SoSe 16: S-Lit. Stud.: Periods-Genres-Concepts: The Historical Novel
Andrew James Johnston
The historical novel presents a considerable challenge to literary scholars. A genre notoriously difficult to define and consistently denigrated by literary critics, the historical novel has been ... read more
The historical novel presents a considerable challenge to literary scholars. A genre notoriously difficult to define and consistently denigrated by literary critics, the historical novel has been marginalized by academia – not only in spite of, but possibly precisely because of its evident popularity. The historical novel has been reviled for its alleged escapism, for its apparent tendency to employ conventional plots and narrative structures and for its alleged encouragement of politically problematic nostalgia.
But this is only half of the story. After all, the genre’s important place in literary history is indisputable. Indeed, the dominant position of the novel in general during the nineteenth century owes much to the impressive successes of Sir Walter Scott’s historical fiction and, consequently, most of the nineteenth century’s canonical giants tried their hand at composing historical novels: Tolstoy, Flaubert, Dickens and Fontane, to name only a few. Moreover, postmodernism has reinvented the historical novel in various shapes and guises and thus succeeded in re-establishing the genre’s standing in educated circles.
This course seeks to take a critical look at a selection of more recent examples of the historical novel in order to learn how the genre invites its audience to ask questions about history and literature, how the genre self-consciously investigates the issue of nostalgia and how it probes the possibilities and the limits of fiction. All the novels chosen display a self-conscious engagement not simply with literature and history, but also with literary history.
Students are expected to have acquired copies of and read the following novels by the beginning of the term:
Barry Unsworth, Morality Play, 1995.
Louise Welsh, Tamburlaine Must Die, 2004.
Jo Baker, Longbourn, 2013.