As far as he was concerned, prose fiction had now been supplanted by history. The novel in its every aspect vexed him; the over-arching plot structure, portioned out chapter by chapter, neatly packaged up by the gross, how could it be otherwise than dull and conventional? Yet history, too, only seemed a stop-gap in light of the fact that he had little belief in its scientific foundations; events, he told himself, are only a springboard for style and ideas, since all facts could be emphasised or played down depending on the temperament and bias of the historian who assembled them.
As for the primary documents themselves, it was worse still! None was irreducible and all were liable to revision! Even if they were not apocryphal to begin with, other sources, no less valid, could always be advanced which challenged their authenticity, these new documents themselves being subject to dispute as fresh archival evidence emerged, evidence which could in its turn be refuted.
Did history itself, given the contemporary predilection for grubbing around in dusty archives, serve any greater purpose than to allow a bunch of amateur annalists to pursue their literary ambitions by constructing Chinese boxes packed with succulent morsels which the Institutes could duly reward, salivating as they did so, with medals and diplomas?
For Durtal, history was the most grandiloquent of lies, the most childish deception of all.
J.K. Huysmans – Là-bas (The Damned)