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The use of history and historiography in Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Oral Exposition: Literature of the British Isles at the Turn of the Century (2012-2013)

Marta Arbona

on 24 January 2013

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Transcript of The use of history and historiography in Captain Corelli's Mandolin

The use of history and historiography
Captain Corelli's Mandolin Literature of the British Isles at the Turn of the Century Marta Arbona Albiñana What is historiography? Italian Occupation (1941-1943) German occupation (1943-1945) Greek Communists Role of Great Britain Earthquake (1953) Historiography: the writing of history Mussolini gave an ultimatum demanding:
Free passage of Italian troops
Control of numerous strategic points Metaxas and the Greek population: REJECTED. As a consequence: Italy declared war on Greece. BUT, his aim was to build an empire by controlling the area of the Mediterranean sea. "It is also a question of expanding the empire. [...] Imagine it [...] the whole Mediterranean littoral rebuilt into a new Roman Empire." (de Bernières 1994: 15) The Italian troops were ordered to harshly fight the enemy.

NEVERTHELESS, some soldiers sympathized with the occupied populations. The Italian occupation was an enormous failure.

Consequently: Nazi Germany annexed the territories previously occupied by the Italians. Greece "was regarded as a German-friendly nation" (Andreadis: 2006).

BUT, most Greeks did not cooperate with the Nazis. They had two options:
Passive acceptance
Active resistance (through partisan movements) Consequences of the German occupation:
Ravaging of entire villages
Atrocities against civilians
Great famine (300.000 people died) When Mussolini attacked Greece the communists fought in the front lines to stop them.

They became the mainstay of the National Resistance when Greece was occupied by the Germans. In the novel "ELAS [...] is depicted as a gang of torturers, ignorant demagogues and cowards, who spent the war 'doing absolutely nothing'" (Milne, The Guardian, 2000) What modern historiography wishes to do is to...

Histories are products of a literary or poetic process of invention "Tell the truth and nothing but the truth about real persons, things and events which are past. [...] Or at least [...] expose lies and dispell myths about the past." (White 2000: 392) "The representation of a thing is not the thing itself. Much happens between the historian's apprehension that 'something happened' in some region of the past and her depiction of 'what happened' in her narrativised account of it" (White 2000: 396)

"The writer, in creating an imaginary world, can decide which aspects of it warrant representation and which do not." (White 2005: 150)

"[Some writers] need to supplement history with personal materials in the interest of endowing the recent past with the pertinence to present political and ethical concerns." (White 2005: 153) "Of the German occupation there is little to say." (de Bernières 1994: 438)

"[Günter Weber] was destined to betray with a Judas kiss that consisted of a maelstrom of bullets that opened scarlet and bleeding mouths in the bodies of the companions he had grown to love." (de Bernières 1994: 240)

"There is no record of what happened to the girls; possibly they were deported for slave labour to some nameless camp of Eastern Europe." (de Bernières 1994: 438) Lefteris Eleftheratos said "we are at war with Louis de Bernières." Two main reasons:

"[Captain Corelli's Mandolin] distorts our history."
"It is a libel on my country and its people." It is usually history that seems "to force the author into comment" (Mullan, The Guardian, 2007):
De Bernières is 'happy' to attach his own comments to historical narrative
The novel includes passages where a narrator tells us things - such as future events - that none of his characters can know How are those topics presented in the novel? German occupation (1943-1945) "The Communist andartes of ELAS took no part, seeing no reason to shake themselves out of their parasitic lethargy." (de Bernières 1994: 379)

"The Germans left and the celebrations began, but no sooner had the bells pealed out than the andartes of ELAS, now calling themselves EAM, emerged from their state of hibernation and imposed themselves on the people with the aid of British arms, mistakenly supplied in the belief that they were to be used to defeat the Nazis." (de Bernières 1994: 442)

"Into mass graves [communists] threw the cadavers of Greeks who had been castrated, had their mouths slashed into a 'smile', and had their eyes torn out" (de Bernières 1994: 443)

"[Mandras] flung [Pelagia] on the bed, and [...] began to tear at her clothes. The violation of women [...] was a natural right." (de Bernières 1994: 449) Greek communists Earthquake (1953) and its aftermath "The earthquake changed lives so profoundly that to this day it is still the single greatest topic of conversation." (de Bernières 1994: 481)

Role of Great Britain in the aftermath of the earthquake:

"In those days Great Britain was less wealthy than it is now, but it was also less complacent, and considerably less useless. It had a sense of humanitarian responsibility." (de Bernières 1994: 471)

"The British were the first to arrive, the ones to stay longest, the ones to do the most, and the last to leave." (de Bernières 1994: 471) The earthquake of 1953 killed hundreds of people and it destroyed most of Cephallonia's buildings.

