(Re) Constituted Pasts: Postmodern Historicism in the Novels of Graham Swift and Julian Barnes

  • Daniel Bedggood


British novelists Graham Swift and Julian Barnes share a fascination with troubled histories. At one point in Swift’s novel Waterland, a character asserts that ‘the only important thing about history … is that it’s got to the point where it’s probably about to end’.2 Although within the book this particular character’s fear of nuclear annihilation is not realised, the concern displayed towards history at this moment of postmodernity may be considered emblematic of a more widespread anxiety with history as a subject within literary representations in the late twentieth century. In the conditions of today’s world, the place of history and its role in searching for meaning and facts seems uncertain to many. Compounding this, among those theorists who perceive an approaching ‘end of history’, opinions are even split as to whether this would be a negative thing: at least one theorist, Francis Fukuyama, doubts history’s relevance in the face of the ‘triumph’ of capitalism, (prematurely) welcoming an ‘end of history’ as a sign of class victory.3


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For Further Reading

  1. For a hard copy list of the works of Graham Swift and Julian Barnes up to 2001, see Contemporary Novelists, ed. David Madden et al., 7th edn (New York: St James Press, 2001). For a more up-to-date list on the internet, see the British Council website: <>.Google Scholar
  2. Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. edn. (London: Verso, 1991).Google Scholar
  3. Brown, Marshall, ed., The Uses of Literary History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  4. Eagleton, Terry, Literary Theory: an Introduction. 2nd edn. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).Google Scholar
  5. Holton, Robert, Jarring Witnesses: Modern Fiction and the Representation of History (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994).Google Scholar
  6. Hutcheon, Linda, and Joseph P. Natoli, A Postmodern Reader (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  7. Thompson, Willie, Postmodernism and History (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Daniel Bedggood 2005

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  • Daniel Bedggood

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