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

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 historicocritical 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. 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.

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