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POSTMODERNIST HISTORICAL NOVELS: JEANETTE WINTERSON'S AND SALMAN RUSHDIE'S NOVELS AS

HISTORIOGRAPHIC METAFICTIONS
This study analyzes Jeanette Wintersons novels The Passion and Sexing the Cherry and Salman Rushdies
Midnights Children and Shame as postmodernist historical novels in line with the form historical fictions have
taken with the introduction of postmodernism. The study argues that Wintersons and Rushdies novels can be
read as subversive texts that problematize the boundary between history and fiction and question the
monology and the claim to objectivity of historical representation. This study categorizes these novels of
Jeanette Wintersons and Salman Rushdies as representatives of historiographic metafictions which enable
different voices to be heard by opening the dominant discourse of history to multivocality. Both novelists
postmodernist texts are analyzed with respect to their use of different voices and alternative histories, through
the writers emphasis on how history is a human construct.
It is after the linguistic turn, which denotes the poststructuralist deferral/split between the signifier and the
signified and its subsequent influences on other fields of study, that there has emerged a rather different view
of the historical novel, seen as the historical turn in fiction (Keen 167). What is new in the new historical
novel is its treatment of history as a form of discourse, as Raymond A. Mazurek argues (194). The
postmodernist view of history , in order to falsify the objectivity of conventional history writing, bases its
arguments heavily on the poststructuralist theories which claim that language creates and shapes reality. The
poststructuralist view entails the idea that there are plural meanings and truths as opposed to one meaning or
one Truth. It is a denial of the empirical concepts of history on which traditional historical novels before the
introduction of postmodernist views were based. The inclusion of history in recent postmodern fictions like
those of Jeanette Winterson and Salman Rushdie has been reshaped by the postmodernist theory of history. By
means of their overt metafictionality, these postmodern texts challenge the capacity of history to represent
reality outside the text and defy the truth-value of historical knowledge as well. The fact that they are highly
self-reflexive novels points to the process of constructing, ordering and selecting, which presupposes that
history is a human construct as is literature.
Postmodernist historical novels attempt to insert history into fiction to subvert historical facts and rewrite
them from a perspective different from the accepted interpretation. In such postmodernist texts, which
question the problematized relations between history and fiction, the hitherto silenced histories of
marginalized groups are sometimes foregrounded through this rewriting and subverting of historical material.
As these arguments also suggest, the postmodern elements and the self-reflexivity of the two writers novels
that will be analyzed in this study help point out the devices by which historiography produces meanings and
they challenge historiographys authority. These novels of the two writers are studied in terms of how they
highlight the silenced histories of marginalized groups such as ethnic/political minorities, the colonized, and
women through rewriting historical facts within the different contexts of the novels. Jeanette Wintersons
novels are known for the feminist/lesbian awareness through which the writer handles her themes of how
gendered identity is constructed by patriarchy and how it can be deconstructed. Wintersons The Passion and
Sexing the Cherry, additionally, question the truth-value of history as a patriarchal discourse and threaten its
monology through mingling it with the fantastic and grotesque elements of the novels. In Midnights Children
and Shame, Salman Rushdie makes the East and the history of India and Pakistan, respectively, the themes, and
he openly parodies the historical discourse of the colonial West. The choice of one feminist and one
postcolonial writer in this study is due to the fact that both feminist and postcolonial writing can produce texts
that are highly subversive in their nature as they are consciously resistant to the dominant discourse of history
that patriarchy and the colonizer use to suppress the other. Defining the common features of historical novels
after the emergence of postmodernism, Suzanne Keen argues in her study that, [t]hese historical novels bear
a strong relationship in their revisionist spirit to the feminist and postcolonial tradition (179). In the hands of
these writers, therefore, historiographic metafiction becomes a liberating tool because for all its playfulness
[], historical fiction has a strong political resonance especially for women and ethnic writers: the imperatives
behind female and ethnic (re)writings of history are inescapably different from those of white men. If one of
the driving forces in the writing of historical fiction is to give a voice to the silenced Other, then for a woman or
ethnic author to write into being the unaddressed past and its muted subalterns, or to rewrite an established
male-authored work, presents a challenge for both author and reader (Heilmann and Llewellyn 142).