all of the effects that human beings commonly seek to bring about via other linguistic or communicative means. (4) Though he is employing different terms, Connor is not far removed from a conventional understanding of the emancipatory properties of literary narrative, whether delineated by a Helen Cam or a Sir Philip Sidney. When he writes, for example, that "narrative can bring about psychological and cultural enlargement" (4), he is in line with centuries of literary criticism and is expressing ideas which remain unstated but implicit in much of the conventional criticism of historical fiction. Within narrative's putative capacity for 41 enlargement, Connor locates what he terms a "consolidation" function which can work to expand self-awareness. He explains, "To extend the self, whether individual or collective, into different sorts of unfamiliar or otherwise unavailable experience may also allow the self to become more apprehensible to itself (4). Connor finds, too, a "transformative" component: "narrative can also transform, criticise, displace, limit, interrupt" (6). Complicating matters somewhat, Connor explains that [cjonsolidation and transformation are contrasting, but not wholly antipathetic functions. Indeed, one, somewhat conservative view of the function of narrative might be that it exists to manage and mediate the shock of exposure to newness, contradiction and difficulty, to bind and transform transformation itself into a form of consolidation. (133) With this model of consolidation and transformation serving as his critical foundation, Connor moves on to discuss historical fiction as either "historical" or "historicized," that is, "fiction about history" on the one hand and fiction "about its own historically relative construction of history" (142-143) on the other. Rather than discussing the "truth-telling capacities" (132) of such literature, Connor proposes that critics study the uses fiction finds for the polysemous word "history." And in line with his view of narrative as being consolidatory and/or transformative, Connor suggests criticism seek out the political significance (the personal through to the communal to the national) ascribed to a historical moment-by writers addressing history's pages. Connor is by no means alone when he attempts to name the new historical fiction form and extract (or codify) its properties. Indeed, there has been wide discussion among critics about the shape and name of the new forms of fiction that emerged after the Second World War that were often marked by their seeming retort to or refusal of tradition. Particularly, in British literary critical circles, the debate about the new literary departure has conventionally hinged on or addressed the experimentalist/realist divide (for example, see Bergonzi (1970); Byatt; Bradbury; Gasiorek; Stevenson; Lodge; Alexander; Dipple). Still more recently, a modern/postmodern binarism has superceded the earlier experiment/realism model. This new historical novel, which does not conform to Lukacs's 42 "classical" realist form of emancipatory narration nor imitate the cautious-reconstruction-of-epoch-and-sentiment example championed by Fleishman, Renault and McEwan, initially attracted negative attention; a trend and still emerging development, it was duly noted as something which might or might not have staying power and significance. In any case, critics defined or codified the new historical as a form that broke away from the norm. An early commentator, Frank Kermode (1966), refers to the late twentieth century as an age of crisis, and detects a not unexpected "pattern of anxiety" (96) within contemporary modernist works. Adopting metaphors from Christian history and eschatology, Kermode sees "apocalyptic" or "schismatic" (98-104) variants (he cites Beckett and Burroughs as examples) within modernism proper that are also endemic to it, the flip side of "traditionalist" modernism. Kermode argues that "what distinguished [the two] broadly is that the older, in an ancient tradition, remade or rewrote its past, but the latter has a nihilistic^schismatic quality" (122). Following Kermode's lead, Harry Henderson (1974) perceives "the most pronounced division among significant novels of the historical imagination [in an American literary context]" has been between those expressive of a "liberal conscience" (e.g., Malamud, Styron) and others, as exemplified by the novels of Barth and Pynchon, which implement an "apocalyptic parody" (270). Despite the sombre tone, the dark side of Henderson's Janus-faced "historical imagination" aims to "parody not only fictional forms but the historical assumptions underlying both progressive and holistic [imaginative] frames" (270). More darkly still, Barbara Foley (1978) remarks on such apocalyptic fiction: "In the 'apocalyptic' historical novel history is itself ultimately absurd, and whatever coherence the novelist extracts from it is a reflection not of any pattern immanent in his materials but of his own narrative control" (101). Altogether side-stepping the dire associations that come with the term "apocalypse," Robert Scholes (1970, 1979) locates a vital tradition of experimental fabulation or 43 metafiction within a larger realistic/naturalistic tradition in North American literature. He bases his argument on Charles Pierce's "fallibilism"—which is a reaction to positivism, and in turn springs from Pierce's belief that "[o]n the whole, then, we cannot in any way reach certitude nor exactitude. We can never be absolutely sure of anything, nor can we with any probability ascertain the exact value of any measure or general ration" (1979 8). Scholes states that contemporary fabulators accept and even emphasize their fallibility while, regardless of their own sense of sophistication, searching for the true and the real. Like Scholes, Johnson Smith frames his discussion in non-inflammatory rhetoric. After surveying three modalities of historical fiction, Smith (1979) observes the arrival of a new type which focusses on the artificiality of the text and the intrusion of the author. Johnson identifies "what we might call comic historical fiction," a form that "pok[es] fun at these generic conventions, playing delightful variations on the interaction of their fictions with history, and generally flaunting the inescapable artifice of their creations" (351). Such self-reflexive fiction, Johnson argues, works to point out the constructed nature of any historical document and thereby challenges readers about both their comfort with and assumptions about the veracity of the historical record. Elisabeth Wesseling, attempting to measure "the extent to which postmodernist permutations of historical materials envision an alternate, Utopian—or rather, uchronian31—history," arrives at a binarism that (along the lines of Connor) conveniently divides "postmodernist counterfactual historical fiction" into "negational and confirmational parodies of history" (157); the latter category "includes works which unfold alternate histories inspired, with varying degrees of emphasis, by emancipating, Utopian ideas" "For further elaborations on metafiction, see also: Fogel (1974); Alter (1975); Hutcheon (1980); Christensen (1981). 'Wesseling's coinage. She defines it as such: "These apocryphal histories inject the Utopian potential of science fiction into the generic model of the historical novel, which produces a form of narrative one could call 'uchronian'" (viii). This new breed is also distinct from self-reflexive historical fiction. For instance, Wesseling describes Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor and Ackroyd's Chatterton as "best situated somewhere in between the categories of self-reflexive historical fiction and uchronian fantasy" (157). 44 while the former "comprises novels which haphazardly transform history" (157). Though Wesseling spends no time outlining how she can critically distinguish between a recuperative "inspired" novel and a deleterious "haphazard" one—and so bringing to mind Connor's adroit open question about the purposefulness (not to mention methodology) of measuring verisimilitude in fiction—she follows a general pattern of categorization, finding on the one hand fiction which works to emancipate (even if through subversion) and that which on the other only negates. Finally, in Telling the Truth, Barbara Foley studies the history of "documentary fiction" in all its protean manifestations. At base, she argues, the species "locates itself near the border between factual discourse and fictive discourse, but does not propose an eradication of that border" (25). Rather, it "purports to represent reality by means of agreed-upon conventions of fictionality, while grafting onto its fictive pact some kind of additional claim to empirical validity" (25). Foley fully outlines her modalities of documentary fiction— Historically, this claim has taken various forms. The pseudofactual novel of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries simulates or imitates the authentic testimony of a "real life" person; its documentary effect derives from the assertion of veracity. The historical novel of the nineteenth century takes as its referent a phase of the historical process; its documentary effect derives from the assertion of extratextual verification. The documentary novel of the modernist era bifurcates into two distinct genres. The fictional autobiography represents an artist-hero who assumes the status of a real person inhabiting an invented situation; its documentary effect derives from the assertion of the artist's claim to privileged cognition. The metahistorical novel takes as its referent a historical process that evades rational formulation; its documentary effect derives from the assertion of the very indeterminacy of factual verification. Finally, the Afro-American documentary novel represents a reality submitting human subjects to racist objectification; its documentary effect derives from the presentation of facts that subvert commonplace constructions of reality. (25-26) Foley's delineation of the metafictional novel of history is essentially apologetic. From her Marxist perspective, the form is admirably radical, for it "continues to invoke a number of the representational conventions of earlier historical fiction, but it no longer assumes that historical actuality constitutes a self-evident object of cognition" (195). Moreover, the form "sets out to refute the empiricist illusion of neutral subjectivity and the positivist illusion of 45 neutral objectivity, as well as the complacent liberal progressivism that these illusions sustain" (200). Foley finds that not every such novel "frees itself from the positivist paradigm that it takes as its adversary" (200), and then proceeds to construct a model built of "radical" metahistorical novels and other unnamed (presumably "unradical") ones, (d) The Prodigy in Perspective Following cues provided by predominant critical typologies, readers will learn that entertainment and "escape" are the hallmarks of the largely formulaic and critically discarded romantic historical novel, while "imaginative sympathy" in aid of a readerly raised consciousness and the construction of civilized society stands as the benchmark of traditional or classical historical novels. Moreover, the "sympathy, experience, and esthetic propriety" (6) Fleishman claims as the founding criteria for the "greater achievements" (14) of the historical novel genre serve to buttress the genre's position as surrogate historiography. To utilize Cam's simile, for such critics conventional historical novelists are like artists who paint realistic portraits and then fill in the gaps once the sitter has departed. Mimetic faithfulness (or at least the high probability thereof), then, based on what is already extant in various (unproblematized) historical accounts, enables this genre of fiction to operate in quasi-factual fashion. Though for some critics this literary tissue comprised of the actual (because History) and the imaginary (because Fiction) can only create epistemological (what is history?) and ontological (who are we as historical subjects?) obfuscation, a more influential and pragmatic tradition of criticism overlooks this disputed zone of overlap since the core "imaginative sympathy" entails both an educated process of reconstruction and intentions of responsible propriety (recall Renault's emblematic statement of 1969 that "one can at least desire the truth; and it is inconceivable to me how anyone can decide deliberately to betray it" (McEwan 19)) and because the fiction's purpose is thought to be primarily 'good,' aiming for education, illumination and cultural growth. The intent and effect aimed for, in short, eclipses the means of attainment. 46 Neither necessarily classical nor romantic, contemporary historical novels—such as those published by Peter Ackroyd—have received a far less uniform critical delineation. Surveying scholarship that responds to the new historical novel reveals some critics who elaborafe"both general typologies (schismatic, apocalyptic, comic, counterfactual, historicist, metafictive) and general function analyses (ranging from the radical subversion of dominant cultural ideologies to an equally radical apocalyptic unmaking of the normative textual world). Still other critics, those who resist the refusal of the firm assumption of the steadfast nature of the historical record, openly condemn this modality of fiction, contending that such work in effect hinders any understanding of true history because it either harshly questions the motivations of history writers or altogether renounces the cautious archeologic approach to historical knowledge in favour of an irreverent, anti-communitarian "solipsism" (McEwan). This critical position maintains that the renunciation leads to an unproductive stalemate—if not an anarchistic nihilism outright—and proposes that a pragmatic choice (i.e., "as close as it gets in an imperfect world") remains the most useful approach for considering history through fiction. As with the debate about the traditional historical novel, what is seemingly at stake here is not simply the matter of truth and falsity of form but the nature of (historical) knowledge itself: if a contemporary historical novel is freed from the Fleishmanian mainstays of "responsibility" and "propriety," then—critics ask—what is there to prevent it from rewriting any past moment (or indeed entire epoch) in whatever manner it chooses? And while there is no denying that these novels are fiction, since they manage yet to simulate the very form of history-telling—and create a textual world that may be radically distinct from the one history books teach—then what is there to prevent readers from believing the invented version of things they read about on the page? For a critic like McEwan, this potential for chaos lurks right inside the cover of each historical novel. Viewed from another point, a critic such as Scanlan might observe, the very inventions of the contemporary historical novelist can inspire in readers a scepticism about the putatively objective and neutral formation of the 47 received history record as well as queries regarding what has been made invisible (or highly visible) and marginal (or central) over time. 3. The Politics of Postmodernism: Framing the Debate Labels are always comforting, but often also castrating. Linda Hutcheon, 1980 (2) Postmodernism: does it exist at all and, if so, what does it mean? Is it a concept or a practice, a matter of local style or a whole new period or economic phase? What are its forms, effects, place? How are we to mark its advent? Are we truly beyond the modern, truly in (say) a postindustrial age? Hal Foster, 1983 (ix) Unfortunately, "postmodern" is a term bon a tout faire. I have the impression that it is applied today to anything the user of the term happens to like. Umberto Eco, 1984 (65) At worst, postmodernism appears to be a mysterious, if ubiquitous, ingredient, like raspberry vinegar which instantly turns any recipe into nouvelle cuisine. Ihab Hassan, 1986 (Calinescu 23) Paradoxes, in general, can delight or trouble. Linda Hutcheon, 1988 (x) (i) What Do We Mean When We Talk About Postmodernism? "Peter Ackroyd writes historical novels in a postmodern vein," that hypothetical, distillatory critic's sentence working to summarize, circumscribe and/or contain the novels of Peter Ackroyd, unveils another new found complication when one of its elemental words, "postmodern," is considered more fully. As with "the historical novel" a complex and contentious history lurks immediately below the surface of an apparently mundane and self-evident term. Thus, to situate, say, Hawksmoor and Chatterton within postmodernity (as a postmodern product? reflective of a postmodern sensibility?) does not necessarily provide instant or satisfactory illumination since the vast territorial reach of postmodernism gives it an entire topography—arid through to lush—of signification. Bluntly speaking, there are many users of the term and within that population a wide array of interpretations. In fact, from the onset of its popular usage and near ubiquity in the academy in the 1980s, "postmodernism" has remained a consistently amorphous and hence complicated, difficult to clearly employ term. Over the years prominent theorists from Hassan to Habermas have 48 wrangled with defining its shape and evaluating its significance; countless conferences across the globe have been held that map out its shadowy regions; the shelves of a small library could be filled with books discussing its intricate parameters. Postmodernism has come to be seen in (or as) the buildings of Arata Isosaki, Rem Koolhaas and Michael Graves (not to mention the "unsigned" commercial structures that fill industrial landsites and run parallel with highways), the films of John Greyson, Trinh T. Minh-ha and Monika Treut, the novels of Christine Brooke-Rose, Timothy Mo and Martin Amis, the performances of Annie Sprinkle, Rosa von Praunheim and Madonna . . . and in (or as) advertisements on television (whose programs and programming equally exemplify the postmodern), consumption patterns at the local shopping mall and business strategies implemented by transnational corporations (themselves likewise postmodern entities). Postmodernism may be a cultural "sea-change" (Harvey vii), a "new paradigm" (Huyssen ix), a "specific 'mood'" (Docherty 1996 97), an "ideal category—or, better still, a Kunstwollen. a mode of operating" (Eco 66), a process of "cultural mongrelization" (William Gibson in McHale 1992 225), a current "trend" (Nilsen D3) or an "it" whose various definitions are "mutually inconsistent, internally contradictory and/or hopelessly vague" (Callinicos 2). Then again, maybe not. Terry Eagleton, for instance, refers to postmodernism as "depthless, styleless, dehistoricized [and] decathected" (1986 132), a 32 "sick joke" at the expense of modernist "revolutionary avant-gardism" (131). And for Elizabeth Dippie it is a "falsely boastful word whose very definition is uncertain at every level" (8). Perhaps because of its core intangibility, Steven Connor pointedly remarks that "Eagleton's sentiments are greatly expanded in The Illusions of Postmodernism. Throughout that lengthy essay, he discusses the "bizarrely heterogeneous term" (21) in a strangely homogeneous manner. While Eagleton acknowledges the plurality of forms, he nevertheless always discusses postmodernism as an "it," a singular "style of thought" (vii) about which he is more "against rather than for" (viii). By doing so he constructs a simplistic representation, reminiscent of a social club or a political party. See also: Graff (1979), Habermas (1981), Jameson (1984), Newman (1985), Callinicos (1989), McGowan (1991) and Norris (1993) for further critiques of postmodernism. 4 9 the question, "Does postmodernism really exist, after all?" . has been asked in manifold forms by countless critics many times the world over— Is there a "unified sensibility" running across and between all the different areas of cultural life (Jiirgen Peper)? Does post- modernism unjustly limit or prematurely curtail the "unfinished project" of modernism (Jiirgen Habermas)? Is there anything new or valuable in the alleged "postmodernist breakthrough" (Gerald Graff)? In other words, does postmodernist culture exist and if so (sometimes even if not) is it a "good thing" or a "bad thing"? (1989 6-7) •In writings on postmodernism, there is inevitably a near ritualistic invocation of the intangibility of the subject/object under consideration inquiry. My own introduction is apparently part of that ongoing tradition. The ritual is evident everywhere, from Fredric Jameson ("The problem of postmodernism—how its fundamental characteristics are to be described, whether it even exists in the first place, whether the very concept is of any use, or is, on the contrary, a mystification—this problem is at one and the same time an aestheticand political one" (1998 25)), Thomas Docherty ("Yet this amorphous thing remains ghostly-and for some ghastly" (19931)) and Matei Calinescu ("an admittedly confusing but not unuseful label" (Hassan and Hassan 265)) to Malcolm Bradbury ("if the term 'postmodernism' means anything at all it surely refers to a time of interfused styles, mixed cultural layers, oddly merging traditions, multicultural pluralism" (1993 xii)), lhab Hassan ("I begin with the most obvious: can we really perceive a phenomenon, in Western societies generally and in their literatures particularly, that needs to be distinguished from modernism, needs to be named? If so, will the provisional rubric 'postmodernism' serve?" (1987 84)) and Charles Newman ("The 'Post-Modern' is neither a canon of writers, nor a body of criticism, though it is often applied to literature of, roughly, the last twenty years. The very term signifies a simultaneous continuity and renunciation, a generation strong enough to dissolve the old order, but too weak to marshal the centrifugal forces it has released. This new literature founders on its own hard won heterogeneity, and tends to lose the sense of itself as a human institution" (5)). Surveying the fragmented field, Brian McHale (1987) smartly observes: "Whatever we may think of the term, however much or little we may be satisfied with it, one thing is certain: the referent of 'postmodernism,' the thing to which the term claims to refer, does not exist [Postmodernism, the thing, does not exist precisely in the way that 'the Renaissance' or 'romanticism' do not exist. There is no postmodernism 'out there' in the world any more than there ever was a Renaissance or a romanticism 'out there.' These are all literary-historical fictions, discursive artifacts constructed either by contemporary readers and writers or retrospectively by literary historians" (4). Lastly, while the debate shows signs of slowing, the matter of the undecidability of the precise nature of postmodernism remains an open question. The September 2000 issue of Utne Reader features "America True Blue," which surveys depression in American culture and links it with the postmodern condition: "And so now we find ourselves in the postmodern hall of mirrors. It's difficult to talk about postmodernism because nobody really understands it—it's elusive to the point of being impossible to articulate. But what the philosophy basically says is that we've reached an endpoint in human history..." (80). When this article originally appeared in Adbusters in June 2000, another one on a similar topic appeared in the June 13,2000 edition of The National Post. The gist of Patchen Barss's "Old Style in New Novels" is summarised in the article's sub-heading: "Has 'postmodern fiction' been around ever since Odysseus told his own story inside Homer's Odyssey? One scholar goes so far as to claim there's no such thing" (A17). 