Essay: Barker, Waters and Morrison – history in their writing

Literary critic Umberto Eco once recorded his irritation with people who suggest that writing about the past is ‘a way of eluding the present’ and I for would agree with him. For although Sarah Waters, Pat Barker and Toni Morrison each use a different technique to incorporate source texts, historical personages and period details into their fiction, in doing so, they each address and critique the present ‘through their treatment of the past’ and through their use of the historical novel genre as a political tool; a tool that enables them to write ‘about subjects that would otherwise be taboo’ and that they were previously denied access to.

Diana Wallace, one of several critics responsible for defining the historical novel, notes that it must be ‘historical’ in one of four senses, ‘its use of a particular period for its fictional setting; in its engagement with the historical moment (social, cultural, political and national) of its writing; in its relation to the personal life history of the writer herself; and in its relation to literary history, most obvious in the intertextual use of earlier texts’ . Whilst Waters The Night Watch pertains to the former, and Barker’s Regeneration to the latter, Morrison’s Beloved is inspired by the true story of an African-American slave, Margaret Garner. Despite escaping slavery in 1856, Garner was apprehended in Cincinnati by U.S Marshals acting under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that bestowed them with the power to capture Garner and her family and return them to a life of slavery . Garner was unwilling to let this happen and reacted by killing her very own daughter in order to save her from such a life. Though harrowing and traumatic, Morrison engages with and explores this ‘historical moment’ , placing it at the very centre of Beloved’s narrative. Although we might question why Morrison ‘focus[es] her writing on a devastating act of violence within an African American family as opposed to focusing on the white aggression that ran rampant throughout the time period of the novel’ , I would argue that this is what turns Beloved into a political tool. For Sethe’s infanticide in Beloved is traumatic ‘in the lasting, symptomatic effects of its overwhelming horror and revelatory in its demonstration that the source of the trauma lies in both institutional and familial violence’ . As a result, the novel exposes not only the psychological effects of slavery on a familial level, but also the repressed horror and reality of America’s historic institutional racism.

This notion of the past existing in the present is captured by Morrison in the very structure of Beloved. For Morrison creates the narrative out of fragments of memories, flashbacks and retellings that consequently force the reader to piece the story together for themselves. Combined with an ever-changing point of view, the narrative is somewhat difficult to follow and highlights not only the vast number of people affected and united by the trauma, but also echoes Sethe’s own struggle to confront her repressed memories; for the more Sethe represses the memory, the more frequently her flashbacks surface. Yet it is not until exactly half-way through the novel that Morrison reveals the details of the infanticide and not until the end of the novel that the reader can piece together the whole narrative; illustrating how difficult it is to interpret the narrative as separate from the infanticide and symbolic of the way in which the psychological effects of slavery are unremitting.

The historical trauma of slavery is embodied by Beloved herself whom reappears in the novel as a supernatural figure. Although Beloved fits Diana Wallace’s previous definition of a historical novel, Beloved’s supernatural reappearance suggests that the novel might also belong to the Magical Realism genre. This is reinforced by the personification of Baby Sugg’s house, ‘124 was spiteful’ (p.3), ‘124 was loud’ (p.169), and ‘124 was quiet’ (p. 239), which suggests that 124 also possesses supernatural qualities. Critic Charles Scheel argues that these characteristics of Beloved ‘strengthen the grotesque and Gothic aspects of the tale’ , something that I would agree reinforces the horror of the historical trauma that Beloved embodies and reinforces the notion that the past haunts the present.

Whilst Morrison incorporates just one source text into Beloved, Pat Barker relies heavily upon the intertextual use of several texts by W. H. R. Rivers, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon throughout Regeneration. However, by incorporating not only intertextual references into Regeneration, but also the three men themselves, Barker mixes the ‘historical and fictive’ and ‘tamper[s] with the ‘facts’ of received history’ . Though Frederic Jameson disapproves of such, critic Linda Hutcheon commends Barker for mixing the two and consequently drawing attention to the text’s historical referent. Whilst I agree with Hutcheon that it is impossible to read Regeneration without noting the historical context, I would also agree somewhat with Jameson that Barker’s ‘mixing of historical and fictive’ complicates the ‘facts’ of history and thus requires readers to possess a great deal of intertextual knowledge in order to delineate between the two; a concern that Barker herself addressed in her ‘Authors Note’ in which she wished to ‘help the reader to know what is historical and what is not’ .

