Breaking the Frame in Historical Fiction

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
96 Downloads (Pure)


The historical note is a familiar device in historical fiction. While such devices have begun to attract scholarly attention, the focus has typically been on the way they signal the genre’s relationship to truth. This article proposes instead to look at how historical notes rework an understanding of the story and its source material by breaking the frame between events retold in fiction, and narrative history. Frame breaking, or metalepsis, is the preserve of experimental fiction, and usually consists of authors placing themselves in their work, or characters engaging with their author. Behind this playful inversion lies a preoccupation with the porous boundaries established between ontologically distinct worlds. I contend that the same destabilising effect can be found in the transition from story to historical note, with the reader carrying ideas from the story into the world of narrative history, and vice versa. Rather than separating the story from ‘what actually happened’, historical notes perform the opposite function. Drawing on examples from literature, film, and TV, I argue that frame breaking in historical fiction inserts the ambiguities of art into a mode of historical representation that remains a popular means of disseminating the truth.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalRethinking History
Issue number3-4
Early online date1 Dec 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Dec 2020

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Material Texts


  • historical fiction
  • metalepsis
  • frame breaking
  • narrative history
  • historiography
  • paratext
  • rome
  • Fiction
  • metafiction


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