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Crossing Borders

The Interrelation of Fact and Fiction in Historical Works, Travel Tales, Autobiography and Reportage


Maureen A. Ramsden

In the twentieth century, the boundaries between different literary genres started to be questioned, raising a discussion about the various narrative modes of factual and fictional discourses.
Moving on from the limited traditional studies of genre definitions, this book argues that the borders between these two types of discourse depend on complex issues of epistemology, literary traditions and social and political constraints. This study attempts a systematic and specific analysis of how literary works, and in particular documentary ones, where the borders are more difficult to define, can be classified as factual or fictional. The book deals with several areas of discourse, including history, travel tales, autobiography and reportage, and opens up perspectives on the very different ways in which documentary works make use of the inescapable presence of both factual and fictional elements.


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Part I: Factual and Fictional Discourses: A Case for Re/classification?


Part I Factual and Fictional Discourses: A Case for Re/classification? Imagination, a licentious and vagrant faculty, unsusceptible of limitations, and impatient of restraint, has always endeavoured to baffle the logician, to perplex the confines of distinction, and burst the inclosures of regu- larity. There is therefore scarcely any species of writing, of which we can tell what is its essence, and what are its constituents: every new genius produces innovation, which, when invented and approved, subverts the rules which the practice of authors had established. — Samuel Johnson Chapter 1 The Interrelation of Fact and Fiction in Literary Works: Towards the Establishment of Boundaries1 Genres are nominalistic fictions, mere idols of the critical market place. — Elizabeth Bruss The front page of Le Figaro, Balzac’s Illusions Perdues [Lost Illusions], and the sixteenth-century news-sheets dealing with human interest stories, all form links in a chain of discourses – factual and fictional – which consist, in whole or in part, of reports or stories about the world of actuality. The narratives which we use to try to understand and relate to the empirical world, the use of historical data in fictional works, and the application of methods of criticism to the banalities of everyday life, are all examples of the interplay between the world and the text. Saint-Réal’s seventeenth- century fictional histories, Defoe’s A Journal of The Plague Year (1722), and Truman Capote’s nonfiction novel In Cold Blood (1966), have in common the problematic nature of their status as fact or fiction. Such issues form...

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