Whether entirely historical or fictitious, Regeneration is the first novel in a trilogy that takes place over just twelve months, indicating the somewhat ‘transformative nature of the relatively brief moment [Barker] is charting’ . Not only does the ‘transformative nature’ of the moment make WWI an ideal setting for Barker’s blend of fictive and historical, but her engagement with this period of history also places the novel within the genre of historical fiction defined by Diana Wallace . Yet Barker herself has challenged the categorisation of Regeneration as a ‘historical novel’ and even confessed that the novel is ‘not an anti-war book in the very simple sense that [she] was afraid it might seem at the beginning. Not that it isn’t an anti-war book: it is’ . Rather Barker merely uses the historical setting of WWI in order to explore themes such as masculinity, trauma and ideology that she would otherwise be denied the freedom to write about. However, though Barker evidently did not intend for Regeneration to be an ‘anti-war book’ or a ‘historical novel’, by engaging with this historical moment, Regeneration inevitably is.

Unlike Regeneration, in which historical figures and historical texts are seamlessly interweaved into the narrative, Sarah Water’s The Night Watch uses the setting of WWII as a backdrop for her romance narrative. Whilst one review of the novel praises Water’s for this, celebrating that ‘the period detail never overwhelms the simple, passionate human story’ , I would argue that this subtlety of the period detail is the very thing that complicates the question of the novel’s genre. For Water’s positions the romantic relationships between her characters at the forefront of her narrative, suggesting that The Night Watch is not a historical novel at all but a romance. Indeed Diana Wallace identifies a third genre which I would argue The Night Watch belongs to instead: the historical romance, defined by its ‘use of a historical setting…to explore issues of gender, and a desire to rewrite history from a point of view that centralises women’s concerns’ . For although Waters characters are fictional they exist within a historically accurate setting that allows her to explore homosexuality, abortion, contraception and mortality, a handful of the concerns that plagued women during the war.

Another characteristic that sets The Night Watch apart from Regeneration and Beloved, is that it does not include at least one real historical personage, a characteristic singular to Avrom Fleishman’s definition of the genre . Although The Night Watch is set within a historical moment, the characters within the narrative are entirely fictitious, reinforcing that The Night Watch belongs instead to the genre of historical romance.

What also characterises The Night Watch is its unusual ‘topsy-turvy time scheme’ that instils the novel ‘with a poignant dramatic irony and turns every incident…into a revelation that helps to illuminate how [the] characters became the people they are’ . For the novel is split into three parts in reverse chronological order and thus we are introduced to the characters in the aftermath of the war. As a result, the critical question is not ‘where will this lead’ but rather ‘how this began’ ; a question that we might ask of Regeneration and Beloved too. For although these novels do not employ a backwards narrative, the characters within them are who they are because of their past trauma, information that is withheld from the reader.

One critic, Jerome De Groot, considers that this ‘inversion of linearity’ provides the reader with an insight into the future of the characters that is ‘often hidden by linear, positivist, realist fictions that invite the suspension’ of such knowledge. Though the reader of The Night Watch is empowered by this ‘foreknowledge’, they are also placed in a peculiar ‘ethical relation to both text and historical event’ .

Though De Groot considers this is empowering, I would argue that the foreknowledge that the characters will either die, suffer or survive, is also incredibly traumatic. For although Viv, Helen and Kay do not actually exist, people like them did and Water’s non-linear exploration of their lives and the historical period serves to challenge the way in which we receive history.

Having identified how each author incorporates a sense of history into their writing, it is also worth considering why and for what purpose. For one, Beloved expands upon the story of Margaret Garner in order to expose the psychological effects of slavery and force America to confront their slave-owning past. To achieve this, Morrison incorporates the infanticide at the very centre of Beloved’s plot to illustrate the lasting damage caused by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. For it is Sethe’s previous slave master that comes to retrieve her and her children and attempts to do so by trespassing upon Baby Sugg’s home. In doing so, Baby Sugg realises that ‘no African American is truly free. Not in a free state, not after slavery, not ever’ and that the freedom she thought she was living was only an illusion. This illusion echoes W.E.B Du Bois’ notion of the ‘veil’, something he considers African American’s are born with and through which they cannot achieve ‘true self-consciousness’ but only see themselves ‘through the revelation of the other world’ i.e. the ‘white’ world. Du Bois’ ‘veil’ reveals itself in Beloved when Sethe notes that she ‘dragged [her children] through the veil…over there where no one could hurt them’ , reiterating that Beloved’s murder was Sethe’s attempt to remove the veil and free her daughter from a life of slavery. However, after the trauma of the event, Sethe’s family become trapped in a repressive state suggesting that the veil cannot be removed and that ‘true self-consciousness’ is unachievable. The trespass of the four horsemen ultimately indicates that ‘no African American, slave or free, can genuinely own property or live as a subject in a society that gives overriding value to property rights’ . That ‘property’ being Baby Suggs, Sethe and Beloved who are objects to reclaim under the Fugitive Slave Act and to the ‘other world’.

