The Romance of the Archive vs the Academic Novel

Suzanne Keen, Professor of English, Washington and Lee University

[Added with permission of the author by GPL]

Full-fledged academic professionals rarely appear as central questing characters in romances of the archive. As . . . A. S. Byatt's Possession suggests, earning academic job opportunities may be one of the rewards on offer for a successful quester such as Roland Michell, but his very marginality qualifies him for his role in the romance of the archive and allows him to carry on unnoticed long enough to get a good lead in the race against his rivals, the professional scholars. Romances of the archive typically validate the insights and abilitiers of popular writers, amateur researchers, graduate students, detectivives, and (in general) those lacking professional certification in scholarship or permanent academic posts. An academic outsider makes a better truth-finder in romances of the archive. More intuiitive, more prone to risk-taking, more powerfully motivated to know than a mere academic, the quester in the archive is less bound by conventions, less hampered by respect for hierarchy, and less concerned about career and reputation. For these reasons, romances of the archive rarely overlap with "university," "academic," or "campus" novels satrizing the follies of professors and academic administrators on both sides of the Atlantic. [p. 30]

Related materials


Keen, Suzanne. Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction. Torono: U. of Toronto Press, 2001.

United Kingdom

Last Modified: 24 September 2002