50 Since his position as a critic is embedded in a book entitled Postmodernist Culture, Connor no doubt fully understands the irony of his contribution to the overwrought debate. The matter of the putative moral status of postmodernism aside, even synthesizing an overview of responses to postmodernism is no small feat. After all, for virtually every scholar within the vast field of critical theory—from Altieri to Zizek—there is an article (if not an entire volume) that discusses some facet of it in addition to the critic's pitched response. An enterprising publisher could yet produce a volume or two that would follow the trajectory of replies to what Hiab Hassan elegantly (albeit vaguely) terms a "cultural moment" (1987 xi). And beyond the relatively small confines of academic investigation, of course, postmodernism is a term bandied about wide and far.34 In the interests of economy, then, I would like propose a guided tour on which I will briefly consider two instances from the debate at large before leading onward to a terminal site, postmodernism in literature. This pair of moments arrives, conveniently enough, in chart form; like shorthand, the charts are concise but tend toward the simplistic and reductive—which may be most apropos for such a broad and brief overview. In two neat columns, the charts configure the cultural "tendencies" (to employ another of Hassan's words—after Forster?) of two discrete Weltanschauung. As Hassan knows, the linear typographic order of the columns is itself a kind of fiction, and belies the fact that behind their clean borders stand 35 debate, disagreement, unstable definitions and category disloyalty. None the less, charts "Including popular shorthand explanatory histories/cultural literacy primers like Appignanesi and Garratt's Postmodernism for Beginners and Ward's Teach Yourself Postmodernism. A satiric (?) website called "The Postmodern Generator" <www.elsewhere.org/cgi-bin/postmodernAproduces essays—on any topic one chooses—that look convincingly postmodern simply by employing jargon familiar to any English Department graduate student. "McHale notes that "spatialized representations" (1992 269) of the differences between the two categories (such as Hassan's below) are not uncommon and cites Venturi (1977) Jencks (1980), Wollen (1982), Fokkema (1984) and Lethen (1984). However, Lethen's "dichotomic scheme" is designed to show that in fact such a schematic approach (a) "shows the battlefield on which modernism itself operates" and is (b) "inherent in Modernism" (236). Through their dichotomic structure such schema incidentally lend credence to the notion of the 'postmodern breakthrough,' a cultural rupture whose existence implies a radical separation from past cultural forms. 51 serve well as a crude, at-a-glance typologies even though their populism and simplicity, detractors would argue, supplies damning evidence of the facile intellectualism of postmodern thought. The first chart was prepared by Hassan and placed in his influential, much-anthologized essay "Toward a Concept of Postmodernism" (1982), itself a continuation from Paracriticisms: Seven Speculations of the Times (1975). Conceptualizing what he says at the time existed without "concept or definition," Hassan wonders whether postmodernism may be "a significant revision, if not an original episteme. of twentieth-century western societies" (84). With more certainty, he implies that postmodernism—so widely disseminated—is readily apparent at both micro- (an individual's consciousness) and macrocosmic (global politics, economics, philosophy, art) levels. Hassan briefly considers ten conceptual problems inherent to the term (such as its instabilities (89-90) and —w og indeterminacies (92)), and follows those qualifications with a list of thirty-three conceptual (and ontological) distinctions between postmodernism (represented not only by a list but also a horizontal bi-directional arrow) and modernism (with its vertical bi-directional arrow), ten of which are reproduced here— For another, this time ironic, spatialized representation see Graff (1979). He deploys his chart to illustrate the (ancient) rhetorical "melodrama" of politicized criticism: In this ring, audience, it is The Classical Order versus Contemporary Literature-Bad Good representation creation text as determinate object text as open, indeterminate "invitation" boundaries and constraints voyages into the unforeseen docility, habit risk truth as correspondence truth as invention, fiction (23) Rather than sampling a "cultural moment," Graff charts an intense battle of academic politics, and implies that much of the force behind postmodernism is merely the work of zealous partisan scholars. 36Hassan's clarification furnishes further terms and leads, unavoidably, to a yet wider and more pervasive idea of postmodernism. He explains: "By indeterminacy, or better still, indeterminacies. I mean a complex referent that these diverse concepts help to delineate: ambiguity, discontinuity, heterodoxy, pluralism, randomness, revolt, perversion, deformation. The latter alone subsumes a dozen current terms of unmaking: decreation, disintegration, deconstruction, decenterment, displacement, difference, discontinuity, disjunction, disappearance, decomposition, de-definition, demystification, detotalization, delegitimization—let alone more technical terms referring to the rhetoric of irony, rupture, silence. Through all these signs moves a vast will to unmaking, affecting the body politic, the body cognitive, the erotic body, the individual psyche—the entire realm of discourse in the West" (92). 52 Modernism Postmodernism Purpose Design Mastery/Logos Presence Centering Root/Depth Narrative/Grande Histoire Metaphysics Determinacy Chance Exhaustion/Silence Absence Dispersal Rhizome/Surface Anti-narrative/Petite Histoire Irony Indeterminacy (91) Play Hassan annotates his chart with detailed explication of the phenomenon of postmodernism, a basic "fact," he claims, in most developed societies— as an artistic, philosophical, and social phenomenon, postmodernism veers toward open, playful, optative, provisional (open in time as well as in structure or space), disjunctive, or indeterminate forms, a discourse of ironies and fragments, a "white ideology" of absences and fractures, a desire of diffractions, an invocation of complex, articulate silences. Postmodernism veers toward pervasive procedures, ubiquitous interactions, immanent codes, media, languages. (93-94) With typographic linearity and this brand of hallucinatory elaboration, Hassan's schema remains perplexing. Considering its usefulness as a guide to literature or a provider of insight about culture, it is not difficult to find the distinction between qualities obscure, if not altogether lacking. Inserting, for instance, a trio of canonical modernists (say, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis) or a trio of prominent postmoderns (Hassan names Norman Mailer, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Donald Barthelme in 1971's "POSTmodernISM"), and then gauging either group in relation to a single listing on the chart—purpose/play, perhaps, or presence/absence—reveals how inadequate the terms are as critical tools. In what way, for example, is "presence" so salient in Woolf s Between the Acts, while absence takes such a key position in Mailer's The Armies of the Night? Can the metaphors "purpose" and "play" be usefully and distinctly applied in order to argue that Joyce's Ulysses and Barm's Snow White belong to vastly different cultural moments or conceptual categories? There is no doubting the terms of Hassan's proposition are suggestive and appear to make strong assertions for a cultural watershed. Yet studied for a 53 time, their inherent restrictions delimit them as critical tools. In much the same way that Connor (1996) complains that measuring the degree of verisimilitude in a work of historical fiction produces a more or less dead-end criticism, so too does Hassan's delineation promote a curiously un-resonant schema: what does do with it? As the basis for a critical methodology Hassan's typology would appear to consist of establishing the ostensible norms of modernism and then discerning how much a given work adheres to or diverges from the standard. That divergence, in turn is a measure of the work's dissatisfaction with former ideological or worldview truths: for example, "Barth's Snow White, so replete with playful indeterminacies, is emblematically postmodern and signals the author's critique of the Grand Histoire metaphysics of modernism." Tautologically, the measurement of degree from norm illustrates degree of critique of that same norm. Hassan's method, demanding a monolithic and ever-stable modernism, separates the contemporary from the superannuated (and so, arguably, the good from the bad) in order to indicate the distinction between one cultural "tendency" and another. Some seventeen years later—during which time Hassan himself has revised his earlier statements, and speculated that "postmodernism itself has changed, taken, as I see it, a wrong turn," becoming "a kind of eclectic raillery, the refined prurience of our borrowed pleasures and trivial beliefs," which, tenacious and still vital, is reaching for "something larger, something other, which some call posthumanism" (1987 xvii37)—the 3 7 And again in "Prospects in Retrospect," the concluding essay of the same volume. Hassan recounts his 1985 visit to an exhibit of postmodern wares at the Grand Palais in Paris: "Walking through the bright farrago, hectares of esprit, parody, persiflage, I began to feel the smile on my lips freeze; it never became scowl or snarl, only an approximate leer. I realized then that postmodernism, that sort of postmodernism, had become arrested wit, wit waiting on disbelief. Unlike the immense glass space of the Grand Palais, postmodern design was a kind of belle epoaue drained of heroism, illusion, faith" (229). Though Hassan does not forsake postmodernism, he confides that it is possible for a "cultural moment" to choose the wrong fork on the road. Unexpectedly, he concludes his final essay with a call for faith in an "unfinished" and "pragmatic" pluralism that points (if to anything at all) "to something beyond mourning or nostalgia for old faiths, points, in many directions at once, to belief itself, if not renewed beliefs" (29). His ultimate statement is nothing if not equivocal: "Let postmodernism now work itself out as it might. Perhaps all we have learned from it is what the gods have taught us in both myth 54 term has broader currency yet. Richard Nilsen's 1999 article in The Globe and Mail, (which purchased it wire-service from The Arizona Republic") titled, "It's a PoMo PoMo PoMo World," is characteristic of the popular take on the (ir)relevance of postmodernity. Like Hassan, Nilsen divides "the world" in half, into a "before" and "after" loaded with a momentary finality. Whereas Hassan-the-scholar fixed on the ephemeral new temper of a cultural moment as expressed principally through its art forms, Nilsen-the-journalist focuses insistently on the differences between the "modern" (as distinct from modernist?) and the "postmodern" in terms of (Americocentric) consumer products, celebrated personalities, and patterns of behaviour. Here, for instance, are ten of Nilsen's forty-five categories— Modem Postmodern Coca-Cola Classic Coke Office Cubicle New York City, New York New York, Las Vegas James Joyce Donald Barthelme Madonna Jewel Marshall McLuhan Jacques Derrida Free Love Cyber Sex Reading Channel Surfing Golden Arches Swoosh Essays Lists In his taxonomy, Nilsen simultaneously invests the cultural shift with significance and banality. From his chart it is possible to comprehend the change as more a new trend and a popular style than a new episteme: postmodernism is something that "hip" people have long been aware of, Nilsen suggests, so now you, dear Globe/Republic reader, can too! Furthermore, without an elaborated discussion of the terms themselves (is "postmodern" a historical term? an aesthetic one, an economic one?) or a clear notion of what is meant by the figures cited (how should readers infer the apparently paradigmatic difference between McDonald's Corporation (modern) and Nike Corporation (postmodern), an I B M PC and and history: that even in their own omnivorous eyes, the universe is not single, but still One and Many as it shows itself to our sight" (230). 55 an iMac computer or a female performer who rose to fame in the 1980s (Madonna) and another j^Jewel) whose rise came a decade later?), the categorical distinction can name though not provide productive meaning for critical assessment: McDonald's is modern, Nike is postmodern, so what? Nilsen observes that "[i]n a PoMo world, everything appears in quotation marks," and seems to imply that our perception of reality and our conscious role in it has altered remarkably: •jo Postmodernism, also called PoMo in a hipper context, began as the name for a current direction in architecture, painting, sculpture, but it actually names a trend in culture at large: a self-conscious awareness of ourselves as playing parts, and a blurring of the lines between genres, and between media and life. 3 9(D3) 38To the contrary. For a brief history of the convoluted term, see Hassan, "Toward a Concept of Postmodernism" (1982). He employs a halting syntax that suggests uncertainty—"I will attempt to sort out the various postmodernism^, or, rather, the various critical constructs called Postmodernism, that have more or less established themselves at least temporarily over the past twenty-five years" (10). Douwe Fokkema's essay, "The Postmodern Weltanschauung and its Relation with Modernism: An Introductory Survey," traces the term forward from Frederico de Oniz (1934), Dudley Fitt (1942), Jerome Mazzaro (1946) and Arnold Toynbee (1947) to the 1984 conference where he presented his paper. In The Origins of Postmodernitv (1998), Perry Anderson provides a lively counterpart to Fokkema's pluralistic survey. Like Fokkema, he reaches (in his "Prodromes" section) back to de Oniz and Toynbee. In "Crystallization" Anderson discusses the term's dissemination in the journal, boundaries 2. rapid proliferation by the hand of lhab Hassan circa 1971, and movement into architectural circles through celebratory writing by Robert Venturi, Robert Stern and Charles Jencks (who, Anderson reports, claimed in 1987 that "the response to my lectures and articles was so forceful and widespread that it created Post-Modernism as a social and architectural movement" (23)). Still later the term was picked up from Hassan by Jean-Francois Lyotard whose The Postmodern Condition was, according to Anderson, "[t]he first book to treat postmodernity as a general change of human circumstance" (26). Jiirgen Habermas is the final scholar Anderson addresses before "Capture," a lengthy chapter about Fredric Jameson, a scholar who is altogether absent from Fokkema's survey. Anderson argues that Jameson's 1982 lecture at the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Arts "redrew the whole map of the postmodern at a stroke—a prodigious inaugural gesture that has commanded the field ever since" (54). Hassan, in "Prospects in Retrospect," exhibits less admiration for Jameson, whose scholarship he sees as being (unlike himself?) hampered by "the iron yoke of ideology" (n. 23 232). 3 9For a less celebratory popular account, see, for instance, Utne Reader. July-August, 1997. Titled, "Reclaiming Real Life: Fed Up With the Faux World? Here's How to Get Real Again (Really)," it offers solutions to the postmodern parade of simulacra. Inside that issue two rather Platonic articles in particular maintain hope that we can get back to reality: Jon Spayde's "A Way Out of Wonderland" (48-54) and Cathy Madison's "Reality Hunger: The Search for Authenticity has Deep Social Roots" (55). 56 Yet under Nilsen's banal tutelage we learn that postmodernism stands as a "trend in culture at large," and is, apparently, "hot" (as opposed to the outmoded modern, which is "not"). Nilsen does not hazard to guess what kind of trend it may be—is it equivalent in scope to the rise in secularism or the return of platform shoes? With no framework of reference, moreover, there is no method through which to measure its dimensions and depths. Placed, moreover, in one section of a single day's edition of one Canadian newspaper alongside articles about gardening, summer movies, costly ticket prices and an exhibit of abstract expressionist painting, readers that day are left to decide which of all of these is mere fashion and what has import. Far less concerned with outlining possible ramifications than Hassan, Nilsen's article remains content to illustrate (though not explicate) in cartoon-like strokes elemental aspects of the times. To the question, then, "What do we mean when we talk about postmodernism?" it is perhaps best to answer with a safe if frustratingly equanimous, "It depends. Who is talking? Where? When?" Historically, scholars such as Hassan, Fokkema and Anderson remind us, there was little agreement between the "postmodernismo" of Oniz and Toynbee's "Post-Modern." Likewise, the incredulity toward meta-narratives so much a part of Lyotard's fashionable evocation of postmodernism is decidedly at odds with the eclectic play of historical architectural forms that marks Jencks's40 celebratory version. And of course when Hassan asks, "if postmodern knowledge is essentially narrative, provisional, 'groundless,' then how can theory define or authorize practice (behaviour, values, norms)?" (1987 225-226), not only is he partially invalidating his own past critical enterprise, but openly speaking of the fundamental dilemma of a "tendency" built upon its own groundlessness. As noted earlier, the very intangibility of postmodernism is always already assumed; none the less critical work persists in applying an term acknowledged to 40Anderson reports that Lyotard wrote without any knowledge of Jencks and that when he came across Jencks's construction, "[h]is response was acrid": the American's postmodernism was, Lyotard wrote, "amalgamation, ornamentation, pastiche—flattering the 'taste' of a public that can have no taste" (31). 