On the other hand, Pat Barker’s inclusion of Wilfred Owen in Regeneration has often been considered an aid in breaking down the ‘romanticised ideological interpretations of war’ . For although Owen’s poetry has often been celebrated for its depiction of war, Barker’s incorporation of ‘Anthem of Doomed Youth’ into Regeneration draws attention to the process behind its construction and the reality of the horror behind the art. Not only is Owen an ‘expressive exemplar of the wars tragic losses’ but also an exemplar of Barker’s seamless intertwining of history and fiction. For Barker imagines Owens and Sassoon constructing and revising ‘Anthem of Doomed Youth’ and fabricates for herself the revisions that the poem went through. As a result the scene ‘destabilises eyewitness privilege’ as the reader witnesses the imagined construction of a real historical text, thus complicating the notion of what is historical and what is fictional even further.

Likewise, since Prior is one of the few fictional characters within Regeneration, Barker uses him to undermine River’s position as ‘interpreter’ of the war experience and question the received assumptions and ‘ideological interpretations’ of the war. Through Prior and by ‘ventriloquizing the voices of dead men’, Barker is able ‘to insist that we address the questions her texts ask about the relationship between war and gender, between violence and the construction of masculinity’ ; themes that play a significant role throughout the novel and which she would not be able to address as woman writer outside of the genre.

Though Barker focuses predominantly on the male experience of war, Waters’ The Night Watch draws attention to the significant role that women played during the war. However, since the narrative is in reverse we first meet each of Waters’ characters in the aftermath of the war. Kay is described by Duncan as ‘one of those women…who’d charged about so happily during the war, and then got left over’ , thus representing an entire era of women whom were displaced after the war and encouraged to return to a traditional role that they had since outgrown. As a result of the non-linear structure however, each chapter sees Kay’s responsibility and independence increase as Waters’ illustrates the vital role that she and other women played during the war, articulating their marginalised voices.

Trauma Theory

Regardless of the differences in how Barker, Morrison and Waters incorporate history into their writing, each author addresses the psychological and sometimes physical effects of trauma. Cathy Caruth, one of several critics responsible for establishing trauma theory as a mode of literary criticism, defines trauma as ‘much more than a pathology, or the simple illness of a wounded psyche’ but rather a ‘story of a wound that cries out…in the attempt to tell us of a reality or truth that is not otherwise available’ .

Considering Morrison’s Beloved in light of this definition, I would suggest that the narrative is formed on the very foundation of repressed and traumatic memories. For instance, Morrison’s narrative revolves around the infanticide of Beloved, an echo of Caruth’s definition of trauma as the ‘story of a wound’. For Beloved proves to be the physical manifestation of a wound and thus the story of Beloved parallels the ‘story of a wound’ as she cries out in an attempt to remind Sethe of that which she sought to repress. In addition, Beloved also symbolises a wound caused by the psychological trauma of historical racism and slavery, something that was suffered by ‘Sixty Million and more’ . As a result of her manifestation, Beloved compels readers to confront America’s past of slavery in order to create a stable future; a process that Sethe herself must also endure.

On the other hand, Barker’s Regeneration deals with the repercussions of war and the notion of shellshock, a condition we acknowledge today as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The patients at Craiglockhart in Regeneration suffer from an array of different problems, such as anorexia, mutism, nightmares and stammers, illustrating the ‘crisis of masculinity’ that the war caused men. Whilst Beloved herself serves as a physical reminder of trauma, in Regeneration, the various conditions that effect the men are a result of their inability to convey the ‘reality or truth’ of the trauma that they experienced. Elaine Showalter argues that since ‘all signs of physical fear were judged as weakness and where alternatives to combat pacifism, conscientious objection, desertion, even suicide – were viewed as unmanly, men were silenced and immobilized and forced, like women, to express their conflicts through the body’ . As such, Showalter likens shellshock to the ‘female malady’, hysteria. For it is when such men are ‘placed in intolerable circumstances of stress, and expected to react with unnatural “courage”’ , that they react with such symptoms.

