Falling Backwards: Australian Historical Fiction and The History Wars
Some stories are hard to tell. During a period known as the Australian History Wars, consideration of the national past was vexed, contested territory. There was marked vitriol – to an unprecedented extent – in public debate about the “reality” and interpretation of the events of colonisation. This study investigates the output of novelists who were brave enough to contribute to this vital cultural moment and the issues of politics and form they attempted to negotiate.
This book deals with the publically-waged debate over the suitability of novelists to render authoritative versions of significant events or periods as its starting point. From there, however, it delves deeper into the politics of form, analysing the connection between the realist modes of traditional, empiricist histories and the various explorations of the colonial past that have been figured through different historical novels. The forms of these novels range from classic realism to frontier Gothic, various Romanticisms, magical realism, and reflexive post-modernism.
The relative formal freedoms offered through historical novels, when compared to conventional history writing offer the chance to confront the past in all of its contradiction and complexity. The terrain of the postmodern and historical sublime — of loss and uncertainly — is one in which historical fiction can perform an important political and ethical role. The immeasurably vast space which lies beyond history, that space of those who are often unrepresented, often victims, often silent, is an abyss into which fiction, particularly historical fiction, is able imaginatively and ethically to descend.