Anachronisms In Ackroyd

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Anachronisms In Ackroyd – The Breaking Of The Timeline In Chatterton Essay, Research Paper Time strips our illusions of their hues And one by one in turn, some grand mistake Casts off its bright skin yearly like a snake. Lord Byron, Don Juan, 5.21 In most detective stories, time plays a major factor in the deciphering of the puzzle for both the reader and for the narrator. Through the use of time, the characters are able to recreate the events of the mystery surrounding them in order to hopefully solve this mystery. But time plays a different role in Peter Ackroyd’s novel Chatterton. On one hand, time is one of the causes of the mystery in the story; on the other, Ackroyd uses it anachonistically in order to unite different periods in his novel as well as different

characters, specifically Charles Wynchwood, Thomas Chatterton and George Meredith. This essay will attempt to demonstrate how Ackroyd accomplishes this anachronistic merging of three time periods through his narrative. The novel is divided into three distinct parts. The first part consists of Charles’ discovery of a painting of Chatterton, supposedly at the age of fifty, along with a number of manuscripts of his. Through these discoveries, Charles becomes enamored with the idea of uncovering the truth behind Chatterton’s death, since it was believed that he had died at the age of eighteen. The second part of the story is used to confirm many of Charles’ beliefs and discoveries. He discovers that Chatterton was forging works under the names of other authors, and selling them

as their own masterpieces. The final part of the story “ingeniously deconstructs the whole concept of authenticity.” (Finney, p. 256) The painting of Chatterton is found out to be a forgery, the other characters in the novel discover that Chatterton’s works were forgeries, and Philip begins to write the book that Charles was going to write before his death which proposes the imagined assumption that Chatterton’s works are indeed authentic. But the story is also divided into three parts chronologically. The first part takes place in the eighteenth century, where we learn the story of Thomas Chatterton’s life, his writings, and his death. The second part consists of the nineteenth century painter Henry Wallis painting a portrait of Chatterton’s death, using George

Meredith as his model. This takes place some 80 years after Chatterton’s death. The third and final part is located in the twentieth century. This story consists of Charles Wynchwood’s discovery and investigation of the painting and of Chatterton’s manuscripts. But while these three story-lines are separated in time, they appear to have some consequence upon each other and merge on a few occasions into one another. “Ackroyd’s vision is essentially atemporal; past and present interact in the moment.” (Finney, p. 257) Keeping with this theme, Ackroyd juxtaposes these time periods in a bizarre manner throughout the novel. The story opens with Charles, in the present, discovering the painting of Chatterton. Throughout the novel, we are returned to the past, to the

nineteenth century, where Wallis is painting the portrait; and the book ends with Chatterton’s death in the eighteenth century. The book presents the series of events in a reverse sequence. Chatterton’s death occurs long before Wallis paints the portrait, and even longer before Charles finds this portrait. Within the frame of the novel, Chatterton’s death occurs only after Charles’ death. This historical anachronism is not unique in the novel. The painting which Wallis paints depicts Chatterton’s deathbed scene. The portrait was entirely a work of fiction, since Chatterton died some 80 years before the painting was produced. No one knew with certainty how Chatterton had died, or in what condition he was found. But the details of the painting are reflected in the end of