[In Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction, Keen, who takes Byatt's Possession as an archetype of this characteristic postimperial genre she terms the romance of the archive, lists its "common traits, themes, and motifs":]

The past few decades of British fiction have witnessed a proliferation of representations of archives in which scholarly and amateur characters seek information in collections of documents. Copious examples can be enumerated from serious and popular British fiction. These stories of archival research occur not only in postmodern novels and literary fiction, but also in popular sub-genres of the contemporary novel such as detective fiction, fantasies, gothics, and thrillers. Each of these sub-genres provides in its turn multiple examples of stories meeting my criteria to be called romances of the archive. They have scenes taking place in libraries or in other structures housing collections of papers and books; they feature the plot action of 'doing research' in documents. They designate a character or characters at least temporarily as archival researchers, as questers in the archive. They unabashedly interpret the past through its material traces; they build on a foundation of 'documentarism,' answering the postmodern critique of history with invented records full of hard facts. Despite the prevailing view that postmodernism has scuttled old-fashioned notions of Truth, by far the majority of romances of the archive seek and find solid facts, incontrovertible evidence, and well-preserved memories of times past. In the face of postmodern scepticism, this kind of contemporary fiction claims that its world-making can answer questions about what really happened, though it does so without surrendering its licence to invent. Some romances of the archive win the approval of professional historians; others revel in the counterfactual freedoms of make-believe. Thus, a lively debate about the uses of the past can be discovered in romances of the archive, where British writers conjure up earlier time. [p. 3]

Links to Related Material


Keen, Suzanne. Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction. Toronto: University of Toronto, 2001.

Last modified 24 September 2002