Such ‘unnatural ‘courage’’ was just one of the impossible expectations placed on men during the war and since then shellshock has even been considered to be the result of such ‘long-term repression of signs of fear’ . Having internalised such expectations, shellshock was the ‘body language of masculine complaint’ and one of the few forms of male protest that soldiers were in their power to exercise against the war and the ‘concept of manliness itself’; exemplified by Prior whom in the beginning of the novel suffers from mutism, symbolic of the difficulty he has verbalising his fears that he made a misjudgement causing the death of two of his men.

Though several of the patients within Regeneration are fictional, Barker bases many of their conditions on cases recorded in River’s posthumous book Conflict and Dreams. Not only does this suggest that their experiences and wounds, both physical and psychological, are equally as historically verifiable as Owens and Sassoon’s, who can also be identified in River’s book as Patient B, but also that these ‘forgotten victims’ are permitted to ‘return from the past’ too, thus reinforcing the notion that the present is ‘fractured and haunted by the trauma of that past’ .

This notion is also evident in The Night Watch in which we meet the characters in the aftermath of the war, haunted still by the trauma of the experience. Through the structure of the narrative, we gradually learn how ‘history like trauma, is never simply one’s own’ for Water’s non-linear structure captures the notion that ‘history is precisely the way in which we are implicated in each other’s traumas’ and illustrates the butterfly effect of each action and event. This is echoed in Beloved too, in which Morrison highlights how America is implicated, if not directly in slavery, then in institutional racism and the psychological trauma caused by this. Likewise, Regeneration illustrates the way in which society, and its impossible expectations of men, contributed to and worsened shellshock.

This recurrent theme of one’s past haunting another’s future is highlighted by Julia in The Night Watch when she notes that rather than surveying bombed buildings, she is ‘recording ghosts’ . For although the families that once occupied these buildings are long gone, the wreckage of the buildings remain, continuing to haunt those that have survived. Whilst our memory disregards and represses certain experiences that are traumatic, the bombed buildings serve as a reminder of the trauma and thus, even though history is problematized by memory, memory also proves to be a ‘healing act’ in the way it pieces together traumatic incidents into a sequence and forces us to confront the ghosts of our past.

Memory and Re-Memory

In Morrison’s Beloved, Sethe coins the word ‘re-memory’ as a replacement for ‘remember’ and in doing so creates a term that highlights the very process of remembering; the repetition of a memory from the past, in the present. This notion is symbolised by the return of Beloved whom embodies the past living within the present and yet her death, Sethe’s infanticide, is a collective re-memory that is shared by the community and ‘worked out’ in the clearing; reinforcing Cathy Caruth’s argument that ‘no trauma is never one’s own’ and also the notion that in order to heal, the past must be confronted.

Umberto Eco considers the reason that we must ‘revisit’ the past to be the result of the fact that it ‘cannot really be destroyed, because destruction leads to silence’ . For instance, Sethe’s memory of the infanticide cannot be destroyed or forgotten and thus her desire to repress it only results in its return in the form of flashbacks and the supernatural manifestation of Beloved herself. Only when Sethe revisits the trauma and recovers what has been repressed, symbolic of America’s history of slavery, can the healing process begin.

As such, Mae Henderson argues that Beloved’s ‘story of oppression becomes a story of liberation’. However, I would agree with James Berger that Henderson overlooks the fact that ‘Beloved’s story is not over’ . Rather Beloved is repressed yet again in the final pages of the novel when ‘by and by all trace [of Beloved] is gone’, she has been ‘disremembered and unaccounted for’ and even ‘forgot like a bad dream. After they had made up their tales, shaped and decorated them’ . Not only does this illustrate the community’s failure to learn from their mistakes but also provides an implicit critique of America too, for ‘if slavery and legal white oppression are allowed to be forgotten, there is nothing standing in the way of their return’ . Likewise the continued repression of Beloved and her story suggests that there is ‘nothing standing in the way’ of her return, emphasised by the repetition of the line, ‘this is not a story to pass on’. For although this contradicts the novel’s dedication, ‘Sixty Million and more’, the novel’s concluding word, ‘Beloved’, suggests that if not passed on, Beloved will return again.

