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The garden of perfect brightness & playing in the garden of perfect brightness: historical fiction as a ‘playframe.’

Addey, Melissa (2020) The garden of perfect brightness & playing in the garden of perfect brightness: historical fiction as a ‘playframe.’ Doctoral thesis, University of Surrey.

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Creative: The Garden of Perfect Brightness Set in 1700s China, at the court of the Qing dynasty, this historical novel focuses on the life of Giuseppe Castiglione, a painter recruited by the Jesuits to serve in their Mission in Beijing. As Castiglione struggles artistically in an unfamiliar culture, he finds himself drawn to Niuhuru, concubine to a prince and mother to a future emperor, who lives in the Yuan Ming Yuan, the Garden of Perfect Brightness, a country estate. Told in alternate chapters, the novel follows the relationship between the two and the changes made to the Garden. Castiglione is tasked with being the architect who will turn the simple country retreat into an imperial wonderland as Niuhuru sees her home turn into a place she no longer recognises. Critical: Playing in the Garden of Perfect Brightness David Harlan asks why reviewers of historical novels ‘almost never (venture) beyond the most obvious questions of factual accuracy.’ In this thesis I propose that historical fiction can be seen as a ‘playframe’, an idea transposed from Jackson and Kidd’s work in heritage performance (e.g. setting a play about slavery within a museum on the topic), where the framework of a historical setting and the playful exploration of a fictional element combine to create what author Hannah Kent calls ‘work(s) of possibility,’ resulting in strong audience/reader engagement. I propose the word playframe as a hybrid concept for a hybrid genre. Using the framework of history, the fictional element of the narrative can then be seen as a playful engagement with the past, whereby an author pursues their own concept or vision. Rather than exclusively focusing on factual accuracy, I suggest that we should also pay attention to what an author has chosen to ‘play’ with, rather than potentially dismissing the fictional element as a historically inaccurate intrusion. I have identified three types of authors and named them the Ventriloquist, the Mosaic-Maker and the Magician, for their different approaches to playing with the past. Whatever their choice, my argument is the same: in choosing to write or read a novel in this hybrid genre rather than, say, a textbook of history, the experience should be one of playful engagement and exploration rather than exclusively interrogating for accuracy. ‘The museum does not have all the answers. The museum plays a potentially far more important role… it has questions,’ suggests Bradburne. I would argue that the same is true of historical fiction, and that we should value and explore the fictional element as well as the historical in this hybrid genre.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Divisions : Theses
Authors : Addey, Melissa
Date : 28 February 2020
Funders : University of Surrey PhD studentship
DOI : 10.15126/thesis.00853730
Contributors :
Related URLs :
Depositing User : Melissa Addey
Date Deposited : 06 Mar 2020 15:10
Last Modified : 06 Mar 2020 15:11

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