Historical Fiction & Fictional Histories


The relationship between history and fiction has always been contentious and sometimes turbulent, not least because the two genres have traditionally been seen as mutually exclusive. However, new hybrid forms of writing-from historical fiction, to docudramas, to fictionalized biographies-have led to the blurring of the boundary and encouraged the claim that history itself is just another form of fiction. At the same time, historical novelists have placed increasing emphasis on the authenticity, sometimes even the accuracy, of their narratives and characterizations. And further still, contemporary writers are challenging dominant historical narratives by creating plausible fictions from the perspectives of the subordinated, the marginalized and the disenfranchised: plebeians, women, and indigenous, enslaved, and diasporic peoples. As historical novels become ever more popular, the distinction between history and fiction appears to be collapsing before our eyes. Through reading and discussing some outstanding examples of the genre of historical fiction published between the early nineteenth and the early twenty-first century (from Walter Scott to Charles Dickens, from Toni Morrison to Amitav Ghosh, from Graham Swift to Hilary Mantel), this course will investigate whether history is 'factual' or just another form of fiction; whether the appeal of historical fiction should lie in its authenticity; whether the recent success of historical novels should be viewed as a new development, or rather, as a revival of an older literary tradition; and whether novelists and dramatists are more adept than historians at interrogating issues of memory, identity, and change.
Course Attributes: AS HUM; EN H

Section 01

Historical Fiction & Fictional Histories
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