Whilst Beloved thus encourages us to remember the past, in The Night Watch the notion of memory is somewhat evaded. For if Water’s allowed the characters at any stage in the narrative to remember, the narrative and the suspense that the structure creates would be spoiled. In contrast, the majority of Barker’s Regeneration is spent trying to recall repressed memories from the war. For instance, Prior is only able to come to terms with the trauma he has experienced after restoring his memory through hypnosis. Only through the loss of control that hypnosis entails is Prior able to recall his repressed memories, face the past and overcome the trauma.

What is significant about the notion of memory in each novel however is the sense that although they ‘reinstall historical contexts as significant and even determining’, in doing so the ‘entire notion of historical knowledge’ is problematized and thus there can be no single version or concept of genuine historicity. For not only do these novels present a disjunction between what is historical and what is fictional, but also a disjunction between the characters accepted memories and their repressed memories. As a result, these disjunctions compel us to question the ‘ethics of representation and the way that history has sought to repress and discipline’ ; a question posed by Jerome De Groot that draws attention to the difficulty of writing a novel that tackles the notion of not only repressed memories but repressed history too.

Homosexuality & Taboo

Since Pat Barker recreated a world rather than invented it and used historically verifiable sources and characters, she was somewhat restricted in her writing of Regeneration and required a licence to see it ‘from an angle that no amount of historical research could provide ’. This license proved to be Billy Prior who offered Barker a different angle and enabled her to explore themes that were ‘normally taboo subjects’ and thus repressed from history and literature. For that was one of the great advantages of the historical novel, that it ‘allowed women writers a license which they ha[d] not been allowed in other forms’ to explore subjects such as ‘active female sexuality…contraception, abortion, childbirth and homosexuality’ .

For one, Sassoon is noted to have read and been influenced by Edward Carpenter’s The Intermediate Sex. Though this intertextual reference requires the reader to be familiar with Carpenter’s work on homosexuality, it also allows Barker to allude to Sassoon’s own homosexuality without explicitly stating so. Rather Sassoon notes that the text ‘saved’ his life and showed him he ‘wasn’t just a freak’ for not feeling ‘the things you’re supposed to feel’ , an implicit allusion to his homosexuality that is reinforced when River’s warns him that there are people who will use ‘a man’s private life to discredit his views’ . Whilst River’s previously encourages Sassoon to recover his repressed war memories, in contrast, his homosexuality is thought to be best kept repressed.

Sassoon is not the only patient encouraged to repress his sexuality however, fellow poet Wilfred Owen is too. Whilst Elaine Showalter notes that Owen and Sassoon are but two homosexual poets famous for war poetry, Richard Frein suggests that their ‘war poetry has the subversive tendency to be our ages love poetry’ , highlighting one of the great paradoxes of the war in which the ‘most brutal of conflicts’ sets up a ‘domestic’ or ‘caring’ relationship between officers and men that often extended further than just comradery.

Whilst Barker uses the historical novel to explore the effects of war on men, Water’s puts ‘women’s concerns’ at the forefront and focuses upon the women left behind by the war and the homosexual relationships they developed between themselves. Critic Natasha Alden suggests that Waters deviates from the ‘universal’ depiction of gay women as ‘blighted by crippling self-hatred and fear’ and resists echoing the ‘apparent misery that being gay brings in fiction’ . Instead Water’s provides an alternative ending for homosexual women that does not result in death or heterosexual marriage. Whilst Waters meticulously recreates the period detail of the 1940’s, evident in her long list of ‘Acknowledgments’, she uncharacteristically edits out much of the misery caused by having to live in secret, an omission that challenges previous received versions of history. For Waters approaches homosexuality with an attitude similar to the one Lillian Faderman identifies as prevalent come the end of the war, that is ‘even women who did not identify themselves as lesbians in the military tended to treat lesbianism…with a ‘who cares?’ attitude’ . This attitude is also embodied by Kay whom mocks Helen for worrying that someone might see them embrace, ‘Oh, so what? It’s not the nineteenth bloody century’ and dismisses it as ‘a lot of fuss…about nothing’ . Water’s alternative approach to homosexuality I would argue is reinforced by the historical setting of the novel that puts into perspective the matter of love when contrasted with the setting of war and death.

