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Robert Graves and the Classical Tradition$
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A. G. G. Gibson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198738053

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198738053.001.0001

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‘It’s readable all right, but it’s not history’

‘It’s readable all right, but it’s not history’

Robert Graves’s Claudius Novels and the Impossibility of Historical Fiction

(p.21) 1 ‘It’s readable all right, but it’s not history’
Robert Graves and the Classical Tradition

Andrew Bennett

Oxford University Press

Robert Graves’s Claudius novels bring to prominence the structural tension within the genre of the historical novel between the empirical on the one hand and literary invention on the other. Graves equates poetry with the non-empirical and non-historical, but figures prose fiction as empirical, linguistically confined, and historically specific. He therefore insists on a full historicity for his novels in order to assert the authenticity of his narrative and to confirm the soundness of his scholarship. Reinforcing an opposition of literature to history that originates in Aristotle’s Poetics, Graves emphasizes the novels’ historicity at the expense of their literary value. In doing so, he resists a conception of the literary as the undecidable combination of the singular and general envisaged by critics from Aristotle to Jacques Derrida. The novels achieve a kind of ersatz historiography but thereby largely forgo the rhetorically inventive and narratively innovative resources offered by prose fiction.

Keywords:   Robert Graves, I, Claudius, Claudius the God, historical novel, history, literature, Aristotle, genre

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