The documentary novel : fact, fiction or fraud? An examination of three Scandinavian examples of the documentary novel from the 1960s and 1970s

Hinchliffe, Ian

Literature; Mass media; Performing arts
September 1989

Thesis or dissertation

© 1989 Ian Cameron Hinchliffe. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This study seeks primarily to examine three Scandinavian examples of the documentary novel. Initially I endeavour to isolate certain purported characteristics of the genre as a whole by considering which aspects of a narrative have prompted the critics to call it a 'documentary novel'. I then examine the three works in detail, applying standard techniques of literary criticism and comparing the facts on which the novels are based with the novels themselves to determine what makes them 'documentary' and what makes them 'novels'.

The three novels share common techniques and all deal with the subject of Scandinavian polar exploration, but the author's relationship and attitude to the facts he has at hand are sufficiently different in each instance to permit a discussion of the literary form, ambitions and potential of the 'documentary novel'.

The evidence suggests that the documentary novel uses authentic historical material but presents it through the techniques and forms of creative literature: the novelists adapt documented facts to support a view of a history which typically differs from accepted tradition. I then show that the conclusions to which this unorthodox view points, however, are invariably the same as those the authors draw about life in their other, non-documentary fictional works.

Finally I demonstrate how the documentary novel is a fluid form which can be used in the service of fact, fiction or fraudulent propaganda, and I suggest a definition that embraces the three novels examined and the three kinds of documentary fiction that they represent.

Department of Scandinavian Studies, The University of Hull
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