Settler realism: Hamish Dalley, ‘The Meaning of Settler Realism: (De)Mystifying Frontiers in the Postcolonial Historical Novel’, Novel, 51, 3, 2018, pp. 461-481

09Nov18

Abstract: Dominant theorizations of settler colonialism identify it as a social form characterized by a problem with historical narration: because the existence of settler communities depends on the dispossession of indigenous peoples, settlers find themselves trapped by the need both to confront and to disavow these origins. How might this problem affect the aesthetics of the realist novel? This article argues that the historical novels produced in places like Australia and New Zealand constitute a distinctive variant of literary realism inflected by the ideological tensions of settler colonialism. Approaching the novel from the perspective of settler colonialism offers new ways to consider classic theories of realism and, in particular, reframes Georg Lukács’s concept of reification—and the critical distinction between realism and naturalism he derived from it—as an unexpectedly useful tool for analyzing postcolonial literatures. Doing so, however, requires us to jettison Lukács’s progressive historicism in favor of a model of literary history shaped by uneven temporalities and a fundamental disjunction between the historical perspectives of settler and nonsettler communities—thus complicating our narratives of the development of the novel genre. This argument is illustrated through an extended analysis of two of the most significant young novelists to engage recently with issues of settler colonial history: Eleanor Catton of New Zealand and Rohan Wilson of Australia.



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