57 be vague and tentative to a field (sociology, literary studies, architecture) in order to account for change. (ii) What Do We Mean When We Talk About Postmodern Fiction? Nearly imperialistic as a field of study, postmodernism has reached out to encompass art forms (it is, for instance, regularly encountered in photography, painting, film, architecture and dance) as well as diverse social and hard sciences, including economics, biology, sociology and anthropology. Though postmodernism is pervasive in literary studies as well, the recent multi-volume typological project of Linda Hutcheon (see 3.iii for further examination) has attained an especially high visibility. Hutcheon's work is particularly pertinent to our case because much of the scholarship related to Ackroyd utilizes her premises in order to illustrate the putative postmodern nature of his novels. Yet Hutcheon's work is by no mean criticism ex nihilo. In fact, a critical trend designating the parametres of literary postmodernism predates Hutcheon's project and, furthermore, established foundational problems inherent to the category (that Hutcheon and others later discuss). During the 1960s and early 1970s a small cadre of critics began to publish their observations about the modulations in the literary Zeitgeist: change, apparently, was in the air and more than a few scholars were quick to find something noteworthy about it. Though ostensibly pursuing a neutral, apolitical or objective cataloguing of qualities, debate about the value of the change was—and has often in fact remained—acrimonious, with words like "crisis" and "decay" vying in journals and conferences with ones like "innovation" and "revolution." With underlying concerns recalling both the "false versus true" controversy central to discussions of the historical novel and Connor's late-dated query, "does postmodernist culture exist and if so (sometimes even if not) is it a 'good thing' or a 'bad thing'?" (1989 7), criticism has wrestled not only with the amorphous borders of literary postmodernism but also its considerable ethical dimensions. What is more, the points of reference for the value of postmodern literature perform a small scale mimicking (or re-enactment) of the larger, more generalized dialogue we have already seen 58 regarding postmodernism. For all the various discussions of postmodern literature, it is not difficult to replace literature with, say, architecture . . . or dance, or painting. Strangely, there is little specific to literature—as a site of signification—that cannot be found in another art form. The duly noted new literature did not emerge from a historical void From the beginning, critics set the stage in a particular manner: The Moments Following the Death of Modernism. Bernard Bergonzi, writing in 1968, paints a characteristic mise en scene— The present situation is one in which Proust and Joyce and the other masters of the early twentieth century have, in Cyril Connolly's words, "finished off the novel", and yet where there are very strong cultural and sociological reasons, ranging from the dedication and aspiration of novelists to the commercial needs of the publishing industry, for the continuation of the novel form. (19)41 It is with considerably less sang-froid and more than a nod to melodrama that Irving Howe (1970) describes the "unsettling moral and intellectual consequences of the breakup of modernist culture, or the decline of the new" (vii)— How enviable death must be to those who no longer have reason to live yet are unable to make themselves die! Modernism will not come to an end; its war chants will be repeated through the decades. For what seems to await it is a more painful and certainly less dignified conclusion than that of earlier cultural movements: what awaits it is publicity and sensation, the kind of savage parody which may indeed be the only fate worse than death. (33) In short, a broadly disseminated query—"Whither literature?"—was posed in response to the perceived passing of an epoch, and no shortage of responses offered. Initial answers were anxious, if not condemnatory outright. In his Queen's University address of 1960, later published as "What Was Modernism?," Harry Levin championed the achievements of modernist literature, and suggested that contemporary reaction to those estimable feats was 4 1 Bergonzi admits to feeling wary about the confidence of Anthony Burgess's 1967 statement that, "The contemporary novel is not doing badly. Soon, when we least expect it, it will do not merely better but magnificently" (12). Bergonzi later nails the coffin shut: "The situation of the Western novel during the past forty years has been precisely one in which a large amount of local movement has been evident, but no overall development since the achievement of Proust and Joyce and the other major innovators of the early twentieth century" (32). For further discussion of this time of transition, see also: Byatt, Binns and Reeve (in Bradbury 1979), Stevenson (1990) and Seltzer (1974). 59 blindly rash. Levin alludes to "the post-modern" as an "anti-intellectual undercurrent" within modernity (271), and then further invalidates it as wholly parasitic: "Lacking the courage of their convictions, much in our arts and letters simply exploits and diffuses, on a large scale and at a popular level, the results of [modernist] experimentation" (277). Leslie Fiedler's essay "The New Mutants" (1965) surveyed in like fashion fiction of the "present age," (i.e., "post-Modernist literature" (508)). Though he here42 appears to admire new developments, the steady qualifications of his admiration suggests he might fully rescind it at a moment's notice. Nevertheless, Fiedler steers toward a vision of radical transformation into "post-humanist" (521) culture, which is to say— the tradition from which [postmodernists] strive to disengage is the tradition of the human, as the West (understanding the West to extend from the United States to Russia) has defined it, Humanism itself, both in its bourgeois and Marxist forms; and more especially, the cult of reason—that dream of Socrates, redreamed by the Renaissance and surviving all travesties down to only yesterday. (509) While Fiedler presents himself as a humble chronicler, the notes of panic and despair in his record place him near Levin and Howe. Anxious in another way, Bernard Bergonzi (1970) suggests that what he calls the "problematical mode" of fiction (which is analogous to postmodern fiction), whose initial appearance was defiant and liberating, "has itself become just another convention, by an inevitable process of cultural stabilisation" (227). Other critics held more hope for the new literature. Examining the emergence of the critical construction of postmodernism, Alex Callinicos refers to Hiab Hassan as a principal "propagandist" (132) of the cause. And though his later essays celebrate the new forms, in his ambivalent "The Literature of Silence" (1967), Hassan mentions an emergent "new literature," one "turning against itself, aspir[ing] to silence [and] leaving us with uneasy intimations of outrage and silence" (1987 3). Ever the aspiring typologist, Hassan 42By contrast, his survey end-of-decade "Cross the Border-Close the Gap" (which appeared in Playboy (!) in 1970) delineates the new literature in neutrally descriptive terms, but calls for a new criticism whose language is appropriate to its subject. Old Criticism is for Old Novels, Fiedler writes; a Post-Modern criticism is necessary for understanding a Post-Modern literature (461 -463). 60 uncovers in such literature metaphors of violence and apocalypse, obscenity and absurdist play; he notes "radical irony," and detects a central—and a soon to be much extolled—principle of "indeterminacy" (9). Hassan observes, "By refusing order, order imposed or discovered, this kind of literature refuses purpose" (10). The form might be radical and subversive, Hassan acknowledges, but it is not ultimately nihilistic: "The new literature may be extreme, and its dream apocalyptic and outrageous. But it is conceived in the interests of life; and life, we know, sometimes progresses through violence and contradictions" (13). John Barth's tentative and "much-misread essay"43 (Barth 1980 284), "The Literature of Exhaustion," which first appeared in The Atlantic in 1967, discusses "the literature of exhausted possibility" (19). Barth proposes that while "artistic conventions are liable to be retired, subverted, transcended, transformed, or even deployed against themselves to generate new and lively work" (1980 285), literature is not nearly dead but rather in transition. He modestly suggests his own work is a testament to new forms springing from old. Most enthusiastic, perhaps, is Raymond Federman's introduction to Surfiction (1975), a collection of essays addressing new developments in literature. Federman programatically champions a new literature which—unlike the "moribund" and status quo "traditional novel"(6)—"exposes the fictionality of reality" (7). Surfiction (that is, surreality + fiction) is the only appropriate shape for the future and will, according to Federman's bombast, eradicate duplicity, negate duality and abolish "all distinctions between the real and imaginary, between the conscious and subconscious [and] between truth and untruth" (8). Unlike the "boring and restrictive" fiction of tradition, the 4 3ln "The Literature of Replenishment" (1980), Barth claims that his earlier essay did not suggests that "literature... is kaput" [sic] (285). What he meant at the time was that he viewed the "aesthetic of high modernism" as an "admirable, not-to-be-repudiated, but essentially completed 'program'" (286), and that a newer literature was being forged: "In 1966-67 we scarcely had the term postmodernism in its current literary critical usage—at least I hadn't heard it yet—but a number of us, in quite different ways and with varying combinations of intuitive response and conscious deliberation, were already well into the working out, not of the next best thing after modernism, but of the best next thing: what is gropingly now called postmodernist fiction; what I hope might also be thought of one day as a literature of replenishment" (286). 61 new literature can "offer choice, participation and discovery" (10-11); it will be "deliberately illogical, irrational, unrealistic, non sequitur, and incoherent" (13); and within it, "linear and orderly narration is no longer possible" (10). More faithfully mimetic of the chaotic contemporary world than the spurious teleology of traditional fiction, innovative contemporary literature, Federman argues, is therefore the only apt literature. Subsequent post-Federman deliberation has followed a kind of tradition, framing discussion in diagnostic, evaluative terms (basically, postmodern literature as ailment and/or vitality). Such discussion is either appended to or implicit in the critic's typology of postmodernist literature. David Lodge (1977) is a case in point. Though more circumspect than the likes of Federman or Levin, the genealogy David Lodge' presents in Modes of Modern Writing begins with Beckett ("who has a strong claim to be considered the first important postmodernist writer" (221)), and then moves on to consider that literature's salient features, especially focussing vis a vis Roman Jakobson on the degrees of metonymy and metaphor in postmodern works. Yet Lodge's typological project eventually concludes with a typical diagnostic flourish. Lodge contends that postmodern literature subverts a reader's faith that a text is "ultimately susceptible to being understood" (226). His hypothesis is presented without any seeming rancour. It merely posits a contrast to earlier modernist literature, which apparently did not subvert faith so radically. And in a similar vein as Hassan, Lodge provides a set of keywords—contradiction, permutation, discontinuity, randomness, excess, short circuit;—for the new literature. Unlike Hassan or Federman, though, Lodge judges postmodern literature as essentially a "rule-breaking kind of art" and "very much a hit-or-miss affair" (245). The descriptions alone diminish postmodern literature, suggesting, respectively, a juvenile acting-out and mere facile gimmickry. Forever limited, in Lodge's view, to response or reaction to earlier (modernist in particular) forms, postmodern literature has, so to speak, no vitality of its own, no internal energy to foster growth and development. 62 In line with Lodge's assessment, Gerald Graff (1979) finds in postmodern literature (which, he believes, "extends rather than overturns the premises of romanticism and modernism" (52)) reaction borne of crisis. Graff holds, however, that the critical embrace of a literature that marks "our despair of the possibility of such understanding or our desire to celebrate its impossibility as a kind of release from social and philosophical determinisms" (239) is simply wrong-headed. And this is because he maintains that literature and criticism should cherish its Arnoldian touchstone, should shore up boundaries and work toward building civilization: "The writer's problem is to find a standpoint from which to represent the diffuse, intransigent material of contemporary experience without surrendering critical perspective to it" (238). So, "lacking in plausible motive or discoverable depth" (53), contemporary literature can serve only a perverse function. Graff's descriptive terms—from "alienation," "corruption" and "degeneration" to "irreverent," "arbitrary," "artificial" and "merely make-believe"—are a negative typology, and form a panic leitmotif. He claims that the new form's "inability to transcend the solipsism of subjectivity and language become the novel's chief subject and the principle of its form" (53), and that such a subject-form is intrinsically pessimistic and self-defeating. Despite an inflammatory rhetoric, however, not all is lost. Within the varied field of postmodern fiction Graff locates two sub-genres. While the first, represented by Borges, posits "a universe in which human consciousness is incapable of transcending its own mythologies" (55), it simultaneously regards that limitation as a problem and hence "affirms the sense of reality in a negative way by dramatizing its absence as a deprivation" (56). The second, in contrast, views the dissolution of identity and the loss of meaningfulness as liberatory, "a prelude to growth" (57). This position gives Graff pause— The weakness of much postmodern fiction lies in its ability or refusal to retain any moorings in social reality . . . . It indulges in a freedom of infinite 63 fabulation that is trivializing in that the writer is not taken seriously enough to be held accountable to an external standard of truth. (209)44 Graff's unproblematized reference to truth finds an unexpected echo in the Manzoni, Fleishman and Renault discussions of the historical novel. Two critics contemporaneous with Hutcheon serve to elucidate the most recent perspectives on postmodernism in literature. Fredric Jameson opens what Perry Anderson calls his field-commanding (54) essay, "Postmodernism and Consumer Society" (1982), with an even by then standard admission that "[t]he concept of postmodernism is not widely accepted or even understood today" (Foster 111). Despite the fundamental lack of conceptual clarity he focusses on two aspects of "this new impulse": that postmodernism exists as a multifaceted reaction to modernism (which is considered by practitioners of the postmodern as "the establishment and the enemy—dead, stifling, canonical, the reified monuments one has to destroy to do anything new" (112)) and marked by the effacement of key boundaries such as "high culture and so-called mass or popular culture" (112). In his address Jameson identifies postmodernism as a style as well as a periodizing concept "for the emergence of a new type of social life and a new economic order" (113). It is the ^See also Charles Newman (1985), The Post-Modern Aura. Like Graff (who, in fact, supplies the preface for Newman's study), Newman apparently holds some hostility to the alleged pretensions of postmodernity: "The Post-Modern is above all characterized by the inflation of discourse, manifesting itself in literature though the illusion that technique can remove itself from history by attacking a concept of objective reality which has already faded from the world, and in criticism by the development of secondary languages which presumably 'demystify' reality, but actually tend to further obscure it" (10). And the debate takes on other perspectives. Though focussed on irony, Alan Wilde's Horizons of Assent (1981) views postmodern art in a positive light. He writes: "the defining feature of modernism is its ironic vision of disconnection and disjunction, postmodernism, more radical in its perceptions, derives instead from a vision of randomness, multiplicity, and contingency: in short, a world in need of mending is superseded by one beyond repair. Modernism, spurred by an anxiety to recuperate a lost wholeness in self-sustaining orders of art or in the unselfconscious depths of the self (control and surrender again), reaches toward the heroic in the intensity of its desire and of its disillusion. Postmodernism, skeptical of such efforts, presents itself as deliberately, consciously antiheroic" (131 -132). Consider further: Scholes (1967); Alter (1975); Thiher (1984). 64 latter development that concerns him, and "pastiche" (in nostalgia films like Star Wars and in the historical novels of E.L. Doctorow) and "schizophrenia"46 (exemplified by Bob Perelman's poem, "China") form the bifurcated core that illustrates the sense of space and time of the new impulse. Jameson, like Hutcheon after him, discusses film, music and literature (and later in the greatly expanded Postmodernism, or. the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, dance, video and visual arts and architecture) interchangeably and acknowledges that the postmodern features he adumbrates are not altogether without precedent—they in fact characterized elements of modernism. What is new, though, Jameson suggests, is the predominance of these traits— I must limit myself to the suggestion that radical breaks between periods do not generally involve complete changes of content but rather the restructuration of a certain number of elements already given: features that in an earlier period or system were subordinate become dominant, and features that had been dominant again become secondary . . . . my point is that until the present day those things have been secondary or minor features of modernist art, marginal rather than central, and that we have something new when they become the central features of cultural production. (123) Despite Jameson's protests to the contrary (that his essaying performance is a descriptive and not diagnostic or prescriptive one), his very terms on one single page—"the 45As opposed to parody. Jameson argues in effect that parody is a kind of literary social control. The parodist fixes on the private and idiosyncratic stylistic mannerisms of the object of ridicule in order to emphasize its deviation from the "way people normally speak or read": "So there remains behind all parody the feeling that there is a linguistic norm in contrast to which styles of the great modernists can be mocked" (113-114). Pastiche, on the other hand, exists in a place without norms: "Pastiche is, like parody, the imitation of a peculiar or unique style, the wearing of a stylistic mask, speech in a dead language: but it is a neutral practice of such mimicry, without parody's ulterior motive, without the satirical impulse, without laughter, without that still latent feeling that there exists something normal compared to which what is being imitated is rather comic" (114). ^Jameson's "descriptive and not diagnostic" usage comes from his interpretation of Jacques Lacan: "psychosis, and, more particularly schizophrenia, emerges from the failure of the infant to accede fully into the realm of speech and language" (118). Furthermore, as Jameson sees it, the unfortunate schizophrenic, who does not "have our experience of temporal continuity either" is "condemned to live in a perpetual present with which the moments of his or her past have little connection and for which there is no conceivable future on the horizon. In other words, schizophrenic experience is an experience of isolated, disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link up into a coherent sequence" (119). 6 5 disappearance of a sense of history," "the media exhaustion of the news," "the transformation of reality into images," "a perpetual change that obliterates traditions," "the fragmentation of time into a series of perpetual presents" (125)—carry tangible weight and suggest that once upon a time there was something that if not prelapsarian was at least better, more meaningful than the dizzying, present day. "Nostalgia," a term of abuse for Jameson, is a cozy blanket with which the critic himself seems to wrap himself. Jameson concludes his brief essay with an open question. He states that there is some agreement that modernist art worked "against its society in ways which are variously described as critical, negative, contestatory, subversive, oppositional and the like," yet questions whether "anything of the sort [can] be affirmed about postmodernism and its social moment" (125). As with Hutcheon, Jameson does not doubt the direct linkage between art and culture, that art forms teach "lessons" (as Hutcheon claims) that influence audiences and so work to transform culture. Yet in contrast, Jameson lists nothing contestatory; that postmodern forms reinforce the logic of consumer capitalism Jameson has no doubt; whether these forms offer resistance remains unanswered.47 With nary a reference to Jameson's influential approach, Brian McHale (1987) none the less mines a similar vein in his study of a postmodern literary "descriptive poetics"_(xi). In stark contrast to both Hutcheon and Jameson, though, McHale spends no time considering the putative effects of literature on culture. For him postmodernist literature does not represent a symptom of declining (Jameson) or revitalized (Hutcheon) culture; it simply reflects different sorts of questions certain novelists are asking. McHale 47Jameson's answer to Linda Hutcheon on the matter of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime is instructive. For Hutcheon the novel is emblematic of the postmodern challenge to "andro- (phallo-), hetero-, Euro-, ethno-centrisms" (1988 61). Jameson questions Hutcheon's reading exactly because Ragtime is a "postmodern artifact" (1991 22)— "This historical novel can no longer set out to represent the historical past; it can only 'represent' our ideas and stereotypes about that past (which thereby at once becomes 'pop history').... If there is any realism left here, it is a 'realism' that is meant to derive from the shock of grasping that confinement and of slowly becoming aware of a new and original historical situation in which we are condemned to seek History byway of our own pop images and simulacra of that history, which itself remains forever out of reach" (25). 