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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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Toby Garfitt - Preface


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Writing may have many different purposes, and take many different forms. Every century has brought innovation in terms of writing and of classifying the resulting productions. Until the twentieth century, the existence of distinct genres was recognized, even if their boundaries were increasingly seen to be porous. The period after Naturalism was the first to highlight the “crise du roman” (crisis of the novel), to quote the title of the magisterial study by Michel Raimond (1967). By the 1970s, Tzvetan Todorov could write:

To persist in discussing genres today might seem like an idle if not obviously anachronistic pastime. Everyone knows that they existed in the good old days of the classics – ballads, odes, sonnets, tragedies, and comedies – but today? Even the genres of the nineteenth century (though not altogether genres to our way of thinking), poetry, the novel – seem to be disintegrating in our era. (“The Origin of Genres,” 1976)

Some of the most recent genres, such as the “nonfiction novel,” seem to defy classification. Classification involves establishing borders. The title of Robert Gildea’s book Barricades and Borders highlights a key issue of nineteenth-century geopolitical history, and it is the notion of literary borders that is examined here by Maureen Ramsden.

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