Alternative realities: Counterfactual historical fiction and possible worlds theory

RAGHUNATH, Riyukta (2017). Alternative realities: Counterfactual historical fiction and possible worlds theory. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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The primary aim of my thesis is to offer a cognitive-narratological methodology with which to analyse counterfactual historical fiction. Counterfactual historical fiction is a genre that creates fictional worlds whose histories run contrary to the history of the actual world. I argue that Possible Worlds Theory is a suitable methodology with which to analyse this type of fiction because it is an ontologically centred theory that can be used to divide the worlds of a text into its various ontological domains and also explain their relation to the actual world. Ryan (1991) offers the most appropriate Possible Worlds framework with which to analyse any fiction. However, in its current form the theory does not sufficiently address the role of readers in its analysis of fiction. Given the close relationship between the actual world and the counterfactual world created by counterfactual historical fiction, I argue that a model to analyse such texts must go beyond categorising the worlds of texts by also theorising what readers do when they read this type of fiction. For this purpose, in my thesis I refine Ryan's Possible Worlds framework so that it can be used to more effectively analyse counterfactual historical fiction. In particular, I introduce an ontological domain which I am calling RK-worlds or reader knowledge worlds to label the domain that readers use to apprehend the counterfactual world presented by the text. I also offer two cognitive concepts – ontolological superimposition and reciprocal feedback – that support a Possible Worlds analysis of counterfactual historical fiction and model how readers process such fiction. In addition, I redefine counterpart theory, transworld identity, and essential properties to appropriately theorise the way readers make the epistemological link between a character and their corresponding actual world individual. The result is a fully fleshed out Possible Worlds model that addresses the reader's role by focusing on how they cognitively interact with the worlds built by counterfactual historical fiction. Finally, to demonstrate my model's dexterity, I apply it to three texts – Robert Harris' Fatherland (1992), Sarban's The Sound of his Horn (1952), and Stephen Fry's Making History (1996). I conclude that the Possible Worlds model that I have developed is rigorous and can be replicated to analyse all fiction in general and counterfactual historical fiction in particular.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Bell, Alice [0000-0001-9737-4081]
Additional Information: Director of Studies : Dr Alice Bell.
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Jill Hazard
Date Deposited: 10 Apr 2018 10:44
Last Modified: 11 Sep 2023 01:18

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