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The Importance of History in World Literature

Discuss About The Hierarchies Of Intellectual Virtues Goods.

“Children [are those] to whom, throughout history, stories have been told, chiefly but not always at bedtime, in order to quell restless thoughts; whose need of stories is matched only by the need adults have of children to tell stories to, of receptacles for their stock of fairy-tales, of listening ears on which to unload, bequeath those most unbelievable yet haunting of fairy-tales, their own lives.”[1]

The above quoted lines from the famous work “Waterland” of Graham Swift gives an overview of the importance which the element of History has come to attain in the genre of World Literature. The representation of Historical events as well as the oral Historical events has emerged as an important part of the genre of Literature since the latter part of the 19th century[2]. It is a reflection of this particular fact that even the Historical events which have not been covered up in the History books as well as records are increasingly being portrayed by the various literary artists. Many scholars are of the viewpoint that the primary idea behind this increasing significance which the representation of History among the various literary artists is because of the inherent desire of these literary artists to show the manner in which History and Historical events have been subverted by the various individuals over the ages for their own benefits[3]. The process of the representation of subversion of History, therefore, not only represents the manner in which the records of the historical events have been altered by the various individuals for their own personal benefits but at the same time the manner in which History is being written by the  power members of the society[4]. The Marxist theorists thus view the genre of History as machinery which has been used by the various powerful members of the society to maintain their dominance or stronghold over the weaker members of the society[5]. This essay will discuss about the theme of History and historical representation in the famous novel “Waterland” by Graham Swift.


Graham Swift is generally considered to be one of the stalwarts of 21st century Literature and most of his novels and literary works contain traces of the literary techniques of modernism, post-modernism and other important techniques used by the literary greats of the age[6]. His “Waterland” published in the year 1983 and adapted into a film in 1992 by Stephen Gyllenhaal is often considered to be his masterpiece[7]. The novel “Waterland” center round the characters of Tom Crick, a School History teacher, his illegitimate brother Dick and the wife of Tom, Mary and the way their personal history has shaped their lives[8]. The novel takes the help of an unreliable narrator as well as the fragmentary method of storytelling for the purpose of narrating the events which have shaped the lives of Tom, Mary and Dick[9]. History not only forms an important part of the story but at the same time also forms the backdrop in which the various events of the life of the three major characters of the novel affect each other. For example, throughout the novel it is found that the past events of the lives of these three characters affect the present as well as the future of the lives of these three characters. Thus, the past illicit relationship of Tom and Mary and the abortion which Mary affects their present lives as it is revealed that Mary has become sterile and inspite of being married for more than thirty years they are being unable to produce a child of their own. This particular fact and the consequent pain which it causes to Mary leads her to abduct the child of another woman and this in turn leads to the destruction of their marriage and the damages the teaching career of Tom in a significant manner. The illegitimate brother of Tom, Dick also wields a considerable amount of influence on the lives of Tom and Mary and to a greater extent it can be said that the lives of these two individuals are not only haunted by their past history but at the same time by this particular illegitimate brother of Tom[10].

The Significance of History in Waterland

The concept of History which forms an important part of the novel “Waterland” is adequate summed up in the words of the novel wherein the author writes that “How quick and rushing life can sometimes seem, when at the same time it's so slow and sweet and everlasting”[11]. Thus, it can be said that these lines of the novel set the tone for the importance which the concepts of time and History are to have in this particular novel of Swift. Furthermore, the central character of the novel Tom is found to remunerate in the initial part of the novel “What we wish upon the future is very often the image of some lost, imagined past”[12]. These words of Tom are not only a longing for his wish to change the past events of his life which continue to wield a strong influence on his present life but at the same time reflects the manner in which one’s past history has the potential to exert an influence over their present lives. Moreover, the central character of the novel Tom in various sections of the novel is found to be ruminating about the meaning the various historical events and the way the various historical events have been portrayed down to us. Thus, in the novel Tom is found to be saying “Why is it that every so often history demands a bloodbath, a holocaust, an Armageddon? And why is it that every time the time before has taught us nothing?”[13] and elsewhere he says “Until a series of encounters with the Here and Now gave a sudden urgency to my studies. Until the Here and Now, gripping me by the arm, slapping my face and telling me to take a good look at the mess I was in, informed me that history was no invention but indeed existed -- and I had become a part of it”[14]. Thus, it would be apt to say History forms an important part of the novel and the various characters of the novel are wielded together by this particular factor.