66 adopts from Roman Jakobson the concept of the "dominant"—according to McHale "the focusing~component of a work of art" (6)—and then modifies and arguably clouds Jakobson's term so that there are many dominants at various levels: "In short, different dominants emerge depending upon which questions we ask of the text, and the position 48 from which we interrogate it" (6). From that point he arrives at the matrix of what he humbly calls a "one-idea book" (xii)— I will formulate it as a general thesis about modernist fiction: the dominant of modernist fiction is epistemological. That is, modernist fiction deploys strategies which engage and fore- ground [the] questions . . . : "How can I interpret this world of which I am a part? And what am I in it?" (9) And in like fashion there is a distinct slant to the dominant of postmodernism's literature— This brings me to a second general thesis, this time about postmodernist fiction: the dominant of postmodernist fiction is ontological. That is, postmodernist fiction deploys strategies which engage and foreground [the] questions . . . : "Which world is this? What is to be done in it? Which of my selves is to do it?" (10) McHale studies the features of other critical constructions of postmodern literature such as Hassan's and Lodge's, and concludes: "it is the ontological dominant which explains the selection and clustering of these particular features; the ontological dominant is the principle of systematicity underlying those otherwise heterogeneous catalogues" (10). Like Jameson49, McHale notes that one term does not exclude the other; epistemological questions '"tip over'" into ontological questions when they are pushed far enough. The 48From McHale's abbreviated discussion of dominants, it is difficult to comprehend where to place readers and critics. When he writes, for instance, "With the help of this conceptual tool, we can elicit the systems underlying these heterogeneous catalogues, and to begin to account for historical change" (7), terms like "systems" and "historical change" float detached from the speaker. But who is "we" and how is "we" positioned, inside or outside the dominants? Do the dominants "exist" within the text alone or, like in Jameson, is the dominant a generalized cultural phenomenon linked to economics and enveloping both text and critic? 49See also: Foster (1984): "In this light, the rejection of modernism on the grounds that its elements are to be found in modernism may be countered with the argument that they now exist in a new order, transformed in place and effectivity" (201). 67 dominant, however, assures that one possibility is given more weight by readers than another: This in a nutshell is the function of the dominant: it specifies the order in which different aspects are to be attended to, so that, although it would be perfectly possible to interrogate a postmodernist text about its epistemological implications, it is more urgent to interrogate it about its ontological implications. In postmodernist texts, in other words, epistemology is backgrounded, as the price for foregrounding ontology. (11) Highlighting the "problems of modes of being" over modernism's "problems of knowing" (10), postmodernist literature in McHale's account insistently urges for (and here McHale's view aligns with ones earlier expressed by Hassan and Lodge) speculation about the nature(s) of the (textual) world(s). (iii) Linda Hutcheon: The Use and Abuse of Postmodernism While Fredric Jameson's elucidations have gained wide currency as an overarching conceptual approach to (or aetiology of) the phenomenon called postmodernity, in English literary studies generally and in discussions of Peter Ackroyd especially, the critical project of Linda Hutcheon that spans several volumes has come to occupy a more pivotal position. Her coinage and characterization of "historiographic metafiction" (discussed in 3.iv), a term regularly found in scholarly approaches to Ackroyd's work, is fully imbricated in her broader project of mapping the contours of postmodernity. The shape and significance she grants to.postmodernism are therefore crucial not only because they stand in contrast with other modellings but also because Hutcheon's work has had such an influence in approaches to Peter Ackroyd's novels. Critically considering Hutcheon's map of postmodernity will enable a discussion of the implications of her map-drawing as a critical method and as an interpretive schema for novels such as Hawksmoor. whose postmodernity Hutcheon confidently lists alongside work by Margaret Atwood, John Fowles, Audrey Thomas, Anthony Burgess, Robert Kroetsch, Julian Barnes, Milan Kundera and Susan Daitch (1988 139). 68 While Hutcheon has been occasionally equivocal about the very existence of postmodernism—she writes qualifyingly, for instance, "The postmodern is, if it is anythirigat all, a problematizing force in our culture today" (1988 xi; emphasis added)—her studies usually answer Connor's query, "[d]oes postmodernism really exist, after all?," with an enthusiastic affirmative: postmodernism does exist, and it can be a good thing indeed. Though in her early study of contemporary metafiction, Narcissistic Narrative (1980), Hutcheon eschewed the term "postmodernism" as being both too vague and exclusive (2-3), she entered the critical fray several years later with a flurry of publications: The Canadian Postmodern (1988), A Poetics of Postmodernism: History. Theory. Fiction (1988) and The Politics of Postmodernism (1989). Most notably in her encyclopaedic, popular and six-times reprinted A Poetics of Postmodernism. Linda Hutcheon engages aspects50 of what she variously labels the "cultural enterprise" or "cultural phenomenon" or "cultural practices" (x) called postmodernism. Rather than simply writing "yet another denigration" (ix) of postmodernism, Hutcheon envisions a "poetics"—that is, a "flexible conceptual structure which could at once constitute and contain postmodern culture" (x), and/or an "open, ever-changing theoretical structure by '"Hutcheon focusses principally on art and cultural theory. Other fields engaged in the postmodern debate, from sociology and anthropology to law and philosophy, are seemingly excluded from her poetics. For further evidence of Hutcheon's power of dissemination, see her closely interrelated English language essays in Hutcheon, L. (Ed.) A Postmodern Reader: Adam. I. (Ed.) Past the Last Post: Bertens, H. (Ed.) Postmodernism:Testaferri. A. (Ed.) Women in Italian Culture: Perloff, M. (Ed.) Postmodern Genres: Smyth, Edmund J. (Ed.) Postmodernism and Contemporary Fiction: Neuman, S. and Kamboureli, S. (Eds.) A Mazing Space: Whiteside A. (Ed.) On Referring in Literature: Merrill, R. (Ed.) Ethics/Aesthetics: Hoffman, M. (Ed.) Essentials of the Theory of Fiction: Kauffman, L. (Ed.) Gender and Theory: O'Donnell; P. (Ed.) Intertextualitvand Contemporary American Fiction: Moss, J. (Ed.) Future Indicative: Davidson, A. (Ed.) Studies on Canadian Literature: Solecki, S. (Ed.) Spider Blues: New, W.H. (Ed.) Literary History of Canada Vol IV. Hutcheon's acknowledgement pages, furthermore, list a spate of excerpts and related essays published in Canadian Literature. Essays on Canadian Literature. Canadian Review of Comparative Literature. Quarterly Review of Film and Video. Bete Noire. Dandelion. University of Toronto Quarterly. Textual Practice. Canadian Woman Studies. Poetics Today. Tessera. Bulletin of Humanities Institute at Stony Brook. Signature. Cultural Critique. Diacritics. Genre. Ariel and English Studies in Canada. Hutcheon gives thanks, as well, to numerous institutions and professional associations that heard parts of the research that comprised her studies. 69 which to order both our cultural knowledge and our critical procedures" (14). Ostensibly fluid and amorphous—despite its paradoxically supplying order and containment—Hutcheon's poetics, then, is a structural critical equivalent or analogue to a certain representation of a commonplace conception (dating back to Hassan (1971) at least) of postmodernism itself. Much of Hutcheon's Poetics supplies a typology or profile of the postmodern. For Hutcheon, who asserts her modest wish to "avoid polemical generalizations" of the sort she finds in work by Fredric Jameson, Terry Eagleton and Charles Newman (10), postmodernism is, in general and in ostensibly non-polemical terms, "fundamentally contradictory, resolutely historical and inescapably political" (4).51 What is new about postmodernism, Hutcheon notes, is not so much its active questioning of heretofore stable ontological and epistemological systems, but rather "the concentration of the problemizations" (88). Hutcheon situates postmodernism in a seemingly bellicose world of disparate powers vying for control—though one where battles are pitched through words and discourse dominance rather than military gestures and legal restraints. What postmodern forms achieve, according to Hutcheon (after Barthes), is a comprehensive critical evaluation of "the given" myths or "what goes without saying" (3) in our culture. In place of the singular answer or a uniform Truth, it suggests multiplicity, provisionality and context; instead of a uniform, universal dogma, it offers local context and contingency. As Hutcheon sees it, the "teachings" and "lessons" (the unexpectedly Sunday schoolish, words are hers) of postmodernism—gleaned from brief excursions into building designed by internationally-recognized architects like Michael Graves and Paolo Portoghesi, disparate novels (from Margaret Atwood and Peter Ackroyd to Salman Rushdie and Tom Robbins), artwork by such practitioners as Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger and cultural theories from the likes of Jean-Francois Lyotard and Roland "Hutcheon repeats this formulation with gusto in her other works on postmodernism. In The Politics of Postmodernism she says postmodernism is "a phenomenon whose mode is resolutely contradictory as well as unavoidable political" (1). In The Canadian Postmodern. Hutcheon writes that the "discontinuities of postmodernism" (20) are inherently political, contradictory and paradoxical. 70 Barthes—are multiple. Surveying its vast archive of forms and significant commentators, she stakes claims for the immense sway of postmodernism. This "cultural phenomenon" is always, as she points out over and again, contradictory and paradoxical. In particular, it is radical yet domesticated; it is something that openly questions, yes, but without ultimately becoming "extreme." In keeping with her desire to be non-polemical, Hutcheon's postmodern "cultural enterprise" strikes a moderate balance despite its seeming polymorphous and subversive nature. Hutcheon's claims for the "phenomenon" occur page after page. She explains that postmodernism —is not a new paradigm (4) —has "seriously challenged" liberal humanism (4) —questions from within but does not implode (xiii) —works "within conventions in order to subvert them" (5) —challenges the increasing uniformization of mass culture (6) —contests culture within its own assumptions (6) —"refuses to posit any structure" or master narratives (6) —may signify "the site of the struggle of the emergence of something new" (4) —"marks neither a radical Utopian change nor a lamentable decline to hyperreal simulacra" (xiii) —has little faith in art's ability to change society directly, though it does believe that questioning and problematizing may set up conditions for possible change (218) —interrogates the notion of consensus (7) —questions "narrative singularity and unity in the name of multiplicity and disparity" (90) —does "not reject or merely accept" cultural norms (16) —might be able to "dramatize and even provoke change from within" (7) —is careful not to make the margin into the new centre (12) —rejects any neat binary oppositions (43) —says "there are all kinds of orders and systems in our world and we have created them all" (43)52 "Compared to lhab Hassan's neat schematic of postmodernism in "Toward a Concept of Postmodernism" (1982), Hutcheon's own delineation simplifies the "effects" of the postmodern. And whereas (in "Pluralism in Perspective" (1986)) Hassan's list of eleven links, a "catena of postmodern features" (18)-indeterminacy, fragmentation, decanonjzation, self-less-ness/depth-less-ness, the unpresentable/unrepresentable, irony, hybridization, carnivalization, performance/participation, constructionism, immanence—broadens the postmodern thematic, Hutcheon's own typology of contradiction, subversion and persistent questioning reduces the scope. 71 Outlining with broad gestures, Hutcheon states that goad-like postmodernism (which remains oddly yet persistently a singular "it" in her discussion) "asserts and then deliberately undermines such principles as value, order, meaning, control and identity" (12). Its modus operandi, as outlined by Hutcheon, involves a simultaneous back and forth or in and out movement. To borrow Hutcheon's own metaphors, it "uses and abuses" and "installs and subverts" conventions. By doing so, this phenomenon continuously brings to the fore the synthetic, historically determined (and limited) and human-made quality of these conventions. And yet at the same time it is a gad-fly, not an anarchist. While Hutcheon is quick (and even eager) to point out what is paradoxical, contradictory and contestatory in postmodernism, she has equal certainty of its limitations. Postmodernism offers "only questions, never final answers" (42) and it "questions centralized, totalized, hierarchized, closed systems: questions but does not destroy" (41). To go so far as to unequivocally answer or destroy is tantamount to embracing another dictator after the tyrannical Emperor has been deposed. Hutcheon's postmodernism reveals the ideology behind the "normal" and "traditional." Power comes from the acts of revelation; it has no interest in occupying the gilded throne: "In many ways it is an even-handed process because postmodernism ultimately manages to install and reinforce as much as undermine and subvert the conventions and preoccupations it appears to challenge" (1989 1-2). It is not difficult to view Hutcheon's envisioning of postmodernism as unsettling. After all, the phenomenon's reach is so vast and inclusive, and yet, as Hutcheon herself notes, it is temperate and "even-handed"—despite knowledge and critical insight, the "process" is not too extreme and never uncomfortably radical; it is a wary if puckish teacher, not an armed revolutionary. Given Hutcheon's claims for the enterprise and her careful emphasis on its subversive-yet-moderate political vision, the question arises: is this critical vision of postmodernism also a domesticated phenomenon? If it is, then to what degree is it "inescapably political" (1988 4)? The very even-handedness—comprised of the continuous 72 deferring modality of questioning and the disavowal of active cultural-making-^would appear to qualify or curtail its "political" value and import. Lorraine Weir eloquently raises the matter of Hutcheon's positioning of postmodernism in "Normalizing the Subject: Linda Hutcheon and the English-Canadian Postmodern." Among many topics, Weir addresses notions of "bad taste" and "normalcy" in the academy and "the worlds of community, shared values, mutual illumination, health, and moral well-being, values which have prevailed—in fact, become canonic—in English-Canadian literary criticism for more than a century" (180). Weir contends that Linda Hutcheon falls into that canonic Canadian literary critical fold, and takes postmodernism along with her. What for Hutcheon is a poetics that "could at once constitute and contain postmodern culture" (1988 x) looks to Weir like a taming that virtually enervates the intrinsic (albeit potential) dynamism of postmodern forms. Weir fears that Hutcheon's "communitarian values," which have, not coincidentally, helped assure Hutcheon's vaunted status in the Canadian literary market-place, restrict and in effect de-claw the truly radical possibilities of postmodernism. Weir writes that despite her seeming revolutionary guise, "Hutcheon undertakes what Robert Kroetsch has called a 'righting of culture' which returns it to its long-held values, its code of civility, and privileging of clarity, good taste, and 'standard English'" (181). Hutcheon's poetics, then, "normalizes," transforming the conceivable danger of the carnival into benign entertainment— Less radical than the longer-canonized Northrop Frye, Hutcheon balances on the edge of English-Canadian acculturated intolerance of speculative thought, redeeming herself at every possible lapse through invocation of the official values enshrined in our literary tradition. In fact, so close to the rhetoric of the great Canadian hermeneutic/realist paradigm does Hutcheon's poetics of postmodernism come that cooptation by the still dominant Tory tradition seems almost inevitable. Subjecting Canadian as well as international modernism to a normalizing influence, domesticating deviance and inscribing it within her postmodern paradigm, Hutcheon converts danger into safety, the marginalized 53 into the mainstream, the non-referential into the referential. (181) "In The Jamesonian Unconscious. Clint Burnham likewise takes Hutcheon to task for her reduction of postmodernism into a mode of liberalism (230-233). 73 Hutcheon's inscription claims a playful but none the less serious political intent for the "cultural practices." For Weir, Hutcheon's contention that this phenomenon "espouses a postmodern ideology of plurality and recognition of difference" (1988 114) needs to be considered in the context of Hutcheon's simultaneous normalizing or domesticating gestures. The degree to which plurality and difference are then understood (by the presumed audience) may be limited because in Hutcheon's view the questioning element is conjoined with a moderatism which always asserts the need for the commensurable, the recognizable and clear referentiality. (In addition to the possibly domesticating, de-politicizing or "containing" trait of Hutcheon's inscription of postmodernism, there is another matter to consider: distinguishing "true" postmodernism from "mere" commercial knock-offs. As with Graff and Hassan, there are for Hutcheon apparently good and bad postmodernisms. In the introduction to The Politics of Postmodernism. Hutcheon refers to postmodernist architecture's use of "reappropriated forms of the past to speak to a society from within the values and history of that society, while still questioning it. It is in this way that its historical representations, however parodic, get politicized" (12). Inside yet critical, its modality is typical of Hutcheon's postmodernism: it "neither ignores nor condemns the long heritage of its built culture" (12). A.sentence or so later Hutcheon refers to "commercial co-option" of such parodic forms: To make this claim is not to deny the all too evident, trendy commercial exploitation of these postmodern parodic strategies in contemporary design: hardly a shopping plaza or office building gets constructed today that does not have a classical keystone or column. These usually vague and unfocused references to the past should be distinguished from the motivated historical echoes found, for example, in Charles Moore's Piazza d'Italia . . . (12) Whereas Moore's structure "respectfully" parodies the Trevi Fountain, "kitschy shopping plazas," and "gratuitous" architectural citations (12) are apparently neither respectful nor worthy of study. They are "vague" and "unfocused," and not at all "motivated." But are such buildings postmodern? If they are not, how can they be categorized and what is their 74 significance? And if they are, where can they be situated within the field? Hutcheon is resolutely unclear on the matter. Hutcheon's criticism here makes an implicit distinction between high and low culture and pure and commercial architecture.54 Though she claims in Poetics that contradictory and paradoxical postmodernist forms are, confoundingly, "both academic and popular, elitist and accessible" (and, in turn, close the gap between "high and low art forms"(44)), she nevertheless draws a line that is decidedly un-postmodern; it is not a big step to link her claim to those made in the long history of literary criticism (from Eliot and Arnold through to Sidney and Pope, if not further), that segregate good and moral art from that which is deemed bad and unworthy. Like her critical predecessors, moreover, Hutcheon's hierarchy clearly prefers the high and pure to the low and commercial. Clearly, then, there are in Hutcheon's schema unstated criteria that enable her to gauge the difference between truly interrogative postmodernism and that other sort which is only commercial. In light of her assertion of postmodernism's undeniable political activism, it is evident that some kind of work is political—eager for change, deeply critical, suspicious of tradition—while other sorts are not. Gauging from her examples the matter of discerning valid and invalid turns on (presumed) authorial intentionality. In other words, Hutcheorf rates Charles Moore's architectural work—situated in an already coded gallery-like institutional space—as emblematic postmodernity because of its self-conscious engagement with art history. Of a warehouse or mini-mall utilizing neo-classical decorative motifs—which might be viewed as a problematizing of the "critical" nature of Hutcheon's exemplary postmodern artifacts—Hutcheon spends little effort analyzing, though she does express enough confidence to dismiss such forms as unworthy of closer consideration.) (iv) Shaking Foundations?: Hutcheon's Historiographic Metafiction "Problematically, Hutcheon implies here too that true architecture is somehow disinterested, a contemplative exercise outside the purview of capitalism. As such—free of the drive to maximize profits—it is able to meditate on culture and history and the meaning of both in the contemporary. 