As a consequence of the earthquake, "thousands of people became homeless or were forced to evacuate" (Dillon: 2012). Characters writing history Dr. Iannis Dr Iannis concludes that it is impossible to be objective when trying to write his history of Cephallonia: Carlo Guercio Guercio knows all about "repressed history because of his homosexuality" (Sheppard 2002: 51) Pelagia Pelagia takes up her father's historical project after his death: " 'The New History of Cephallonia' was proving to be a problem; it seemed to be impossible to write it without the intrusion of his own feelings and prejudices." (de Bernières 1994: 4)

"The voice that emerged in his account was intractably his own; it was never historical." (de Bernières 1994: 4) Dr Iannis is not capable "to write a linear history" (Sheppard 2002: 51): "He was supposed to be writing about the Venetian occupation of the island, and here he was, thinking about goats. There seemed to be a daemon inside him that was conspiring to prevent him from ever completing his literary tasks, and was filling his head and his life with distractions. The daemon subverted his thought with inconsequential questions." (de Bernières 1994: 141) He finally concludes that "it was [not] impossible for him to write history, but [...] History Itself Was Impossible" (de Bernières 1994: 341) "He told me that he wants Mama to write the History of Cephallonia that got buried in the earthquake. To get it done for him. He said that it spoils all the fun of being dead, knowing that it's got lost." (de Bernières 1994: 484) Pelagia's confidence "as a historian grows with time" (Sheppard 2002: 52) "The joy of it transformed her. Her act of filial devotion metamorphosed into a grand design involving trips to the library and earnest letters of enquiry to learned institutions, to maritime museums, the British Library, experts on Napoleon, and American Professors of The History of Imperial Power." (de Bernières 1994: 486) At the end, Pelagia realises that: "The process of writing had crystallised opinions and philosophical positions that she had not even known that she had held. [For instance,] she discovered that her basic understanding of economic processes was Marxist but that, paradoxically, she thought that capitalism had the best ways of dealing with the problems." (de Bernières 1994: 487) "I have been reduced to eternal and infinite silence." (de Bernières 1994: 26)

"I am a foreigner within my own nation, an alien in my own race, I am detested as cancer when I am as purely flesh as any priest or doctor." (de Bernières 1994: 27)

"I had to live among them secretely, like one who conceals leprosy." (de Bernières 1994: 37) Guercio understands that "history is the propaganda of the victors" (de Bernières 1994: 39) "I know that if we win the war there will be shocking stories of British atrocities, volumes written to show the inevitability and justice of our cause, irrefutable evidence compiled to reveal conspiracies of Jewish Plutocrats [...]. Equally I know that the reverse will be true if the British win." (de Bernières 1994: 39-40) Bibliography Great Britain played an important role in Greece during the Second World War and the Greek Civil War, and in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Role of Great Britain in Greece during the Second World War:
Britain became involved in the resistance activities
British Military Mission: controlled the distribution of money, arms, and other supplies
Britain provided (limited) supplies and assistance to ELAS: to fight the Germans "The British armed them, because no one believed the assertion of the British officers on the ground that this was merely storing up trouble for later." (de Bernières 1994: 229) Role of Great Britain in Greece during the Greek Civil War:
Britain wanted to eliminate the communist threat and establish a pro-British governmental scheme:
"To secure the 'traditionally British area' of the Mediterranean and the Middle East" (Delaporta 2003: 21) How are those topics presented in the novel? The Italian occupation and the role of Great Britain are presented through characters' opinions. Italian occupation (1941-1943) The Duce "Yes, I know Hitler wants Greece in the Axis, but let's face it, what kind of debt do we owe to Hitler? He stirs up all of Europe, [...] he takes the Romanian oilfields without allowing us any slice of the cake at all" (de Bernières 1994: 15)