The novel “Waterland” can be seen as a fictional autobiography wherein the life and the life events of the three characters of the novels are revealed[15]. However, the link between the personal history as well as the general history represented in the novel should not be confused. The general history of the times as well as of the past ages finds representation in the various historical lessons given by the character Tom in the novel. The ineffectiveness as well as the uselessness of the machinery of history is represented by the words of one of the students of Tom when he says that “as all history classes ask, as all history classes should ask, What is the point of history?”[16]. Tom’s response to the thesis submitted by one of his students Price is significant to note in this particular context when he says that “Your thesis, Tom responds, is that history, as such, is a red-herring; the past is irrelevant. The present alone is vital”[17]. It is significant to note that at various points of the novel it is generally seen the character Tom is himself trying to convince himself about the relevance as well as the meaningfulness of the machinery of history and the influence which it had on the lives of the common human beings[18]. Thus, he is found to be saying towards the ending of the novel that “When introduced to history as an object of Study . . . it was still the fabulous aura of history that lured me, and I believed, perhaps like you, that history was a myth”[19].

The Representation of History and its Subversion


The subject History was not just a subject to Tom but can be seen as a gateway through which he could relieve the mundane realities of his life. For example, as a young man Tom had participated in the Great War and as a child he had to face various kinds of events like the death of his mother, the abuses of his father and others[20]. Even as a young man he had to face various kinds of events like the separation from his beloved Mary, the jealousy of his brother Dick towards the relationship which he shared with Mary and others. Thus, it would be apt to say that the subject of History was a kind of escape route for him through which he could forget these mundane realities of his life. At a particular point of the novel he himself comments about the importance of the place which the subject History held in his life with the words that “Until a series of encounters with the Here and Now gave a sudden urgency to my studies. Until the Here and Now, gripping me by the arm, slapping my face and telling me to take a good look at the mess I was in, informed me that history was no invention but indeed existed -- and I had become a part of it”[21]. It is interesting to note that the character Tom takes the refuge of the subject History to escape from his own personal history which haunts him all his life and ultimately leads to the destruction of his marriage with Mary and the admittance of Mary in a mental institution. In this particular regard it is important to note that whereas the other people in the novel try to refute the past or the history Tom, on the other hand, tries to embrace it or make it an integral part of his life. The opinion of the student of Tom, namely, Price is significant to note in this particular regard when he says that “I want a future. . . And you -- you can stuff your past!”[22]. This is not the only attack which is being made on the machinery of History in the novel. The student of Tom, namely, Price in the other section launches into another attack on the machinery of History and says that the people of the world at the current moment should be more concerned about the current events which are threatening their lives like the various nuclear weapons that are threatening the very existence of the human beings[23]. Thus, commenting on the inadequacy of history and its meaninglessness on the various precepts of the topics that Tom tries to teach the various students of the class, Price says that “You know what your trouble is, sir? You're hooked on explanation. Explain, explain. Everything's got to have an explanation. . . . Explaining's a way of avoiding facts while you pretend to get near to them”[24].

The Personal History of Waterland's Characters


In the other sections of the novel the machinery of history is being used as a filler to fill in the voids in the lives of the other people. As a matter of fact the narration of the events in the novel itself is being portrayed in a non-sequential manner and the readers need to take the help of the past personal experiences of the lives of the primary characters of the novel in order to make sense of the things which are being depicted in the novel[25]. It is here that the past personal history of the lives of the three important characters of the novel. For example, before the death of Freddie Parr, Mary and Tom in a way can be said to be living outside the circle of history as well as time whereas after his death the couple needs to confront their own past history and the role which it had played in transforming their own lives[26]. Thus, it is seen that the past life as well as the events associated with it still haunt Mary in the present in the form of her longing for the daughter which she had aborted and this particular longing leads her to kidnap the child of another person[27]. This particular incident can be said to be one of the most important events during the entire course of the novel since it not only impacts the events or incidents which happen in the latter part of the novel after this but at the same time makes Tom rethink the importance which the machinery of History plays in the lives of the individuals[28].


