Victorian Documentary Novels
Faking It analyzes Victorian novels that present themselves as non-fiction works. These documentary novels contain supposedly authentic transcriptions of letters, diary entries, memoirs, travelogues, witness testimonies, newspaper clippings, and other documentary evidence that purportedly verify a narrative’s claims of truth. Narrated entirely through artificial documents, these books are “fake” works of non-fiction.
In a period of literary history generally considered the era of the great realist novel, we might find it surprising that many novelists chose these forms for their work—especially when we recognize and grapple with the constraints they place on the writer. These constraints, however, also afford a variety of effects both aesthetic and rhetorical. Many critics have considered documentary novels a lower art form than realist novels—less advanced in their depiction of real life and real people. Faking It complicates that notion and argues for a reexamination of the documentary novel’s affordances and even flexibility despite the inherent constraints. Importantly, when we recognize how Victorian novelists exploited non-fiction forms for fictional purposes, we gain a better understanding of the history of the English novel from its origins to the present.
About the Author
Ellen J. Stockstill is Assistant Professor of English at Penn State Harrisburg where she teaches courses on British literature and critical theory. Her scholarship focuses on Victorian literature and culture, and she is co-author of A Research Guide to Gothic Literature in English (2018). Publications include essays in Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Victorian Women Writers, Thomas Hardy Journal, Wilkie Collins Journal, and Nineteenth-Century Prose. Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State Harrisburg, she was a Marion L. Brittain Fellow at Georgia Tech and a scholarship athlete at the University of Texas at Arlington. She earned her graduate degrees from Georgia State University (M.A. and Ph.D.).