Perspective & Voice

By incorporating and addressing historically taboo subjects, each female author articulates a voice that has previously been marginalised. For instance, Morrison deals predominantly with the female experience, providing a voice for those whom have historically been denied the power of language as a result of slavery and institutional racism. This is illustrated throughout the narration of Beloved which, despite the variance of perspective, is almost continually focalised through an African American woman. The only exception to this is the infanticide scene which is instead narrated by the slave master and school teacher, an echo of the way in which history is mediated through the eyes of white men.

Considering the infanticide was inspired by the case of Margaret Garner, Morrison’s reimagining of the infanticide differs from the original source text. For rather than justify Sethe’s actions, the scene’s focalisation through the school teacher and slave catchers serves to depict Sethe as a piece of property or animal. In contrast, the original source text sympathises with Garner by describing her as an ‘unfortunate woman’ whom was simply ‘unwilling to have her children suffer as she had done’. Likewise, the text notes that Garner ‘spoke of her days of suffering, of her nights of unmitigated toll’ and it is ‘under these circumstances’ that her actions are understood. On the other hand, Sethe is described as a ‘fugitive’ whilst her family are likened to animals, ‘unlike a snake or a bear, a dead nigger could not be skinned for profit’. This likeness is emphasised by the animalistic image of Sethe clinging to her ‘blood-soaked child’ ; an image that not only disregards the ‘circumstances’ that have driven her to this but also omits the details of the infanticide itself. Whilst this imitates the perspective of the slave catcher it also suggests that the trauma has been repressed from the memory of the white men, symbolic of the repression of America’s slave-owning history.

In an attempt to justify their actions, the slave owner and schoolteacher give several nonsensical reasons for Sethe’s actions, suggesting that like a horse she has ‘gone wild’ due to ‘mishandling’ . Not only does this illustrate their ignorance of the effect of slavery on African American’s but also differs to the original source text in which the reporter emphatically deplores slavery, asking why ‘we are frequently told that Kentucky slavery is very innocent. If these are its fruits, where it exists in a mild from, will someone tell us what to expect from its more objectionable features?’ As such, Morrison’s reimagining of the infanticide provides a different perspective to the original text that serves to highlight the culpability of the white men rather than the innocence of Sethe.

Though Morrison deals predominantly with the female perspective, Barker’s Regeneration is marked by an absence of women that stands in opposition to one of Diana Wallace’s defining characteristics of women’s historical fiction: putting ‘women’s concerns’ at the forefront. Instead, the historical setting of Regeneration provides Barker with the freedom to ‘adopt male narrators and protagonists’ and write about the “‘male’ world of public and political affairs’ , a world that she as a woman had been denied a role in.

The absence of women in Regeneration also draws our attention to the marginalisation of particular men too. For the soldiers in Regeneration have been removed from not only the war, in which they were considered unfit to fight, but also from society, illustrated by the isolated location of Craiglockhart and the identification badge that they are obliged to wear outside the grounds. Marginalised in this such way, the absence of women in Regeneration is symbolic of the way in which men whom were unfit to fight were shunned by society and considered an embarrassment. This attitude is exemplified by Mr Prior’s contempt for his son, ‘He’d get a damn sight more sympathy from me if he had a bullet up his arse’ , and Mrs. Sassoon’s consolation at her son’s ‘insanity’, for he is ‘better mad than a pacifist’ ; two responses that illustrate the era’s uncompromising gender roles.

Unlike Barker, Waters centralises women’s concerns in The Night Watch, focusing predominantly upon the role of women in the war. Justine Jordan suggests this is a result of Waters finding a ‘historical period of transformation as fertile as the Victorian era of her previous books, and ripe for her project of writing lesbians back into history’ . For Waters provides a voice for those marginalised women and challenges the notion that ‘historical records document far fewer female than male’ voices. Instead Waters sets about writing an alternative history for women by narrating the past in one of the three ways Umberto Eco sets out; where the past is ‘scenery, pretext, fairy-tale construction, to allow the imagination to rove freely’ . Though Water’s imagination does not roam entirely freely, for she relies upon several historical texts to recreate the period detail, her imagination plays a significant role in fabricating an alternative to the received narratives of history.


In conclusion, although Barker, Waters and Morrison each incorporate elements of history into their writing in very different ways, each author urges us to question the reliability of received history and contemplate the effect that memory and trauma have upon it. In doing so, the author’s draw our attention to the people and the events that have been marginalised and repressed from history as a result and thus, each novel comes to possess a particular ‘political resonance’ with an ‘implicit rather than an explicit political agenda’ that reveals that these stories are worth listening to.