Historiographic metafiction

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Historiographic metafiction is a term coined by Canadian literary theorist Linda Hutcheon in the late 1980s. The term is used for works of fiction which combine the literary devices of metafiction with historical fiction. Works regarded as historiographic metafiction are also distinguished by frequent allusions to other artistic, historical and literary texts (i.e. intertextuality) in order to show the extent to which works of both literature and historiography are dependent on the history of discourse.[1]

The term is closely associated with works of postmodern literature, usually novels. According to Hutcheon, in "A Poetics of Postmodernism", works of historiographic metafiction are "those well-known and popular novels which are both intensely self-reflexive and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages".[2] Works often described as examples of historiographical metafiction include: William Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre (c.1608), John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime (1975), William Kennedy's Legs (1975), Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981), Shashi Tharoor's The Great Indian Novel (1989), A. S. Byatt's Possession (1990), Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient (1992), Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon (1997) and many others. By seeking to represent both actual historical events from World War Two while, at the same time, problematizing the very notion of doing exactly that, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) features a metafictional, "Janus-headed" perspective.[3] Literary scholar Bran Nicol argues that Vonnegut's novel features "a more directly political edge to metafiction" compared to the writings of Robert Coover, John Barth, and Vladimir Nabokov.[4]

Authors associated with historiographic metafiction[edit]


  1. ^ Bolland, John (2002). Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient: A Reader's Guide. London, UK: Continuum. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-8264-5243-6.
  2. ^ a b Hutcheon 5
  3. ^ Jensen, Mikkel (2016) "Janus-Headed Postmodernism: The Opening Lines of Slaughterhouse-Five" in The Explicator, 74:1, 8-11.
  4. ^ Bran Nicol. The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodern Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 86.

Works cited[edit]