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Chapter 11 - Narrative and truth

H. Porter Abbott
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Summary

Fiction and nonfiction

As I noted in Chapter Three, when it was revealed that Barbellion (Bruce Cummings) had not died when the narrative of his life said he had, the whole public reception of his narrative changed, even though every word of it remained the same. But how would the public reception have changed had Bruce Cummings published his diary as a novel, that is, as fiction? The answer is easy: there would have been no change for the simple reason that Barbellion would never have existed, at least in real life. Instead, he would have had a fictional existence in a novel and in that world could die whenever his author wished.

However, marketed as a novel, The Journal of a Disappointed Man probably would not have sold as well as it did. This is only a guess, but it brings up an interesting point. Despite the powerful advantages of fiction, nonfiction narratives enjoy one attraction that fiction lacks, and that is that they claim to tell a story that is factually true. This is the deep appeal of narratives like history, biography, autobiography, filmed documentaries, and staged monologues representing a real person in her own words (and for that matter all accounts of the way things have actually happened in time, including the narratives of geology, paleontology, astronomy, and other sciences). Factual truth sells, and audiences will forgive failures of art and even lapses of narrative suspense in the delivery of this kind of truth.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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  • Narrative and truth
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.013
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  • Narrative and truth
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.013
Available formats
×

Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Narrative and truth
  • H. Porter Abbott, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Book: The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
  • Online publication: 05 June 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511816932.013
Available formats
×