Historiographic Metafiction

One way that Findley produces a metafictional commentary is by showing how the supposedly accurate representations of past reality, such as documents, memoirs, and images, do not provide a complete picture of the motivations or feelings of those involved in the moment.

  1. Vladimir Tumanov and David Williams both discuss the photograph as a perceptual and metaphorical construct that sheds light on the descriptive style of the novel. How does the novel question or nuance notions of historical and archival knowledge? How does this contribute to the novel’s status as historiographic metafiction?
  2. How does the novel interrogate representations of the war effort—both in the novel and from what you expect from a war novel—through the telling of Robert Ross’ story?


  1. Findley uses two epigraphs to contextualize his story: Never that which is shall die by Euripides and In such dangerous things as war the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst by von Clausewitz. What does each of these epigraphs suggest about the novel’s stance on life and war?
  2. What would von Clausewitz think of Robert’s action to save the horses?
  3. How do the final lines of the book, the image, and its caption connect to the opening epigraph from Euripedes? Rowena seated astride the pony—Robert holding her in place. On the back is written: Look! You can see our breath! And you can.

Sex and Violence

    1. In De-Automatization in Timothy Findley’s The Wars, Vladimir Tumanov summarizes Victor Shklovsky’s argument that continued exposure to something causes us to stop perceiving it … This he terms … automatization (108). Tumanov extends this concept to suggest that the entwining of sexuality and violence in The Wars forces a process of de-automization, creating distance from pervasive, automatic understandings of the Great War in order to promote new perceptions and conceptions of it (110-11). Shane Rhodes touches on this as well in his discussion of gay historiography and metafictional aspects of The Wars in Buggering With History. As a specific literary act of reconceptualization of communities and trauma, consider how this book, through images of violence and sexuality, might connect to a broader analysis of community values expressed throughout the novel. Discuss specific images and events and how they might be altering perceptions of World War I and the individuals and communities caught up in it.
    2. Compare and contrast Tumanov’s and Rhodes’ discussion of narrative strategies which contribute to the tension between violation or predation and distance or defamiliarization. How does Rhodes extend Tumanov’s discussion (e.g., his reference on page 41), and how does this help in the discussion of the novel? Do you notice any conflicting conclusions or discussions of scenes or images? How might you reconcile these? Are there limitations to these approaches or extensions of them, and how might one add to or alter their arguments?

Works Cited

    • Findley, Timothy. The Wars. 1977. Toronto: Penguin, 1978. Print.
    • Rhodes, Shane. Buggering With History: Sexual Warfare and Historical Reconstruction in Timothy Findley’s The Wars. Canadian Literature 159 (1998): 38–53. Print. (PDF)
    • Tumanov, Vladimir. De-Automatization in Timothy Findley’s The Wars. Canadian Literature 130 (1991): 107–15. Print. (PDF)
    • Williams, David. A Force of Interruption: The Photography of History in Timothy Findley’s The Wars. Canadian Literature 194 (2007): 54–73. Print. (PDF)