Napoleon Series Archive 2003

Re: How We Grow
In Response To: How We Grow ()

Mark:

Hmmm. Maybe I would have been wiser to have used the term "passive narrative."

I like a good narrative. Would Oman's history in seven volumes count? I liked that a lot!

Yes, many "narrative" histories are pretty soul-less, but not all, or are they so by definition.

But I must ask, who is served by the umpteenth formulation of survey of Wellington's army at Waterloo, or the Peninsula, if the work offers neither new research nor a remarkable style of literary composition? The publisher's accounts? The author's CV? The readership (for whom the information was already available)? For me it raises a question of purpose. Why is the work written? Does it offer anything? I am ever slower to actually buy new books on the period, cautious to ascertain whether it has something to offer. My reluctance doesn't stem from being a know-it-all or self-satisfied intellectual, it is born of spending money on a book that tells me nothing I haven't already read, or tells me something in so superficial a fashion as to only imitate the conveyance of information.

Also, the impact of narrative is differs enormously depending on whether it is one crafted by a participant (as in a memoir), or by an historian. Xenphon's "Anabasis" is one heck of a lot more interesting as a personal memoir than it would be if it were the work of an historian looking back upon the event, not least because it carries the ring of authentic experience. Sort of an auto-corroboration, if you will! Following an individual or an army is particularly interesting through the eyes of one who was there. A similarly good narration by an historian is the more challenging as she or he has not the personal, eye-witness, first-hand experience of the tale, but must rely heavily on the testimony of others...and therein lies the rub. Can the historian use that well, and corroborate well what is judged useful.

From yet another perspective, there is great historical "fiction"--if I can bring myself to admit that George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman is...(gulp) fictional. There is outstanding history woven into his story-telling. Narrative by a master. :o)

cheers - Howie

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