From Storytelling to Historia: the Fiction of Graham Swift

Logotheti, Anastasia. 2002. From Storytelling to Historia: the Fiction of Graham Swift. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Graham Swift, a major contemporary British novelist, is concerned in his fiction, one short story collection and six novels to date, with narratives of trauma. To each of these seven books the present thesis devotes one chapter of critical analysis. As the title suggests, this dissertation traces the development of themes and techniques related to storytelling, as a recuperative process, and its relationship to Historia, a paradoxical term combining narrative, inquiry and history as a record of events. Swift connects individual lives to a broader canvas by interrelating family stories to events in history, especially the two world wars.

Swift's faith in the novel as a genre that can incorporate the complexity of human consciousness as well as the dilemmas haunting people's lives allows him to combine the moral imperatives of nineteenth-century realism with fragmented tales of alienation typical of modernism and the questioning of representation characteristic of contemporary fiction. The complex psychology of Swift's characters is conveyed through non-linear juxtaposition of memories-, narrative techniques that favour polyphony, shifts in style, tone and focus within first-person narratives, - embedded texts, intertextuality and metafictional awareness; symbolic settings; and the reworking of classic plots and mythological motifs.

Swift's mostly middle-aged protagonists resort to confession, seeking to accommodate guilt which stems from failure in their roles as sons, fathers and husbands. Childless or estranged from their children, they are unable to reconcile themselves to time and move into the future as long as they remain prisoners of their past. Overwhelmed by memories reconstructed through telling, Swift's narrators are unwilling, hesitant and frequently unreliable storytellers. Seeking through story to encounter, comprehend, even manipulate history, they feel persecuted by sociopolitical and natural forces, accidents and their own choices. In his fiction Swift self-consciously pays homage to tradition, constantly reinforcing his belief in storytelling as a fundamental human instinct and a therapeutic ritual.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Graham Swift, novels, fiction

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature



Item ID:


Date Deposited:

29 May 2020 14:40

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:24


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