n English in Africa - Rethinking historiography in Russel Brownlee's

Volume 42, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



This paper asserts that, when it comes to approaching previously silenced South African histories (for example, those personal histories that are written out of the official record by colonial practices of archive and documentary record-keeping), literary attempts at historical reimagining can better gesture towards a felt connection with a lived historical moment. This is precisely because creative literary offerings can take as springboard, rather than boundary, the documentary evidence upon which the discipline of History must rely. Russel Brownlee's novel provides a useful case study in unpacking this premise. The novel adds to a body of South African contemporary re-imaginings of slave histories during the Dutch occupation of the Cape. It can be said to fall into the generic category of 'historiographic metafiction,' meaning, fiction which self-consciously engages and critiques the realist literary foundations of traditional nineteenth-century historiography. Brownlee, by using various postmodern literary devices, is able to foreground the Enlightenment epistemologies informing colonial discourse and so generate the grounds for a useful literary-historical dialogue.

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