, 95:341 | Cite as

Fictional Frontiers: The Interrelation of Fact and Fiction between the World and the Text

  • Maureen A. Ramsden


This article explores the pervasiveness of fiction in our everyday world and in written discourse. It also examines the boundaries between factual and fictional works which have been challenged, particularly in the twentieth century, with works such as the nonfiction novel. We interpret the world in terms of fiction which, in its broadest sense, shapes our everyday world. We tell stories about events in our lives and create characters from people we know. Translating the world into discourse is also characterized by poiesis. It involves an imaginative leap and a shaping force which creates different genres. Verisimilitude, an image of reality accepted by a particular age, is necessary, not only in translating the world into a fictional work, but equally in the representation of the real in factual works. Moving from the general to the specific, the article then turns to the example of nineteenth-century historical works, both factual and fictional, focusing on the examples of Michelet’s Histoire de la révolution française and Balzac’s Les Chouans. But what separates a factual work from a fictional one, given the often complex interrelation of fact and fiction in discourse? Facts are themselves a construct and the product of nineteenth-century positivism. Many modern factual histories use the narrative form, into which the truth or facts of history are incorporated and which must of necessity include subjective interpretation and selectivity. Often a more obvious fictional technique is introduced into factual works. Michelet uses dramatic scenes to bring his story of history alive. Balzac introduces many historical facts into his novel Les Chouans, but these facts are used in very different ways to those found in factual histories. In addition, much of the material in the novel, such as the composite characters, is invented. However, the issue is far more complex than a simplistic distinction between factual and fictional elements in a text, and fictional works often have a purpose which is very different from that of simply imitating factual paradigms, as this article seeks to demonstrate.


Fact Fiction History Narrative Michelet Balzac 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of HullHullUK

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