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Under Fire

William T. Vollmann, «The Rifles»: A Critical Study

Edited By Françoise Palleau-Papin

This study of a novel by William T. Vollmann offers a port of entry into his fiction. Like other titles from his planned «Seven Dreams» collection, The Rifles deconstructs the historical novel. Following in the steps of the nineteenth-century English explorer John Franklin, the contemporary American character Subzero risks his life in the Arctic, looking for a way to transcend the history of colonization and his personal limitations. He ventures out on the permafrost of his memory, both private and collective, haunted by history as he revisits the Gothic genre. Deploying the poetry of an anachronistic errand into the white wilderness of snow and ice, in the wake of Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab and Edgar Allan Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym, the narrator plays with avatars of the author as an explorer, a historian, a cartographer and a sketch-artist to encounter otherness, whether Inuit women or men, or fellow travelers who exchange with the authorial figure in his search for meaning. This critical analysis uses close-reading, ecocriticism, cultural studies and comparative literature to examine an innovative novel of the post-postmodern canon, by one of the finest contemporary American authors.

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Chapter V: Female Characters: Between Role and Representation

Extract



Vollmann’s Rifles, one of the Seven Dreams, is centered round the interaction between Inuit populations and the Western world, whether at the time of the Franklin expedition or in the contemporary world. The official (hi)story of Inuit is here challenged, and rewritten with an emphasis on the human, and feminine, side of the events. Vollmann’s women, from Reepah to Lady Jane, are decisive yet changing, images of the ice sheets of the northern American continent.

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