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EN995 Historical Fictions, Fictional Histories


Module Convenor - Tim Leach/ Sarah Moss

Time and place TBC


UPDATED FOR 2017-2018


This module investigates the premise that historical fictions are as much about the time of writing as the time of setting, considering how each generation imagines its own narratives of the past. We will consider the invented traditions of nationalism and imperialism, and also explore the historical novel as a form of resistance to or revision of these traditions, a (problematic) way of imagining the voices missing from or silenced by the historical record. Using Kathleen Jamie's essays as an introduction to thinking and writing about the past without nostalgia, this module will work backwards from writing which is only just 'historical' towards medieval and classical settings.

Most sessions will be spent in discussion of set texts, but we will also have some writing exercises and workshops, occasionally working outdoors around campus.

This is essentially a module about world-building in fiction, in which students will develop techniques for time and place-based writing by studying historical novels. The crafts explored here might well improve and inform the genre fiction that many students are keen to write, but for assessment purposes students will be required to write literary and historical fiction.

Illustrative Bibliography

This module works in approximately reverse chronological order of setting. Prof Sarah Moss will teach the first half and Mr Tim Leach the second.

1: Introduction: Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines (Sort Of Books, 2012)

2: Knowing the Past: The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm (CUP, reissue 2012), Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (Verso, rev. ed. 2016)

3: Unspeakable Stories: Walter Kempowski, All For Nothing (trans. Anthea Bell, Granta, 2016)

4: Telling the untold Gavin McCrea, Mrs Engels (Scribe, 2016)

5: Reinventing History Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate, 2010)

Week 6 - Games and Mysteries: Reading: The name of the rose, Umberto Eco

Week 7 - Voices and Mimicry: Reading: Gunnar’s Daughter, Sigrid Undset; Laxdaela Saga, Anon

Week 8 - Folklore and the Fantastic Reading: The High Deeds of Finn MacCool, Rosemary Sutcliffe; The Eagle of the Ninth, Rosemary Sutcliffe

Week 9 - Secret Histories: Reading: I, Claudius, Robert Graves

Week 10 - Myth Made Real: Reading: The King Must Die, Mary Renault


Secondary Reading

Njal’s Saga, Anon

Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Bede

River of Ink, Paul M.M. Cooper

The Histories, Herodotus

Greek Myths, Robert Graves

War Music, Christopher Logue

The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

The Sagas of the Icelanders, Jane Smiley

The Twelve Caesars, Suetonius