". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Imperial Adventure Fiction -- Is It Historical Fiction?

Robinson Crusoe (1719) is influenced by perhaps mostly true tales and events that took place in the 17th century.

Treasure Island (1881 - 83) takes place in the 18th century.

However, Kim (really all of Kipling's work) She, King Solomon's Mines, The Four Feathers and King of the Khyber Rifles are set in the present in which they were written -- when the sun remained very high in Britain's colonial sky.

Thus it feels incorrect to include works like the top two into a critique of "Imperial Adventure Fiction."

However, it can be useful in a critical way to think of what makes a work historical fiction, since many works of consciously historical fiction are very much adventure fiction too, as opposed to categorized as the author of the linked-to article does, as "imperial adventure fiction."

Further, the author's incorrect when she says that people don't read any of these books any longer.  They've never lost popularity with a certain segment of the public -- that same public that has never lost its passion for Sherlock Holmes.*  That all of these works have been filmed and televised many times would tell us this, with the exception of King of the Khyber Rifles.  Myself have re-read all these titles several times, but never re-read Talbot Mundy -- he's not as exciting a writer as the others perhaps?

For me personally, however, the greatest colonial fiction to come out of the UK is that of Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet (1965 - 75), which as Jewel in the Crown, was perhaps the most popular BBC series of all time. It begins in 1942 and concludes with shortly after Independence.  There is adventure.  It is historical.  But composed so early after the events that are the novels, not historical fiction -- and it does seem to be the very antithesis to the colonial thesis that is Kim.


* Would the hardly submerged subtext about Britain's anxieties about her colonial empire and the invasion of the Other (Brasilian wives -- always bad news!) in Doyle's work explain why so many readers who adore the Sherlock Holmes canon, have continued to read these books too?  The only real rival to Holmes might be the character of Kim?

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