"And the British are provoking us" (de Bernières 1994: 16)

"I want you to arrange some attacks against ourselves. [...] I think we should select an Albanian patriot for assassination, so that we can blame it on the Greeks, and I think we should sink a Greek battleship in such a way [...] that we [can] blame it on the British" (de Bernières 1994: 16-17) Grazzi "It infuriates me that I was attending receptions, going to plays, organising joint projects with the Minister of Education, reassuring my Greek friends that the Duce had no hostile intentions." (de Bernières 1994: 108)

"I was in the untenable position of being an ambassador who didn't have a single notion of what was happening." (de Bernières 1994: 109)

"I felt ashamed for my government, I felt anger at having been kept in ignorance, I felt embarrassment before my Greek friends" (de Bernières 1994: 110) Carlo Guercio "For me that war was an experience that shaped the whole course of my thought, it was the deepest personal shock that I have ever had, the worst and the most intimate tragedy of my life. It destroyed my patriotism, it changed my ideals, it made me question the whole notion of duty, and it horrified me and made me sad." (de Bernières 1994: 40)

"We fired and fired until we had used a complete belt. [...] When the belt ran out there was a horrifying silence. [...] It was our first atrocity. We felt no triumph. We felt exhausted and tainted." (de Bernières 1994: 74)

"We were buried in storms of sleet, our bloodshot eyes sank deep into our heads, our uniforms disappeared beneath an encrustation of icy clag [...]. Our life was neolithic. Within the space of a few days we had become skeletons, rooting for food like pigs." (de Bernières 1994: 123) Role of Great Britain Metaxas:
"Wasn't it an irony that nowadays he could rely only upon the British - the Parliamentarian, Liberal, democratic, plutocratic British?" (de Bernières 1994: 35)

Pelagia and Drosoula:
" 'We haven't, haven't we?' retorted Drosoula. 'The wops couldn't do it, so Attila did it instead'.
'Hitler. But it doesn't matter, because the British Empire is on our side.'
'Britain have gone home. We're in God's hands now.'
'I don't believe it,' said Pelagia resolutely. 'Think of Lord Napier, Lord Byron. They'll come back.' " (de Bernières 1994: 165)

Dr. Iannis:
"The British has dispensed so many of them in the funding of the andartes that they had lost their value." (de Bernières 1994: 433) Controversy: hostile portrayal of the Greek communist partisans because of the influence of de Bernières' political ideology (conservative). Conclusions: Historiography is subjective: Dr Iannis' conclusion: impossibility of being objective when writing history

Intrusion of de Bernières' prejudices and opinions Andreadis, Marcos G. 2006: Wehrmacht Griechenland, Available: http://www.ethniko.net/wehrmacht-griechenland/home.html [Accessed: 13 Dec. 2012]

De Bernières, Louis 1994: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. London: Vintage

Delaporta, Eleftheria 2003: “The role of Britain in Greek politics and military operations 1947-1952.” PhD thesis, University of Glasgow

Dillon, Paul 2012: Remembering the 1953 Kefalonian Earthquake Disaster. Available: http://www.pauldillon.net/remembering-the-1953-kefalonian-earthquake-disaster/ [Accessed: 28 Dec. 2012]

Iatrides, John O. 2005: “Revolution or Self-Defence? Communist Goals, Strategy, and Tactics in the Greek Civil War.” Journal of Cold War Studies, 7, 3, 3-33

Rodogno, Davide 2004: “Italian soldiers in the Balkans. The experience of the occupation (1941-1943).” Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, 6, 2, 125-144

Sheppard, Richard 2002: “Savagery, salvage, salves and salvation: the historico-theological debate of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” Journal of European Studies, 32, 124, 51-61

White, Hayden 2000: “An Old Question Raised Again: Is Historiography Art or Science? (Response to Iggers).” Journal of Rethinking History, 4, 3, 391-406

White, Hayden 2005: “Introduction: Historical Fiction, Fictional History, and Historical Reality.” Journal of Rethinking History, 9, 2/3, 147-157
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