To conclude, the concept of history has emerged as one of the most important topics which the majority of the literary artists try to represent in their works. More important than the process of the actual representation of the machinery of history and the various historical events are the representations of the manner in which the machinery of history have been subverted. The recent literary works as well as other events have revealed that the various historical events have been modified in such a manner so as to suit the needs of the ruling as well as the powerful people of the society. The novel “Waterland” by Graham Swift also has the representation of the machinery of history as its central theme. The author Swift in a subtle manner uses the personal history of the central characters of the novel to give meaning to the present lives of these characters. Thus, it would apt to say that the machinery of history forms an important part of the novel “Waterland”.

References

Catan?, Elisabeta Simona. "Stories as Silt in Graham Swift’s Waterland." Romanian Journal of English Studies 13, no. 1 (2016): 7-12.

Chalupský, Petr. "The “Novel of Recollections”–Narration as a Means of Coming to Terms with the Past." International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature 5, no. 2 (2016): 90-96.

Childs, Peter. "Cultural Heritage/Heritage Culture: Adapting the Contemporary British Historical Novel." Adaptation and Cultural Appropriation: Literature, Film, and the Arts 27 (2012): 89.

Cobley, Evelyn. "Graham Swift's Waterland and the Ideology of Efficiency." Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 55, no. 3 (2014): 272-290.

Dawson, Ashley. The Routledge concise history of twentieth-century British literature. Routledge, 2012.

Domonoske, Camila. "Ecology, Language, and Water/Land: Ambiguous Fenlands and Challenged Dichotomies of Enlightenment in Graham Swift’s Waterland." Papers & Publications: Interdisciplinary Journal of Undergraduate Research 1, no. 1 (2012): 7.

Drobot, Irina-Ana. "Graham Swift’s England and Other Stories: A Coherent Whole?." Accessed December 19 (2016).

Drobot, Irina-Ana. "The Hero's Isolation in Virginia Woolf's and Graham Swift's Lyrical Novels." Philologica Jassyensia 10, no. 1 (2014): 146.

Foster, Rachel. "The more things change, the more they stay the same: developing students' thinking about change and continuity." Teaching History 151 (2013): 8.

Lee, Alison. Realism and Power (routledge Revivals): Postmodern British Fiction. Routledge, 2014.

Massoulier, Nathalie. "Tremulations on the ether: The sublime and beauty in Graham Swifts humanist art." International Journal of English and Literature 5, no. 1 (2014): 34-44.

NoorBakhsh, Fariba, and Fazel Asadi Amjad. "Three Approaches toward Historiography: The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Possession, and Waterland." Sic: ?asopis za književnost, kulturu i književno prevo?enje 13 (2016): 0-0.

Paul, Herman. "Weak Historicism: On Hierarchies of Intellectual Virtues and Goods." Journal of the Philosophy of History 6, no. 3 (2012): 369-388.

Seixas, Peter. "Historical agency as a problem for researchers in History Education." Antíteses 5, no. 10 (2012).

Sumera, Adam. "Going to America to See the Fens Better? Stephen Gyllenhaal’s Waterland." Text Matters 5, no. 1 (2015): 206-218.

Swift, Graham. Waterland. Picador, 2010.

Zinnatullina, Zulfiyya Rafisovna, and Liliya Fuatovna Khabibullina. "Mythologization of History in English literature by the end of the Twentieth Century (John Fowles, A. Burgess)." Journal of Language and Literature 6, no. 2 (2015): 76-78.

iplinary Journal of Undergraduate Research 1, no. 1 (2012): 7.
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