75 Only conservatives believe that subversion is still being carried out in the arts and that society is still being shaken by it. Harold Rosenberg, 1973 (in Hutcheon 1988a 217] Postmodern fiction, then, plays (seriously) with the structure of authority. It exists in the liminal space between power and subversion. Alison Lee, 1990 (xii) The novel of postmodernism is of course simply one facet of a seemingly culture-wide phenomenon. For Hutcheon in The Poetics of Postmodernism, however, it stands alongside architecture as the paradigmatic art form of postmodernism.55 Convinced of the novel's centrality—and not only within postmodern practices themselves but in the real world of politics, history-making and cultural change—Hutcheon unearths from it an almost unfathomably broad potential for actively scrutinizing (if not undermining) dormnanUdeologies: the postmodern novel puts into question that entire series of interconnected concepts that have come to be associated with what we conveniently label liberal humanism: autonomy, transcendence, certainty, authority, unity, totalization, system, universalization, center, continuity, teleology, closure, hierarchy, homogeneity, uniqueness, origin. (57) Whew! Yet it is not any current novel that Hutcheon perceives as being so profoundly interrogative. Only historiographic metafiction "explicitly" "cast[s] doubt on the very possibility of any firm 'guarantee of meaning,' however situated in discourse" (55). Drawing on a brief chapter, "The Historical Novel," in Umberto Eco's Postscript to the Name of the Rose. Hutcheon reiterates Eco's claim there are "three ways of narrating the past" (Eco 74) in fiction: the romance, the swashbuckling tale and the historical novel. Hutcheon posits a contemporary fourth: historiographic metafiction. In attempting to elucidate-the distinction(s) between the historical novel and the historiographic metafictive one, Hutcheon is initially equivocal—she states that it is "difficult to generalize" because in the historical novel "history plays a great number of distinctly different roles, at different levels of generality, in its various manifestations" (113). The demarcation can be found, She moves on to photography and literature in The Politics of Postmodernism 76 though. Characteristically for Hutcheon's postmodernism, the genre maintains "intense self-consciousness" (113) about the politics and ideologies of narrative-building. Always aware of its status as fiction, the genre compulsively signals that fact to readers. Historiographic metafiction is marked by "the ex-centrics, the marginalized [and] the peripheral figures of fictional history"; it "plays upon the truths and lies of the historical record" and "incorporates" historical data but rarely "assimilates" it; and whereas in traditional historical fiction historical figures are deployed to hide the joint between fiction and history, the "metafictional self-reflexivity of postmodern novels prevents any such subterfuge, and poses the ontological joint as a problem: how do we know the past?" (114-15). In The Canadian Postmodern Hutcheon also draws attention to the lack of authorial self-effacement and multiplicity of narrating voices (64-65) in historiographic metafiction. She notes in Politics, too, that "postmodern historiographic metafiction" foregrounds the inherent ambivalence of the novel genre "by having its historical and socio-political grounding sit uneasily alongside its self-reflexivity" (15). As much interested in the pedagogic function of historiographic metafiction as its profile or typology, for Hutcheon the "implied teachings of historiographic metafiction" (105) are various. Typically political, it challenges "the very separation of the literary and the historical" (105) and it "install[s] and then blur[s] the line between fiction and history" (113). Most significant, perhaps, is the genre's preoccupation with opening history up "to prevent it from being conclusive and teleological" (110). In creating alternative histories (like Jeanette Winterson in Sexing the Cherry), grafting historical "fact" with fancy (as in Peter Ackroyd's Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem), and inventing and/or reviving and de-marginalizing previously obscure histories (for instance, in Jean Rhys's, Wide Sargasso Sea and Caryl Phillips's Cambridge), this mode of fiction is judged to force 77 readers into questioning the norms and conventions of narrative—history and fiction equally.56 Once again Hutcheon does not assert the uniqueness of historiographic metafiction's questioning of the order of things, or what she calls its "problematizing of the nature of historical knowledge." In A Poetics of Postmodernism she cites a 1910 Atlantic article, for example, in which the author states "the facts of history do not exist for any historian until he creates them" (122), and, furthermore, she incorporates one of Wilde's epigrams, "The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it" (96), in the service of her thesis. What has changed, Hutcheon contends, is that postmodernism "obsessively foregrounds" (122) that point. Its repetitive inquiry reminds readers over and again that history is (based on) text, and as a consequence is shaped, constructed, emplotted, manipulated, etc. Such fiction draws attention to the artificiality of historical discourse and hence questions its validity as uncontested Fact (and so Truth) arrived at by cautious, impartial, ideology-free empiricism— Historiographic metafiction refutes the natural or common-sense methods of distinguishing between historical fact and fiction. It refuses the view that only history has a truth claim, both by questioning the ground of the claim in historiography and by asserting that both history and fiction are discourses, human constructs, signifying systems, and both derive their major claim to truth from that identity. (93) 56Hutcheon draws on Thiher (1984) for her genealogy of postmodern literature—a literary development that Thiher contends springs from the modern language theory of Heidegger, Wittgenstein and de Saussure. Coinciding with but not citing Hutcheon, Thiher (1990) notes that "Contemporary writers—and postmodern fabulists even more so—find themselves at once drawn to embracing history as the ultimate discourse—for who can resist the seduction of the real—at the same time that they reject the claims of history as fantasy, projection, rationalization, textual naivete, or whatever. And this hostility is especially true when that historical discourse is found, naively or cynically, in the mouths of spokesmen for status quo ethics, religion or politics" (14). Thiher also makes a grand and generally unsupported generalization that brings to mind the like-minded assertions of Lee and Hutcheon: "We live in an era in which fiction has taken on a more strident ethical voice than it did when one could speak ponderously about the moral nature of writing [and] the postmodern writer conceives of ethics, not as some set of prescriptions about acts, but as reaction to experience—fantasy, delirium, or the real—that claims to be history, our history..." (15). 78 Finally, Hutcheon notes that postmodern historiographic metafiction marks literature's return to history. Hutcheon's own narrative of the change from modernist to postmodern tells a familiar tale. "In the nineteenth century," she summarizes, " . . . literature and history were considered branches of the same tree" (105). With the rise of Rankean historiography, however, the tree split: "Then came the separation that resulted in the distinct disciplines of literary and historical studies today" (105). Hutcheon posits that such a division has until recent times effectively impeded literary work from mounting "internalized challenges to historiography" (106), a feat postmodern literature pursues with abandon. While Hutcheon momentarily foregrounds the very question of this literature's ability to subvert or resist dominant ideologies and enact or promote change when she refers to Harold Rosenberg's pronouncement about the relative ludicrousness of art-as-inciting-revolution, the bulk of her textual effort disregards Rosenberg's seeming cynicism. Rather, Hutcheon insistently asserts that via the questions it asks and the traditions and categories it opens to sceptical inquiry, the postmodern historiographic novel intensely problematizes itself (and, pointedly, other forms of discourse like History), and by doing so can be seen to prompt a host of radical and at least potentially consciousness-altering ways of perceiving. In Postmodernist Culture Steve Connor openly (albeit briefly) challenges Hutcheon's assurance about the political might of postmodern historiographic metafiction. Echoing Weir's charge that Hutcheon domesticates deviance and "converts danger into safety" (181), Connor wonders, "[w]hat is not clear, however, is the degree to which this alleged undermining of the literary acts in the service of any actual or effective form of subversion" (127). Connor's point is acute especially because it addresses the term "politics" in a way that Hutcheon does only via implication—how, if at all, are the "challenges" offered by a work of fiction transformed into cultural change? Does a reader who walks into Chapters, purchases a copy of Hawksmoor and then read it experience the much-vaunted challenge to liberal humanism in any manner? Hutcheon's apparent model of 79 the absorption of literature, with its "lessons" and "teachings," suggests that literature leads to enlightened readers and in turn to revitalized (non-oppressive, inclusive) culture—a position whose tenability surely requires some examination. Part of Connor's critique is, moreover, developed further in The English Novel in History. There, he questions Hutcheon's simplistic delineation of realism: Unfortunately, her work is limited by what seems to be too ready anv acquiescence to the manner in which history and fiction have traditionally been contrasted, namely in terms of the degree of their respective truthfulness or capacity to refer accurately to the real. Although she disagrees markedly with those who would wish to maintain a clear distinction between history and fiction, she continues to assume the explanatory centrality of the question of truthfulness and referentiality on which such a distinction depends. [Her argument] produces the illusion that prior to the emergence of the kind of postmodern fiction whose claims she is eager to advance, novel writing either numbly accepted its relegation as false and unserious or, more alarmingly, maintained its dignity by borrowing the implausible claims of history itself to 57 represent the real. (131) Connor's expressed unease with Hutcheon's confidence about the political weight of postmodern literature and her reliance on the "explanatory centrality of the question of truthfulness and referentiality" (131) in her model leads him to what he promotes as a more productive mode of scholarship. He contends that "it is more interesting and profitable to ask what a novel does, intellectually, affectively, imaginatively, politically, with and in history than to ask merely what kind of truthfulness to history it displays or denies" (132). Given that in A Poetics of Postmodernism Hutcheon ranges broadly through scores of art practitioners in order to state (rather than elaborate in detail or even prove) that their work complies with her use/abuse, install/subvert schematic of postmodernity—and so emphasizes in what category art forms belong over (pace Connor) what they do—Connor's re-direction warrants consideration. After all, is there not more to be gained "Connor"joes on to cite the "breathtaking naivete" (132) of Hutcheon's former student, Alison Lee. In her study of postmodern realist fiction, Connor states, Lee presents a "flattened" version of Hutcheon. Connor remarks that in "habitually capitalis[ing] the term 'Realism', [Lee] giv[es] the impression that there is a whole school of thought, with its own manifesto and resident cafe" (132). 80 from asking what, say, Peter Ackroyd does with the historical epoch he chooses to represent than to state that he is (or is not) a postmodern writer because his novels "enact or perform" (Hutcheon 1988 15) contradictions and paradoxes that form the base of one version of postmodernity? 4. Novel Situation The lengthy preambling segment that concludes here began scores of pages ago with a consideration of the obstinate patches of opacity intrinsic to the surface transparency of the statement, "Peter Ackroyd writes historical novels in a postmodern vein." Such a sentence represents a feasible hypothesis, a fair amalgamation of critical assessments that form the mainstream of approaches in these early moments of Ackroyd scholarship—in short, as a response to that scholarship I have positioned as the standard (if not hegemonic) take on Ackroyd's oeuvre of fiction. As such, the sentence requires close examination: after all, if it stands as a defining assessment is it not important to understand exactly what its clustered terms signify? As a critical perspective, "Peter Ackroyd writes historical novels in a postmodern vein," has a common-sensical air, one easy enough to comprehend. Since novels like Milton in America and The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde depict recognizably historical figures and are set more than forty to sixty years in the past, they comply in large part with the delineation of the historical novel genre as typified by Fleishman and Lukacs—and so, presumably, take seriously the education-through-accurate-representation role convention dictates. Other novels—those set in contemporary England yet preoccupied with the past, or those featuring a bifurcated narrative (one portraying a distant past, the other present day London)—cannot be described as conforming to the "classical" model. Still, these novels could be typed as a contemporary mode of "historical" fiction, along the lines of Connor's distinction between "historical and historicised fiction, between fiction about history and fiction about it own historically relative construction of history" (1996 142-143). Moreover, though, and at the same time, throughout each of Ackroyd's novels there are (in varying degrees) unavoidable anomalous 81 elements that complicate and disavow still further their status as "classical" and modern-day historical novels—self-reflexivity, authorial intrusions and additional kinds of foregrounded seams. The stylistic and structural anomalies—as Bradbury, Onega, Lord, Elias, Hutcheon, Lee, Jukic, Fokkema and other scholars and critics contend—would seem to place them de facto into the "postmodern historical novel" category; so broad and loosely and differently defined, the term absorbs much that does not strictly correspond with the contours of convention. Beyond highlighting the problem inherent in the attempt to find an adequate descriptive terminology for Ackroyd's atypical historical fiction, the foregoing sections have been designed to examine as well what is complex and contentious in the categories that are indeed employed to describe them. In short, the sections have worked to confound the surface simplicity of the statement "Peter Ackroyd writes historical novels in a postmodern vein" in order to demonstrate the useful limits of critical judgments that arrive at like conclusions about the novels of Ackroyd or the supposed intent of Ackroyd himself. Because to claim simply that "Peter Ackroyd writes historical novels" or that "Peter Ackroyd writes in a postmodern vein" is to also invoke a history of no small consequence—one that must not be overlooked or understood as merely self-evident. And that history, alongside definitionial vagueness, can promote a statement that becomes as meaningless as it is concise. Typology can be, as Hassan noted years ago, a typographic short cut, one that carries with it an illusion of clean and linear boundaries. Yet typology is not particularly productive as analysis. While it surely situates an art form within a comforting historical context and within a particular ideological or perspectival frame, it finally functions best (as Connor notes) as something that proclaims what a work or genre is much more than what it does (and how). To contend, for instance, that "Hawksmoor is postmodern historical fiction and, as such, seriously plays with the structure of authority" is making a large claim for both literature and postmodernism in general. To delineate how that novel does so becomes another kind of claim altogether. 82 The latter perspective is the one through which I approach Peter Ackroyd's fiction. The disparate elements in his fiction produce an unusual effect that actively and frequently confounds the kinds of neat critical summarization that can be found in various treatments, from literary overview histories like Malcolm Bradbury's The Modern British Novel (1993) and Brian Massie's The Novel Today (1990) to scholarly work investigating the juncture of literature and postmodernism, such as the aforementioned volumes of Linda Hutcheon and Alison Lee's Realism and Power: Postmodern British Fiction (1990). While it would be unfair to characterize many of these works as anything more than sketches that are designed to facilitate an understanding-by-genre association (Ackroyd as historical novelist, Ackroyd as postmodernist; Ackroyd as not science fiction writer, Ackroyd as not conventionally realist), the inexorable accretion of like sketches tends to produce the weight of normalization, the factness of critical consensus: Ackroyd is a historical novelist, Ackroyd is a postmodernist writer. Encapsulated by this mode of thematic criticism, the novel becomes little other than exemplary of a stylistic trend or tic, and one performed identically by a great number of texts. In contrast, what is of interest to me here is the consideration of ongoing and repeated Ackroydian thematics—from The Great Fire of London (1982) through to The Plato Papers (1999)—and how they affect the various manifestation of "history" in the fiction. While Hutcheon's recipe for postmodern historiographic novels supplies a huge list of "subversive effects" they are described as producing, it does not examine any one novel closely enough to account for its discontinuous and contradictory nature. As discussed by Hutcheon, a given historiographic metafiction appears to function in one direction only, always working within one (realist, liberal humanist, patriarchal, empirico-historicist) tradition (it "installs" and "uses") in order to challenge, dismantle or openly question (to "subvert" and "abuse") it. My broadly theme-centred criticism, usually working outside the bounds of the critical outlook(s) about literary postmodernism, has a greater interest in pursuing the "effect" as well as the "counter-effect" of a given thematic. Needless to say, the existence 83 of a very fluid thematic renders the "lesson" (to borrow the Hutcheon's word) and political dimension of novels like The Great Fire of London or English Music not so readily identified. These textual "effects," inextricably bound with Ackroyd's use of comedy and pastiche,Jfor instance, are not of course exclusive to any genre or periodizing category; they exist in modernist and postmodernist work (not to mention most other genres). In Ackroyd, however, they act in large part as internal disruption, disturbing other close-to-conventional (i.e., unified) narrative elements as well as rendering it difficult to reach the sort of confident interpretation that allowed Fleishman to proclaim the health of the singular historical novel in 1971. So, rather than supplying a mode of cultural critique a la Hutcheon's subversive (but not too much so) postmodern literature, these traits produce an ambivalent textual effect emerging far in advance of whatever cultural, real-world critique they may offer: in order to enact their supposed subversion, the exemplar texts of Hutcheon must present some kind of unified representation; the very foundation of Ackroyd's novels is discontinuous, a terminally unstable mixture of elements that forever fails to coalesce. The polyform narrative, then, inhibits the kind of reading of singularity in the works that is reflected by my hypothetical critical ur-sentence above. And since the understanding of "history" is always placed in suspension or multiply situated by the textual lack of integrity, the "lessons" of his novels are resolutely unclear. Certainly, other claims about the radical potential of postmodern literature become vaguely ludicrous vis a vis Ackroyd's novels. Even at its most "serious," the very polyformity of a given Ackroyd novel manages to undercut or indeed undermine the ostensible dominant sobriety. Thus though "subversion"—that ne plus ultra of many an apologist of postmodernist art forms—may "occur" within an Ackroyd novel, the form is never that of a simple, unidirectional nay-saying to hegemonic cultural norms and traditions. The three chapters that follow this prefatory Part I track thematic categories like comedy and pastiche as a means through which to consider aspects of patterning in Ackroyd's novels. Rather than engage in a lengthy and time-intensive discussion of each of 84 Ackroyd's ten novels via the thematic considered in a given chapter, I have gathered the novels together into somewhat arbitrary groupings. While the groupings—those novels set in the distant past, those set in a contemporary time and place and those whose narratives alternate between past and present—facilitate an economical approach to Ackroyd's fictional output, I hasten to add that each and every novel, from The Great Fire of London to The Plato Papers, would be eligible for placement within each chapter. In short, an element like pastiche courses through all of Ackroyd's fiction and affects the political dimensions of the narrative in a similar manner. These chapter-by-chapter considerations are not designed to merely confirm the factness of the categories (i.e., that, yes, Ackroyd's fiction issometimes comic and often employs pastiche); what these elements in Ackroyd's novels produce, what they may or may not subvert (and how or how not) is the crux of the examination. Less generally, my interest is how the key concept "history"—a term of admitted complexity—gets filtered through these thematic structures. Part U opens with Chapter A, "Moulding History with Pastiche in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde. Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and Milton in America." Of all Ackroyd's novels, the topography of these three most closely approximates that of the traditional historical novel. Yet despite their seeming traditionalism, from the patently imaginary mise en scene (Oscar Wilde's turn of the century Parisian journal, John Milton's 1660 flight to the New World) of each onward, they do not entirely comply with the "probable fiction" axiom of traditional historical novels. Keeping in mind Connor's hesitant response to Hutcheon's confidence in the ability of postmodern literature to actually implement subversion of literary-cultural norms, the question asked about such postmodern works will not rest so much on whether not they accord with a specific model of postmodern literature as what, if at all, they subvert (and, of course, what they leave unproblematized and what they actively entrench) and how. Ackroyd's novels are decidedly poly vocal and like the dissociative personality (as represented in popular film at least) the voices are not necessarily in concert, and, in fact, often act at cross purposes. In more specific terms, Chapter A examines 85 pastiche, a characteristic style-modality associated with postmodernism that nonetheless predates the phenomenon. (And pastiche, just like the others already briefly discussed here, has a history as well—one that tells of mixed critical reception and a gradual slide into declasse critical status.) It is Ackroyd's utilization of modalities of pastiche in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde. Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and Milton in America that both cements and situates his historical representation. Pastiche, considered through the critical work of Jameson, McGowan and Hutcheon, is discussed as a characteristic Ackroydism, one that serves multiple purposes, achieves conflicted effects and so comes to produce an instability that heightens the tension between traditionally "probable" and quasi-factual historical fiction effects and other, blatantly imaginary though politically significant ones. With their contemporary settings, the novels examined in Chapter B, "The Presence of the Past: Comedic and Non-Realist Historicism in The Great Fire of London and First Light." cannot be described as historical novels of a conventional stripe. Yet throughout, they express concern with the past as its weight presses on the present, and, moreover, their narrative progression terminates at a point of direct interface between present and past. If the predominant thematic of the novels concerns both the pastness of the past and its undoubted perpetual presence, their comedy effectively alters the deliberation and so constructs a place for history (as well as the question, "What is the significance of history?") that is by no means secure. Camp, a particular form of humour associated with both English theatrical and homosexual culture, is introduced as Ackroyd's chosen comic kind. Chapter B narrows its focus to examine how these novels exhibit "camp historicism," and how such an unorthodox form functions vis a vis the established norms and expectations of historical fiction. As with pastiche, Ackroyd's idiosyncratic use of comedy is demonstrated to persistently confound the genre expectations of critics and to produce a textual tension that refuses resolution. 86 The third chapter considers the four novels for which Ackroyd has been given most acclaim, and which have come to take a central place in critical work about his fiction. While all of Ackroyd's novel are concerned with history and invariably feature musings about the significance of the past, Hawksmoor. Chatterton. English Music and The House of Doctor Dee literalize that Ackroydian thematic: in each of these novels, chapters set in the past are juxtaposed to ones with a contemporary setting. What is more, the novels feature pivotal fugues of sorts in which the conventionally incommensurable distances between discrete historical epochs and mentalities are seemingly and permanently overcome. For Susana Onega and other critics, these novels represent the quintessence of Ackroyd's philosophy of history and historical awareness. My concern is with the core ambiguity of these fugues and how this fundamental excess of interpretability affects their deployment of "the significance of history"—both within the narrative proper and from without. My concluding chapter, "Those Conventional Concluding Remarks: The Plato Papers. History and Politics," offers a brief account of Ackroyd's latest novel, The Plato Papers. Though set close to two thousand years in England's future, the novel nevertheless insistently focusses on humanity's imperfect understanding of the past. The Plato Papers is also typical insofar as it incorporates such authorial tropes as comedy and pastiche for specific effects. The novel serves as a site for an overview of my delineation of Ackroyd's fiction, especially in terms of how the novels coincide and come into conflict with readings that situate author and artistic product alike in the categorical enclosure named "postmodern fiction." Finally, this novel provides a point of consideration for some future endeavour of (my) scholarship: the nature of "nation-state"—the England and its Englanders—the fiction introduces. In his first published critical essay, Notes for a New Culture. Ackroyd called for a revivification of English cultural work through a "modernism" that would stand against the '"humanism"' which has been the "false base" (146) upon which English 58 national culture has rested. The condition of what and who gets revived with his fiction In "Conclusions" he explains: "I have attempted to describe the impoverishment of our 87 (and of course his biographies of London, Eliot, Pound, Blake, More, Dickens and any day soon Shakespeare) is intriguing, suggesting a potentially Leavisite political programme whose ideological tendencies require close scrutiny. national culture and I hope to have demonstrated that, from the beginning of this century, it has rested upon a false base. The 'humanism' which the universities sustain, and which our realistic literature embodies, is the product of historical blindness. It has been associated with a sense of the 'individual' and of the 'community' which stays without definition, except in the work of some literary academics who appeal to the literary 'tradition'(146). 88 Part JJ: Novel Re-situations 89 Moulding History with Pastiche in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde-Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and Milton in America 90 1. Historical Novel Traditions Revisited A novel can tell a truth otherwise hidden: fiction is a way of knowing. Avrom Fleishman, The English Historical Novel That medieval style offends me, it is all artifice. What is it you painters say? Pasticcio. It is all pasticcio. For me poetry must be direct and it must be inspired. It will be simple and it will be true. Peter Ackroyd, Chatterton Enlightenment through responsible instruction is the basic motivation claimed by or else attributed to the writer of the traditional or "classical" (non-costume, non-romantic, non-kitsch) historical novel: with its cautious re-creation of a past era, the novel instructs and informs; and through that skillful reconstruction readers come to comprehend better heretofore lost culture and, presumably, their not insignificant relation to it. As mentioned in Part I, such an understanding of the historical novel's pedagogical function is presumed by Avrom Fleishman, whose influential The English Historical Novel was the first full-length study dedicated to specifically English fiction. In his Preface, Fleishman defers to the wisdom of Mary Renault, whom he evaluates as "one of the most under-rated of modern authors" (xii). Fleishman extracts from Renault's 1969 essay, "Notes on The King Must Die," three principles which he believes "make historical fiction a continuing and an estimable tradition in English and other literatures" (xii). While these principles—"realist responsibility," "universality of vision" and "imaginative sympathy with the men of the past" (xii)—may seem to stumble upon their own definitional vagueness (non-realist non-responsibility? imaginative antipathy?), they are sufficiently specific for Fleishman. His sole addendum, itself the mere iteration of widely disseminated and tacitly accepted "unspoken assumptions" (3), states that the historical novel must be set two generations or forty to sixty years in the past and include a number of historical events and at least one 91 actual historical figure. When all these factors are in place—a moment that is arrived at via judicious deliberation of evidence extracted from historical sources—a masterpiece of the genre is all but assured. Once captured, Fleishman's much valued "sentiment de Fexistence." the "feeling of how it was to be alive in another age" (4), enables readerly communication with some previously obscured epoch. Fleishman's foundation of undeclared assumptions—that which he dwells upon but never really discusses—is instructive. The incomplete if not altogether fragmentary nature of historical knowledge is, for instance, taken as a given. And therefore—proponents of postmodernism's unique vanguard skeptical insights to the contrary—History (the field of study) and historiography and their unshakeable, rigorous scientific methodology are understood to form an ever only partial epistemology. They cannot, in short, speak of that for which there is no material evidence—whether the thoughts of a tobacco plantation slave or Napoleon's battlefield conversations. Fleishman views the traditional historical novel, on the other hand, as "a way of knowing" precisely because it is not stymied by such strict methodological considerations. Through desirable—and tacitly obligatory—qualities like "accuracy," "responsibility" and "sympathy," the "probable" inventions of the historical novel act as supplements to History proper; the historical-novel-as-supplementarity59 simultaneously announces the gaps and thereby inadequacy of historical knowledge, the imperfection of the historical record (and, for that matter, the limitation of the record "Barbara Foley's discussion of the historical novel asserts a similar point, though it subordinates the novel's invention as so much embroidery of established fact. Nor does she mention the genre's tacit critique of historiography. Foley notes the "confident empiricism" of the historical novel "tends to simplify the epistemological relation between fact and generalization," and then asserts—"The historical novel's 'facts' appear to anchor the text's analogous configuration in historical actuality by proposing that particular corroborative data bear an unmediated reference to the public historical record. Actually, however, these data function to validate a posteriori the text's particular ideological construction of its referent. Documentation in the historical novel is intrinsically tautological; rather than confirming the text's assertions about social reality, it corroborates a reality assumed to be self-evident"(1986146). Foley adds: "This documentary practice was bound to recoil upon itself," and looks to the "profound epistemological skepticism characterizing the modernist documentary fiction" (146) as proof. 92 keepers), the pliability of that supposedly concrete historical record and the special position historical fiction holds vis a vis the creation and dissemination of cultural knowledge. Extrapolating from Fleishman, it is possible to contend that in the service of attaining otherwise unattainable knowledge, the historical novelist disregards that contentious (Platonic, Stendhalian) line between invention and truth. And freed from the strictures of available evidence, the historical novel's unique speculation-as-(quasi-)historical-fact in turn serves the interests of cultural edification: its "way of knowing" instructs readers with the intent of enlightenment—with an interested eye directed toward the ongoing march toward civilization, of course. (Fleishman and other scholars of the historical novel do not address the shadowy authors of "irresponsible" historical fiction for any significant duration. Such novels are apparently beneath consideration because, it is implied, in intentionally failing to keep accord with the specific facts of the historical record their authors have also chosen to refuse responsibility—and so act in consummate bad faith. Whether dismissed wholesale as "Kitsch" (Fleishman) or "mere costumery" (Lukacs), these discredited historical novels are presumed to provide an "entertainment" which stands at odds with the serious literary intent of their "responsible" counterparts. Just as Zajotti and Stendhal expressed dismay about the historical novel genre in general, advocates of "estimable" historical novels appear to worry that this mere costumery will (a) by association tarnish the reputation of the superior product and/or (b) promote category breaches—though instead of obscuring the line between truth and fiction they obscure the distinction between probable and improbable representations---that will in turn mislead and confuse readers and so diminish the civilization-building pedagogical function of estimable works.) Interestingly, in the decades following Fleishman's study, both the old-fashioned concept of a masterpiece and the equally traditional belief that a novel can instruct and 93 enlighten have remained largely intact while much subsequent scholarly work has effectively demolished the apparent neutrality of the words that Fleishman utilizes with no qualm. The new historical novel championed by proponents of experimental fiction, metafiction, surfiction and finally postmodernism has come to be judged masterful exactly when it clearly undermines the relentless authority of the historical record and calls into question a different set of "unspoken assumptions": the whats and whys and hows operating on what Foucault eloquently calls "a field of entangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over and recopied many times" (1977 139). Generally, fiction in this light comes to be seen as a challenging and unsettling form as well as a thing that never confirms the ostensible objectivity and truth-telling of historiography;61 inversely, historiography is viewed as a field of vested interests, veiled ideology and, on occasion, outright obfuscation in which what is not mentioned becomes as telling as what is. Unlike the apparently straightforward kind of "moral commitment" "But not all. The advent of theoretically-inclined writing on literature would suggest that the contemporary old-school historical novel—so antique, so outmoded—would be laughed off the stage or at least relegated to the most obscure of conference plenary sessions. Yet scholars like McEwan, Gasiorek and Cowart hold on to the traditional form as a still reasonable guide to history. Without a single reference to Derrida or Foucault, Barthes or Saussure, Harold Orel asks in his 1995 study, The Historical Novel from Scott to Sabatini: "Is it not enough—is it not more than sufficient—to have available for our reading pleasure no less than for our edification well-crafted recreations of past eras, stories involving believable characters, stories told from a consistently interesting perspective" (4)? His question is rhetorical, of course. Assiduously side-stepping questions prompted by his own terms, such as "pleasure," "well-crafted," "edification," "recreations," and "believable"—and avoiding concerns expressed for at least two centuries (before postmodernism, after all, there were vocal opponents-Manzoni, James, Zajotti to name a few)—Orel then examines a number of nineteenth- and twentieth-century historical novels in order to chart changes in genre fashions between 1814 and 1920. 6 1ln this sense, such fiction runs parallel with an influential historiographic project like that of Hayden White, whose remarks lead one to ask what exactly the historical picture is that is being dismantled, is it so unified and inviolate in the first place? When Hayden White observes "[w]hat historical discourse produces are interpretations of whatever information about and knowledge of the past the historian commands" (1999 2), he is asserting the ontological quicksand of popularly-conceived as factual (if in fact putative) historiography. And when he claims in a 1976 essay, "[Nineteenth-century historians] did not realize that the facts do not speak for themselves, but that the historian speaks for them, speaks on their behalf, and fashions the fragments of the past into a whole whose integrity is—in its representation—a purely discursive one" (1978125), he is undermining the scientism (and attendant objectivity claim) so much a naturalized component of historical discourse. 94 (xiv) Fleishman confers upon masterful historical novels (that common-sensical allegiance to responsibility, elucidation and truth-telling), the postmodern historical novel as outlined by Hassan, Hutcheon, McHale and others is infused with disavowing scepticism. This critic-approved novelistic questioning, whether announced by foregrounded textual self-consciousness, forceful ruptures of established historical fact or visible seams of ontology, is thought to produce questions regarding the reader's worldview; in Amy Elias's equation, by posing a "challenge [to] the conceptual model of history implied in novels of the traditional genre" (1991 75), postmodern historical fiction reorders the hierarchy and privilege inherent to conventional renderings of history. Elias argues that the "postmodern historical novel presents history as an 'open work'" (1991 72). As such, she contends, it has a "dangerous" aspect because it aims to "write history anew" (73): the ultimate result of such radical fiction, "is also, within limits, liberating, a positive recasting and defamiliarization of the entire spectrum of history (not just certain characters within it, as in the traditional historical novel)" (74). Nonetheless, and despite its deployment of a could-be subversive quasi-historiographic method, such novels are still interpreted as being founded on a will-to-instruct. Instead of teaching about a never unexpected sentiment de 1'existence, the newly transfigured historical novel is understood to teach how there may be purposeful gaps in the history we know, and so often substitutes a true bizarrerie of events and persons for the usual progressive tales of pageantry and plots. In both cases, however, the project of cultural amelioration—novelist playing instructor, novel providing a valuable lesson, reader taking the student role—is viewed as the contract in operation. The foregoing "lesson" in literary history describes a movement from faith to suspicion with regard to history-telling and our ability to truly recover past historical moments as well as—oddly—a parallel one exhibiting faith in the novel to reveal truth(s) to its readership. If, the principal story runs, traditional historical novels accepted the recoverability of history as a matter of "more or less" (Fleishman 4) probable invention fused to cautious archeological methodology and unproblematically promoted their own special status as 95 adequate quasi-historiography, then its descendant, "chancy, paradoxical, and anarchic" (Elias 1991 75) postmodern historical fiction, maintains the family affinity for telling stories of history while rejecting its forebear's good faith in science and rationality as well as its unspoken and quite possibly unacknowledged ideological investments. Narrated from the present day, the story suggests a fable: naive and hopeful (yet also imperialistic, overbearing and presumptuous) parents whose smart and knowing children decide to disinherit themselves in part from the family fortune. Each generation is, however, certain of its facility for enlightenment. 2. Situating The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde. Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and Milton in America Genre typologies like the ones portrayed above work well as sweeping critical gestures, more helpful perhaps as means of understanding developments in literary history and innovations within traditions than methods by which to categorize definitively a given novel or stylistic modality. It may feel somehow satisfactory or comforting to classify Rushdie's Midnight's Children as a postmodern historical novel and Renault's The Persian Boy as a classical one even though as a critical endeavour such an action has questionable value. Moreover, as most critics well know, borders are porous: "Some artists also tend to work concurrently within several traditions," as postmodern architectural historian Charles Jencks (1986 36) notes. Critical pigeon-holing may be particularly fruitless in the case of Peter Ackroyd—this despite the critical predilection for assigning him to a postmodern camp. Ackroyd himself has rejected the "postmodern" tag for his work, and upon closer inspection elements of modernism, realism and postmodernism are easily visible intermingling in his novels. As broadly historical, in addition, Ackroyd's novels are never (exactly) here or there; Fleishman, Renault and company would certainly not admire his cheek. And, as the following discussion of historical pastiche in three of his novels indicates, the novels regularly confound critics with their apparent refusal to perform the educative role expected of them. As with the camp elements considered in the next chapter, 96 Ackroyd's historical pastiche follows no singular function. It contradicts itself, now approximating the ontological contour of "estimable" traditional historical fiction, then becoming irreverently mannered, stagey and artificial and then again exhibiting a seemingly postmodern highlighted self-consciousness. While considerations of history are present in all Ackroyd's novels, with The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde. Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and Milton in America, he comes closest to matching the architecture of the traditional historical novel. In accordance with Fleishman's axiomatic typology, they are wholly set more than sixty years in the past (circa 1900, 1880 and 1660, respectively) and feature recognizable historical characters and events. Their realistic settings, "more or less" accurately drawn, would seem to place them securely in Fleishman's implicit ethos of literary responsibility and cultural enlightenment. Yet while it could be said that in McHale's terminology these Ackroyd novels disguise their "ontological seams," it is only ever to a relatively minor degree. Whereas McHale associates the urgent (if unconscious) acts of disguising with a Victorian realist ideological investment in what has come to be known as (Lyotardian) "grand narratives" of uniformity and totality built on a refusal of fragments and partiality, the historical guise worn by these Ackroyd fictions more closely resembles a mask: something self-evidently marked-as-artificial or constructed and worn over something else, and which is always understood as such. Masquerade that continuously calls attention to the fact that it is a disguise, the "historical" narrative renounces its own status even as it continues to be worn. (Just as one would not mistake me for Jean Chretian if I wore a mask identical to his face.) Though the 62 novels do not represent figures or past historical societies in a largely unfamiliar manner 62The matter of recognition or familiarity presents its own concerns. First, since we know, say, "John Milton" only through textual traces (portraits of him, his various writings, biographies about him, work dedicated to him, etc.), how recognizable he is, remains wholly contingent on the admittedly blurry picture of him. If we look at Blake's or Wordsworth's paeans to the poet, for example, or else Arnold's and Eliot's assessments of him, a conflicted or discontinuous representation of him would emerge. Thus a "more or less" accurate version of "John Milton" is itself a fiction: since it is wholly contingent on what can only be divergent source material, a uniform or unified image is achieved with suppression or elision. 97 (like England under George II in Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry, for instance) or patently anachronistic ones (a la the cell phones in Derek Jarman's Edward II) and so do not violate genre rules as delineated by Lukacs or Fleishman, their very tableaux emphasize their status as fiction, "more or less inaccurate" invention. When a very credible Oscar Wilde speaks in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, for example, it is through a previously unknown journal. The speech uttered and letters written in Milton in America come from a John Milton in a geographic context any historian would refute. Moreover, though mimicking the appearance of "historical artifacts" (letter, journal, trial transcript), the texts are never promoted as such. For instance, neither writer nor publisher makes an attempt to breach category or convention; in short, the novels are sold as fictions. While it might bejntriguing to imagine the critical and "public" response if The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde had been presented as Wilde's authentic lost journal, it is a purely academic diversion because the non-fiction/fiction line was in fact never crossed. Those "dangerous" qualities Elias attributes to much contemporary postmodern historical fiction are already always safely contained so long as the text's epistemological status as "a novel" remains secure. So, yes, the situations appear not improbable, and the voices seem appropriate to the times and the figures, yet the forms are blatant in their falseness: Oscar Wilde is not known to have written a diary in 1900; John Milton did not travel to New England in 1660; and while Dan Leno, George Gissing, Oscar Wilde and Karl Marx all lived in London, they were never implicated in any series of ritualistic The matter of familiarity brings up another pertinent question: audience. Since "John Milton" is in fact always an interpretation based on the reading of diverse bits of source material, readers understandings of Ackroyd's "Milton" are equally based on how much of the source material they themselves know. A student who has read Wordsworth's "London, 1802" (but has never taken a course on English history) and a reader who knows "Milton wrote Paradise Lost" (yet has not read it) has no means by which to measure the "accuracy" of Ackroyd's portrait. Without full access to and comprehension of the extant textual Milton, in other words, there is little qualitative difference for the non-specialist reader (i.e., most readers) between the "Milton" of Ackroyd, Wordsworth, Eliot, Blake or "the popular imagination" (an answer to a Jeopardv-like game-show question: "Who wrote Paradise Lost?"). For all intents and purposes, then, there is no one Milton, but a series of distinct signifieds all referring to an ostensibly unified yet absent sign. 98 murders. Then are these literary acts anything other than a "virtuoso literary exercise" (Sunday Times), the product of a "brilliant" mind? Even granting that they may indeed be brilliant, the matter of what effect these virtuoso acts of pastiche mimicry produces nonetheless remains unanswered. It is with these defamiliarizing ventriloquistic performances that Ackroyd's work collides with the other, explicitly "ethical" categories of Fleishman's genre typology. Even if the novels cannot be said to have dangerous qualities in any seriously politically transgressive sense, their refusal to comply with traditional literary rules runs them afoul of Fleishman, and, interestingly, many other contemporary critics who pursue points the elder critic would make. Those typological requisites of "realist responsibility," "universality of vision" and "imaginative sympathy with the men of the past" (xii) may have lost some of their cachet in academic circles, but they still serve as critical touchstones—even if critics do not strictly accept Fleishman's tenets, they can still prompt such valuable questions as, "If not realist responsibility, then what (and why and to what effect)?" and "What forms might 'imaginative sympathy' take beyond the customary and expected ones?" Since through the frequent utilization of pastiche each of the three Ackroyd novels under consideration here enacts some estrangement from historico-biographical norms, it is necessary to pursue the delineation of pastiche forms. If there is a politics of literary pastiche (in general and in Ackroyd's novels)—and that assertion is by no means assured or self-evident—then this chapter aims to extract and evaluate what it may be in relation to a wider critical debate about the role of pastiche under the regime of postmodernism. Yet before any such evaluation can proceed, my outlining and situating of Ackroyd's novels can provide the necessary background for informed dialogue, i . Aspects of the Novels (a) The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde takes the form of a journal written largely by Wilde in the Hotel d'Alsace in Paris from August 9 to November 24, 1900. (Wilde's friend Maurice Gilbert transcribes delirious speech from the five final days of the author's life.) Perhaps the most apparent element of Ackroyd's second novel results from the diaristic 99 presentation of Wilde; such ventriloquistic simulation and pastiche of Wilde's recorded words bears a similarity (frequently commented on) to the "authentic" Wilde. Beside imitating and supplementing Wilde's cadence, style, wit and textual thematic preoccupations, the journal entries fulfil a variety of functions. In them, Wilde records the ignominy of his quotidian life: loneliness and isolation, poverty, alternating infamy and anonymity, creative failure and physical pain. It is also replete with what might be called pseudo-Wildeana—his conversations with friends, recollections, dreams and fantasies, examples of new children's tales and ideas for new dramas. Additional functions overlap and intersect. In his inaugural journal entry Wilde states: Now that I have seen my life turn completely in its fiery circle, I must look upon my past with different eyes. I have played so many parts. I have lied to so many people—but I have committed the unforgivable sin, I have lied to myself. Now I must try to break the habit of a lifetime. (3) From that statement onward, Wilde pursues his past; in doing so he commits to paper an autobiography that begins with his birth in Ireland and concludes with his exile and death in Paris. More than a strictly autobiographical narrative, Wilde's conveys his impressions of Victorian England, both in terms of well-known sites and events and mores. Wilde's "apologia" (5), furthermore, is shaped to answer a vital question: "There are some artists who ask questions, and other who provide answers. I will give the answer and, in the next world, wait for the question to be asked: Who was Oscar Wilde?" (5). Wilde's answer to his own question is by no means a simple one. Thematic motifs such as Wilde's outcast status and the "dark thread which runs through [his] life" (30)—that is, the fatedness that results from his being an illegitimate child—strongly mould the autobiographical narrative. In addition to the self-fulfilling dimension of Wilde's story, there are innumerable pronouncements that Wilde makes about himself and his past behaviour as well as Victorian London and his paradoxical central-yet-liminal position within it. While "mastering] the past by giving it the meaning which only now it possesses for me" (75), he discourses, for instance, on "that coventional [sic] demeanour which the world forces 100 [people] to adopt" (39). Repeatedly, he returns to himself: like in De Profundis. the diarist is fascinated by his fate and consumed by the need to describe the meaning of Oscar Wilde to the world, as though in impersonal hindsight— For what did I, who should have been a great poet, what did I become? I became a symbol of modern society, both in its rise and its f a l l . . . . I lived in a worn-out society, theatrical in its art, theatrical in its life, theatrical even in its piety. But I could no more escape from my period than a bird can fly without wings. I sought for visible rather than intellectual success; I wrote quickly and without thought; I mimicked the pleasures of the age and made light of its pain. (97-) While The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde is comprised of Wilde-like phrases and thematics, it also contains playful elements that insinuate that not only is the speaker himself (i.e., the "Oscar Wilde" the world knows) prone to self-serving invention, but that the text through which the narrator communicates is itself little other than inventive pastiche. The Wilde presented here acknowledges his testament has been written with an audience in mind and with an openness to publication. As such, its status as "truth" is compromised and uncertain: it becomes "The Oscar Wilde Story," and one that has been already shaped by literary models such as melodrama, confessio, apologia. Histrionic Wilde, in short, performs and presents his life in a literary way, an emplotted tale complete with symbolism, allusions and themes (not to mention a beginning, middle and end). Moreover, on occasion Wilde himself points to his own confused lapses of memory ("I fell back upon the floor and knocked my ear against the plank bed. No, that is not right. I fell upon the ground in the exercise yard. Have I not described this already?" (90)) or else pointedly records the accounts of those who take offense at his inaccuracies. For instance, a conversation with Frank Harris serves to further indicate the unreliability of Wilde's testimony— You cannot publish this, Oscar. It is nonsense—and most of it is quite untrue. What on earth do you mean? It is invented. It is my life. But you have quite obviously changed the facts to suit your own purpose. I have no purpose, and the facts came to me quite naturally to me. 101 There was a time when you distrusted nature, and rightly so. For example, "in the little theatre in King Street, the young men wore green carnations". Oscar, you" were the only person who wore a green carnation. And this, "I was vain and the world loved my vanity". Nobody loved your vanity, Oscar. Surely you know that by now. (160) Alfred Douglas adds: "It's full of lies, but of course you are. It is absurd and mean and foolish. But then you are. Of course you must publish it" (161). With words that closely mimic Wilde, the pseudo-autobiography of The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde lets readers see a subject whose own grasp of the truth (and its distinction from fiction) is never secure. The testament, then, whether that of "Wilde" or an author imitating Wilde, quietly announces its own forged nature in the midst of its otherwise determined appearance as authentic artifact. (b) The discernment of authentic history is of course an Ackroydian trope, and not one restricted to The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde. By representing late-Victorian London through an assortment of narratorial modes and pastiche (pseudo-)documents, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem raises questions about the retrieval of a past epoch even while its narrative effect tends to encourage a bypassing of those questions, if not a nullifying of them altogether. Utilizing a complexly stratified narrative (first glimpsed in The Great Fire of London and developed more fully in Chatterton). Ackroyd's eighth novel features roving omniscient narration, trial extracts, first-person autobiography, diary 63 excerpts, newspaper articles and one recorded conversation between a prisoner and a chaplain. What the novel's American title (The Trial of Elizabeth Cree) makes clear is that though multi-faceted, the principal narration follows the life of (fictional) Elizabeth Cree and her arrest, trial for murder and eventual hanging on April 6, 1881. Through her diary excerpts and statements to the police, readers discover that both Cree's talent and criminalify spring from childhood roots in Lambeth Marsh with a sexually abusive mother (and missing father). The unwanted child of an evangelical Christian abandoned by "some "Oddly, the conversation between Elizabeth Cree and Father Lane is presented a la the trial extracts as if it were a direct transcription. 102 masher, some fancy man who had got her in the family way" (11), Cree comes to loathe her sex and dream of life in the music-hall that represents "some world of light" (20) to her as a disadvantaged youth. In parallel with Elizabeth Cree's picaresque autobiography, the supposed diary of John Cree ("now preserved in the Manuscript Department of the British Museum, with the call-mark Add Ms. 1624/566" (24)), Elizabeth's husband and namesake, reveals a recognizable Victorian type: the apparent central player in what Judith Walkowitz calls a "Ripper narrative" (191). John Cree, a journalist for a theatre paper named Era and a self-proclaimed "artist" interested in marking his "entrance upon the stage of the world" (28), takes his inspiration as much from Thomas De Quincey's essay on murder and other literature celebrating criminality as from his expected belief that "these days standards are crumbling altogether" (24). In keeping with the intratextual echoes and coincidental meetings of Dan Leno. Cree's discourse on crime (as art, as theatre, as philosophy, as symptom) interacts with other statements made by other characters on the vast playing stage called London. And in addition to the true detective and true confessions narratives of the novel, there are thematic considerations of London as a nexus for overlapping and not infrequently oppositional cultures—for criminality as well as comedy, for philosophy that produces emancipatory political tracts and murderous acts. A diverse array of historically actual characters—including George Gissing, the impoverished parents of Charlie Chaplin, Karl and Eleanor Marx, Dan Leno, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, (and the specular though no less important presence of William Blake, Charles Babbage, Thomas de Quincey and Charles Dickens)—remark on the murderous activities that occur in their midst. Furthermore, such related topics as "hidden connections" (68) and "tokens of the invisible world" (66) within the "ancient city of London" (68) form a thematic topos tidily summarized by Babbage's observation that, "The air itself is one vast library, on whose pages are for ever written all that man has ever did or woman whispered" (243). 103 Beside acting as stabilizing markers of historical veracity (and so valorizing the ontological legitimacy of both the historical novel tradition and the historiographic narrative that lends its here unchallenged legitimacy) the walk-on roles by historical figures in unfamiliar contexts—Karl Marx wandering the music-hall (or writing the fictional epic poem titled, The Secret Sorrows of London). George Gissing visiting prostitutes in Clare Market (and fragments of whose never-written essay, "Romanticism and Crime," appear in the text)—contribute to the novel's ongoing philosophical discussion about the nature of time, history and knowledge. Moreover, a web of coincidences—Marx reads de Quincey and his friend Solomon Weil is one of the murder victims; Marx's daughter, Eleanor, having "inherited her father's innate theatricality" (93), takes a role in Wilde's early drama Vera, or the Nihilist, and later plays a maid in Elizabeth Cree's melodrama; Dan Leno reads de Quincey, knows one of the murder victims.and is questioned by detectives; Cree sits next to Wilde in the British Museum and reads an extract from Wilde's essay ("Pen, Pencil and Poison," his famous celebration of the poisoner and aspiring writer Thomas Wainewright)—buttresses the novel's theme of "occult" interconnection. With evident approval, the narrator-historian notes that Richard Garnett, Superintendent of the British Museum's Reading Room, "had remarked, very sensibly, that the occult was simply 'that which is not generally admitted'" (138), and then adds: "Mr Garnett might even have speculated on the coincidence of this particular September morning, when Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, and George Gissing himself, all entered the reading room within the space of an hour" (138-139). The Occult Society (269) is, incidentally, also visited by Marx, Gissing, Leno and John Cree. Further elaborating a connection between cause and effect(s)—and reversing any notion of an "anxiety of influence"—the novel's Limehouse murders lead to The Picture of Dorian Gray, a series of paintings by Whistler, some writings by Somerset Maugham; and so on. The antic tableau of Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem—the barrage of ironic "in facts," stagy coincidences and "curious factors" (201), innumerable metaphors and images 104 concerning acting, performance and theatre, the pointed setting in and behind the music-hall, the melodramatic and grotesquely comic murders, and the discussion about reality, artificiality and invention—implements metacommentary on the novel itself as another kind of melodrama, complete with genre traits. When Inspector Kildare remarks to Dan Leno, "But the odd thing is that the murderer must have studied ["On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts"] before he killed your friend. There are too many resemblances for it to be entirely natural" (204), he appears to be speaking as well of the manic falsity of the story that contains him. (And as though to emphasize the fact in scarlet, the story closes with a dramatic-mishap during a presentation of "the theatrical sensation of the hour" (278), Gertie Latimer's The Crees of Misery Junction—itself a re-write of Elizabeth Cree's Misery Junction, which is in turn a melodramatic reworking of John Cree's socialist play about poverty in London. Inside the Bell Theatre gather all the principal characters of the novel, including "Elizabeth Cree," played by Cree's former servant and nemesis, Aveline Mortimer. Marx dismisses the play as "cheap melodrama," exclaiming, "Truly the playhouse was the opium of the people," while critics for the Post and Morning Advertiser remark that it is "pantomimic" and "unreal" (280). Gissing adds a like (if decidedly unWildean) epigram: "It is not that human beings cannot bear too much reality, it is that human beings cannot bear too much artifice" (280). And Wilde himself takes a lesson from the theatrical reenactment of Cree's hanging (despite Kildare's observation that "details of the execution were not entirely accurate" (281)) to such a degree he is said to be inspired to write in "The Truth of Masks" that, "Truth is independent of facts always, inventing or selecting them at pleasure. The true dramatist shows us life under the conditions of art, not art in the form of life" (281). On stage, and like Cree herself, Aveline Mortimer is hanged—an accident of staging leads to her death by hanging. Watching from the wings, Dan Leno improvises a finale in "his best mammoth comique manner" (282): he impersonates Cree, saying "here we are again" (282), reiterating Cree's own statement ("Here we are again!" (2)) just before she was executed. Relief follows terror as comedy 105 follows tragedy ("Tragedy and comedy is all one. Don't take it to heart" (241), Gertie Latimer tells Cree upon the failure of Misery Junction). Of course, such