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Woolley, Benjamin
Publisher: Goldsmiths, University of London
Languages: English
Types: Doctoral thesis
This thesis comprises two components: an extract of The Angel of Ferrara, a historical novel, and a critical commentary entitled What is history doing in Fiction?\ud \ud The novel is set in the Italian city of Ferrara in February, 1579, a jewel of the Renaissance at the height of its powers but deep in debt. Amid the aristocratic pomp and popular festivities surrounding the duke’s marriage to his third wife, the secret child of the city’s most celebrated singer goes missing. A street-smart debt collector and lovelorn bureaucrat help her increasingly desperate attempts to find her son, their efforts uncovering the brutal instruments of ostentation and domination that gave rise to what we now know as the Renaissance.\ud \ud In the critical commentary, I draw on the experience writing The Angel of Ferrara, together with my own historical works, to explore the relationship between history and fiction. Beginning with a survey of the development of historical fiction since the inception of the genre’s modern form with the Walter Scott’s Waverley, I analyze the various paratextual interventions—prefaces, authors’ notes, acknowledgements—authors have used in their attempts to explore and explain the use of factual research in their works. I draw on this to reflect in more detail at how research shaped the writing of the Angel of Ferrara and other recent historical novels, in particular Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.\ud \ud I then examine the issue form the opposite perspective: the use of fictional devices such as narrative in history, considering whether or not this compromises or enhances the authority and validity of historical work. I end by critically examining the prevailing notion that the borderline between fiction and history has become blurred, arguing that, while each influences the other, the distinction is one of type rather than degree.
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