Legendary Figures: Ancient History in Modern Novels


Legendary Figures examines revolutionary views of the past that have played a crucial role in European & American literature of the last 150 years. The author traces these new approaches to history through an impressive range of novels, from Flaubert's Salammbo to Christa Wolf's Cassandra. The author argues that this new "historical sense," which arose in the mid-nineteenth century, gained eloquent expression in Flauber's writings. What is crucial about the new historical sense is that it views the past as essentially "alien" & "other." The connection between past & present may be powerful, but it is always indirect & difficult to negotiate. As a result, the past seems exotic & unattainable, the object of nostalgia & desire. The author distinguishes this sense of history, with its persistent discontinuities between past & present, from the more continuous & progressive views of history of novelists like Sir Walter Scott & such philosophers as Hegel, Marx, & Lukacs. In their writings, history "proceeds according to the laws of cause & effect, & each epoch can be understood as both the result of the previous one & the cause of the next." In contrast, the modernist writer that the author examines - Flaubert, Pater, Mann, Broch, Wilder, Yourcenar, & Wolf - imagine a past that is "mythic" & "legendary" & thus a metaphor for everything distant, complicated, unattainable, & unknowable.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Lincoln, NE
Publication year:
  • 1998


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