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This article was originally published as:

Reynaud, D. (2017). Authenticating the imaginary: Cloaking with history the characters of O’Brian’s fiction and Weir’s film. Journal of History and Cultures, (7), 1-9. Retrieved from

ISSN: 2051-221X


190201 Cinema Studies| 200503 British and Irish Literature| 210305 British History

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The interaction of scholarly history with popular history has provoked debate over the value and place of the latter in creating historical consciousness. The various issues meet conveniently in the Aubrey-Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian and the Peter Weir film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003). Using the critical work of Robert Rosenstone on historical film and David Harlan on historical fiction, it identifies ways in which the novelist and movie maker authenticate their Aubrey-Maturin fiction through a mix of historical referents and novelistic and cinematic technique. It compares and contrasts the ways in which the novels and the movie make use of historical evidence to anchor historically credible narratives, noting which devices are particular to the novel and which to the cinema. It also explores the interplay of historical facts with literary and cinematic devices, creating an apparently seamless narrative where historical and fictional genre characteristics mutually reinforce an impression of historical realism. It then critiques this realism to uncover ways in which it is used to cloak invention, but also discusses ways in which the fictions of both literature and cinema can enhance historical understanding, particularly by creating an emotional reality which gives an access to the past.


Used by permission: Journal of History and Cultures

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