History and Story Telling in Graham Swift's Waterland Essay

History and Story Telling in Graham Swift's Waterland Essay

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History and Story Telling in Graham Swift's Waterland


Waterland uses history, theory, and fictional biography to address the question of history. The blurring of boundaries between history, story, and theory questions the construction of those boundaries as well as the closure and linear nature of traditional narrative. If Waterland has a beginning, it is far in the geologic past, at a time when the continents began their slow journey to the positions they now occupy; however, the novel itself does not begin at this beginning. Waterland moves forward and backward through geologic, historic, and biographic time. By denying the linearity and absolute authority of historical narrative, Swift leaves room for rupture and revision, for stories and nostalgia. The historical and biographical accounts provide a context for the philosophy and theory that the narrator interjects throughout the novel; the philosophy and theory facilitate the leaps in time between geologic, historic, and biographic past. Swift's mingling of (what appears to be) a "real" geologic history of the fens and the fictional accounts of the Crick and Atkinson families blurs the boundaries between reality and fiction, turning history into fiction and placing fiction within a "real" historical account. (footnote 1) Waterland, as a novel, makes the same proposal that Tom Crick makes to his class: to discover and reveal the purpose of history by telling a story.

The study of semiotics shows that language is the primary mediator in the construction of reality. All systems of signification are dependent on language, and the development of subject position is determined through the act of speaking. (footnote 2) In a discussion of language functions, Fredric Jameson d...


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... Tom Crick are purely fictional; however, the possibility remains that they may be fictionalized biographical incidents based on events that occurred to or are known by the author, Graham Swift. This further complicates the blurring of boundaries between fiction and "reality."

footnote 2

See the work of Jacques Lacan and Emile Benveniste.

footnote 3

I am not limiting Tom Crick's subject position to only three possibilities; I only offer these as three possibilities from a multiplicity.


footnote 4

I am fascinated by the idea of Sarah Atkinson's stories and have been telling myself her possible stories. Were her mysterious "appearances" Sarah's stories come to life because she could not "tell" them? Did she find another way to articulate her stories? Did she hear the stories others told and (re)tell them, inserting herself into the narrative?

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