self-knowingness diminishes the novel's realist properties; the stylization moves it closer to the "unreal" and "pantornimic" modes that the novel's Victorian critics detect in The Crees of Misery Junction. Finally, a predominant narrative mode that oscillates inexplicably between the omniscient mode conventional to historical novelists and another featuring a knowledgeable yet interrogative and lecturing historian, supplies yet more documentary instability to the novel. Why the voice's omniscience varies—and even whom the voice belongs to—is never disclosed. Speaking in the first and second chapters this narratorial voice describes the hanging of Elizabeth Cree with a panoptic view: the voice relates Cree's execution, adding as well the prurient detail of the medical surgeon dressing himself in the gown Cree had worn when she was hanged. The voice, elsewhere, is inquisitive and interrogative, rhetorically asking, "Who now remembers the story of the Limehouse Golem, or cares to be reminded of the history of that mythical creature?" (4). With the histrionic air of a tour operator ("Could it have been . . . ?" "But perhaps . . . ? " (7)), the voice presents a mystery it will of course solve—"The secret of how it came to be revived in the last decades of the nineteenth century, and how it aroused the same anxieties and horrors as its medieval counterpart, is to be found within the annals of London's past" (4). The lecturer, like the historical novelist apparently, has access to places where no evidence could exist. And in addition to its interested queries, the voice expresses an affinity for drawing conclusions and editorializing on numerous subjects, and—in juxtaposition to theatrical tropes and narrative modalities discoursing on performance, artificiality and illusion—in effect concretizes (in the final word) its choice of subjects. Such op-ed discourse proliferates throughout Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. Referring to a statement by Charles Babbage^ the voice notes, for example, "It was one of the most wonderful sentences of the nineteenth century" (116); about a joke, the voice concludes— 106 But it did suggest the extent to which Londoners of the period were eager to see the more forward or lecherous females punished for their behaviour. It would not be going too far to suggest, in fact, that there was some link between the murder of the prostitutes in Limehouse and the ritual humiliation of women in pantomime. (171) Still elsewhere, the voice lectures that "in the intellectual culture of the period, science, philosophy and social theory were more readily joined" (113). Despite the novel's stratified narration technique, this narrative mode works to moderate or control the discussion flow about the "real" nature of late-Victorian London society. (c) Like Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem. Milton in America is comprised of various narrative techniques that dismantle formal unity as well as the authority of a singular voice. A vaguely documentary preface discloses the novel's ensuing mise en scene: "[John Milton] had no choice but to escape while there was still opportunity to do so. And where better to flee than New England, where he would be assured of a joyful welcome from the Puritans who had already settled there?" (Preface). Following that explanatory episode come: first- and third-person accounts, dialogue, a "maritime chronicle" (37), excerpts from journals written by two men, letters written by Milton to Reginald Pole 6 4 and a series of passages counterpointing first- and third-person narration. Voices are also often mediated, and so pose questions of reliability of narratorial veracity: in his letters to Reginald Pole, for instance, Milton may be more interested in self-representation than objective chronicle; Goosequill's story-telling to his wife, like Wilde's own confession in The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, is now and again challenged by another character. In Goosequill's case, his attraction to tall tales and penchant for drunken recollection diminishes the believability of his account. So far as plot is concerned, Milton in America is an archetypal linear progression, one circumscribed succinctly by the novel's two sections, "Eden" and "Fall." Since 'Though Milton's "beloved brother in Christ" (80) would appear to be fictional, it may be an Ackroyd insider joke that he shares a name with the former near-Pope and arch-bishop of Canterbury (and still later heretic) who died in 1558. 107 "Milton believed himself to be a man forsaken" (Preface) by nation, government and citizenry, he flees an England to which Charles TJ is soon to return. On route to his ship he gains acquaintance with an impoverished but literate (both "poor and credulous" (80) and "wayward and superstitious" (82) by Milton's account) youth he calls Goosequill, who soon becomes his servant and amanuensis. Immensely fond of grandiose pronouncements, Milton foreshadows the events that will soon take place in the New World: "I leave England in order to save England" (29). Judging himself as the embodiment of English values and serving "only the king of kings" (32), Milton sets sail for New England in April of 1660. Shipwrecked and, by Milton's assessment, bereft in a literal and symbolic "wilderness" (64), the two arrive in New Plymouth. Soon after, they move to land with greater fertility which the Puritans rename New Milton in his honour. In that place, Native Americans ("vagabond sweepings of a former race" (95)) and Catholics—"What are these Papists, in truth? To our purses and goods they are a wasteful band of robbers, making perpetual havoc and rapine. To our state they will prove a continual hydra of mischief and molestation, a very forge of discord and rebellion. They threaten uproar and combustion" (234-235)—from a festive, well-near carnivalesque neighbouring settlement called Mary Mount add impetus to Milton's own vision of himself as a prophet and scourge. What is more, after a fall in the forest, Milton is given care by a Native band, with whom he experiences a sexual and perhaps spiritual epiphany—for a brief moment, in any case, Milton is no longer blind: "The blind man, swinging from the rope meant for the deer, can see. From morn to noon to dewy eve, watching the colours deepen as the day advanced. I can see" (159). When he returns to New Milton once again blind, his violent anger and concomitant suppression of the wilderness experience leads to his waging war against the land and its inhabitants—that which he comes to call "the voices of Pandaemonium" (242). Only Goosequill recognizes that Milton "grew apart. Something happened" (268) following his brief captivity; yet along with Native and Catholic leaders, Goosequill is killed during the battle that concludes Milton in America. Wandering through the carnage, 108 Milton can claim only pyrrhic victory. The novel's final point of view returns to Milton's captivity, his repudiation of native ways and renewed blindness: "The blind man wandered ahead and, weeping, through the dark wood took his solitary way" (277). Milton is alive but spiritually dead; it is implicit he will return to England to write his later canonized poetry—which of course will be reflective of his awful experiences in the New World, i i . Critical Reception Observing the claims some critics make for an art form (danger! paradox! subversion!) and the response the same form may receive from journalist-critics, it is remarkable that such a large chasm can exist. Interestingly, for all the pronouncements any number of scholars have made regarding the deeply destabilizing and dismantling properties' of postmodern historiographic fiction in general, for instance, there is no accompanying Klaxon warning issuing from newspaper or periodical reviews; certainly, too, the silent reader response would suggest that rather than unmaking worldviews and destroying verities, such works are gauged according to out-of-fashion but none the less popular criteria as "I enjoyed/didn't enjoy the plot" and "The author evoked the past with amazing/awful/so-so skill." While scholars have thus far paid little heed to Ackroyd's novels, what little there is stands in marked contrast to the critical appraisal in newspapers and magazines. If scholarly critics regularly include his novels in their discourse on postmodernism (and then, accordingly, as part and parcel with its apparently subversive questioning of received values), book review journalists are much less uniform, praising, dismissing, complaining and commending the novels on multiple grounds. Despite the kaleidoscopic viewpoints, there are a few themes that develop throughout the critical discourse about Ackroyd's novels. Most salient here for our purpose is his use of pastiche to represent distant historical times and his philosophy of history. (a) Like his first novel, The Great Fire of London. Ackroyd's follow-up, The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, received scant critical attention in England and drew virtually no reviews in North America. The single North American review—William French in The 109 Globe and Mail—claims to elucidate Ackroyd's purpose: to exhibit how "Wilde was a very different man after the humiliation of being convicted of gross indecency than before it" (E15). In French's view, Testament is "the autobiography Ackroyd believes Wilde would have produced had he been able"; it is "an apologia, an explanation, a justification and a melancholy lament" that is both "brilliant" and "uncanny." French conveys concern about Ackroyd's "rationalization of Wilde's homosexuality" that leads to his concluding equivocation: Ackroyd's attempt to reconstruct and perhaps fabricate the circumstances of Wilde's conviction demonstrates again the dangers of this kind of novel, in which the line between fact and fiction is blurred. But when it's done as well as this one is, it becomes easier to justify. (El5) Andrew Hislop's review in Times Literary Supplement also reveals a deeply qualified admiration. Hislop states the novel "is, without doubt, a remarkable achievement," but then adds, "What is less certain is what it has achieved" (375). He observes that Ackroyd "rewrites Wilde—employs, mutates, promotes, even mutilates his writings, sayings and actions," to limited range: "He continually uses Wilde to justify his use of Wilde, though often it is not exactly Wilde but pseudo-Wilde or just plain Ackroyd who, very witty in a Wildean~way, never matches the rhetoric of the original at his most majestic" (375). Hislop concludes with the hope that Ackroyd would "show more of himself in his next novel—"But then if Wilde's opinion that 'Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation' is corect [sic], he might well wish to rewrite himself (375). In London Review of Books Tom Paulin admires Ackroyd's talented mimicry, though he complains that Ackroyd "adds to his imitation of Wilde's prose an explicatory earnestness which leaves nothing to the imagination." (20) For Paulin, Wilde in Testament emerges only as the "victim of several melodramatic situations." As for Ackroyd's invention, Pauline remains equally perturbed: Ackroyd "wastes this [i.e., a conjecture about the true rationale for Wilde's trials] provocative narrative opportunity by devoting only a few sentences to the scandal he has so 110 tantalisingly manufactured," and takes exception to other "inauthentic moments" (22). Paulin's summary ultimately expresses discontent: "the result is another exercise in Victorian pastiche, a genre which deserves to be neglected for a century or two" (22). As ambivalent, Mary Montaut detects in "Mr. Ackroyd's pseudo-sophisticated resurrection of Oscar Wilde" a "slightly-patronizing" attitude as well as "real affection" (137) for Wilde. Taking note of a troubling "morally tidying up [of] his hero" (138), Montaut ultimately wonders why the author "finds in writing a means of convincing himself.. . that the business of fiction is reassurance" (138). Scholarly attention to Ackroyd's second work of fiction, moreover, by and large focussed on Hawksmoor. Chatterton and English Music (as will be discussed Chapter C), often expresses as little interest as journalistic sources. While Allan Massie in The Novel Today unhelpfully offers that Ackroyd "showed his talent for pastiche" and "showed his ability to get outside himself (52) with his portrayal of Wilde, John Peck in "The Novels of Peter Ackroyd" peremptorily categorizes the novel as "minor," explaining that "there seems to be little point in considering IThe Great Fire of London and The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde] here as neither adds much to a sense of the questions prompted by the four subsequent novels" (443). Hermann Josef Schnackertz's single comment is that Ackroyd's "speculative pseudo-autobiography" reflects "the method he uses when dealing with the past" (495). Which is to say: "Ackroyd's historical fictions never pretend that they are anything else but fictional constructions, subjective versions, reinventions and rearrangements of a cultural past that can only be made accessible through a staging of various textual voices" (495). Steven Connor merely mentions the novel's "literary replications" (1994 79) as part of a list navigating tendencies in contemporary postmodern fiction. In Peter Ackroyd. Susana Onega notes the novel "consciously blurs the boundaries between biography and fiction" (31); she pointedly passes on Mary Montaut's critical assurance that the book is "painstakingly researched" (32)—though she does not mention that Montaut's assessment is qualified—and then admires both the "surprising exactness" 111 and the "wonderfully accurate effect produced by the clever stylistic imitation" (32). But what captivates Onega is not the reincarnation of Wilde so much as the novel's acting as a testament to another artist-in-the-making. From the narrative's progression, she extracts "the lesson Oscar Wilde teaches Ackroyd" (33)— From Wilde's aesthetic viewpoint, the artistic (or textual) world created by Peter Ackroyd, entitled The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde[.] would become the very higher plane of being towards which Wilde has managed to make his transcendental escape. Thus, by imagining Wilde's migration to an abstract and absolute World of Art made up of the total of the voices, styles and visions of the artists and thinkers in the Western canon, Ackroyd manages to suggest the possibility of transcendence without having to postulate the existence of a metaphysical plane of being above or beyond the artistic (or textual) realm itself. (33-34) According to Onega, such teachings refuse the enticement of Platonic transcendentalism in favour of the "human plane of imagination" (33). (b) Though widely reviewed, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem drew no less divided criticism. Iain Sinclair (whose poem Lud Heat Ackroyd pays gratitude to in Hawksmoor) expresses no small degree of cynicism: he inserts his review of the novel parenthetically between another, much longer one for P.D. James's Original Sin: 'The real Ackroyd, Peter, it is felt, has also peaked at the right time, in cabbing alongside James into riparian London for this season's retrieval" (21). By Sinclair's account, Ackroyd's novel "has, among other sources, filleted De Quincey" and is a "page-turner [that] only sports with mysticism" (21). Sinclair remarks— "Onega's use of words like "exactness" and "accurate" would seem to contradict her own implicit ideological position taken in her critical project with Ackroyd. Exactitude of reclamation invokes the rigours of science and the archeologic possibilities of historical fiction so clearly held up for admiration in the work of Fleishman, Renault and McEwan. Since, as she sees it, Ackroyd's work is dedicated to post-structuralist deconstruction of ostensibly stable reference points, it is odd that she would be so admiring of a novel that according to her so skillfully disguises its own ontological seams. Nor does she spend much effort probing the novel for effects any of its inaccuracies might produce For instance, Wilde's use of the term "homoerotic" (113) contradicts the OED. which states that the term's very first appearances was in a translation of a psychoanalytic text in 1913. Wilde's apparent comfort and familiarity with the concept suggests a self-identification as "homosexual" that has less historical veracity than thematic appropriateness. See also: Moran (1999) for an overview of the novel in relation to contemporary examinations of Wilde's sexuality and aestheticism. 112 Ackroyd doesn't burden his narrative with the tedium of a convincing topography, or nostalgia for the lost decencies. He's busy, with this Post-Modern Sweeney Todd, reviving the shilling shocker—which, thanks to the confusion of the current publishing scene, appears between hardcovers and is reviewed in all the best places. The glory of Dan Leno is its relish for music-hall, the London crowd: stinks and shocks and songs. (21) In the TLS Peter Keating complains of "the outrageous use of coincidences which is rapidly becoming a staple of Ackroyd's idiosyncratic type of speculative historical fiction" (21). This "modern pastiche of the Victorian Shilling Shocker" with elements "all jumbled promiscuously together to make up one huge entertainment" produces little other than vexation in Keating— The trouble with this kind of ludic narrative, and especially the toying with fact and fiction, is that it encourages the reader to ask questions which the narrative itself doesn't answer and is probably incapable of answering. It may be dramatically apt to have an elderly Karl Marx sitting in the British Museum reading Workers in the Dawn. George Gissing's first novel. Whether or not it actually happened is of little importance. (21) David Sexton in The Spectator complains of Ackroyd's "wearying" themes, as well as his "endless revenant style [and] love of pastiche" (33). As for Ackroyd's occultism and professed interest in temporal circularity, Sexton dismisses it outright: "But perhaps the real explanation is simpler. It's all just 'a bit of a game en travesti'. as the murderer says here. Ackroyd likes nothing better than to get some kit on and cut a caper" (35). On the other hand, Valerie Martin in New York Times Book Review admires the utter believability and probability of the novel (7) and takes aim at Ackroyd's critics— Mr. Ackroyd's insistence upon peppering his historical scenes with events that did not occur, or could not have occurred, should no longer be a source of concern to his critics. He is an accomplished novelist and so thoroughly acquainted with the world he re-creates that he is entitled to the pleasures of such invention. (7) James Wood in The New York Review of Books, however, holds reservations, observing that his "pastiche offer an essentially literary notion of the [the past], and a familiar one at that" (50). And so he wonders "whether a writer a likely to produce anything interesting if 113 he is merely exhausting the possibilities of the known" (50). Wood surveys Ackroyd's novels and finds that even though they are "natural teachers," instructing readers that "history is a process of eternal recurrence," their lesson finally falls flat— Ackroyd's eternal recurrence is translated into literal appearances, and it is thus no more mystical to us than what goes on in a bank after closing hours. The past exists for Ackroyd as an uncomplicated presence . . . . He treats the past as if it were the food on someone else's plate, always more interesting than one's own. He does not want just to make use of the past; he tries to be in it, and without irony about the oddity of doing so. (50) Likewise, in Time Paul Gray complains: [u]nfortunately, this melange of fact and fiction is longer on intellectual pleasures than emotional resonance . . . . [t]he intricacies of his plot seem ultimately to trace vectors rather than lives" (43). In addition to providing a faithful summary of the novel, Onega emphasizes a "mythical interpretation" that sees "Leno embodying the comic or 'white' emanation [of Adam Kadmon, the Universal Man figure], and Elizabeth Cree the tragic or 'black' emanation of 'perpetual, infinite London'" (70). She reads the conclusion as evidence of catharsis: for Onega Dan Leno's art—"comparable to the drug-induced trances of the Sphinx of Delphi, or of tribal 'medicine men'"—works to put an "end to the cycle of evil absorbing the Limehouse Golem and transforms it into a humorous and harmless music-hall transvestite character" (72). (c) Characteristically, Milton in America received divided critical responses. Trev Broughton in TLS admires Ackroyd's "wonderful creation," "the latest in a succession of Ackroyd heroes treading the fine line between prophet and performer, shaman and showman," and notes in the novel "the lessons are there to be learned, by the reader if not the pilgrim himself (23). Broughton acknowledges that "the avalanche of allegory does not prevent the narrative from lacking conviction and pace" but then complains that "Ackroyd's characteristic play with form seems redundant in so densely allusive a work" (23). While the New Statesman review found it "a hard book to judge," the reviewer highlighted that Ackroyd "has vanishingly little sympathy for [Milton's] doctrinal certainties" and that Milton is essentially a "tedious" and poorly-drawn "cartoon" (Clute 114 60). In the New York Times Book Review, moreover, Tony Tanner dismisses the "pointlessness" of Ackroyd's "counterfactual" fiction. (14). He detects in Ackroyd's "blunt and coarse" "frontal assault" the "cheap and easy" effects of a "heavy-handed" writer. Tanner laments: "It comes across as pointless pastiche—or rather, pastiche with one purpose: to make Puritans and Puritanism appear as mad, cruel and all-around hateful as pos