Reading the Past: Historical Fiction
Level 1 (CQFW Level 4), 10 Credits.
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This module explores the genre of historical fiction, focusing on a range of twentieth- and twenty-first-century novels with historical settings. We will consider the importance of ‘the past’; different social and cultural contexts; how the past is both appropriated and interacts with the present; and the way in which our views are shaped and/or challenged through these historical narratives. Attention will be paid to lenses through which to read the past, particularly identity, race, sexuality, deviance and crime. Please see our website for information regarding the set texts.
- Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace (London: Virago, 1997)
- Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang (London: Faber and Faber, 2000)
- Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea (London: Penguin, 1966)
- Sarah Waters, Fingersmith (London: Virago, 2002)
Students will be expected to purchase their own copies of the set texts. However, we recommend that you refrain from purchasing all the books on the list until it is established that the course is running.
Week 1 Introduction: Historical Fiction and ‘the Past’
Week 2 Post-colonial Re-imaginings: Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)
Week 3 Wide Sargasso Sea
Week 4 Queering the Past: Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith (2002)
Week 5 Fingersmith
Week 6 The Australian Past: Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang (2000)
Week 7 True History of the Kelly Gang
Week 8 Historical Crime: Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace (1997)
Week 9 Alias Grace
Week 10 Conclusion and Question and Answer Session
Who is this course for?
Anyone with an interest in historical novels. On completion of the course students should be able to demonstrate an informed knowledge of cultural and historical perspectives to historical fiction; demonstrate an awareness of critical approaches to historical fiction; and critically consider construction/s of the past and their interaction with our cultural identities.
Learning and Teaching
Learning and teaching are undertaken by means of small group work. This is a 10-credit course, so there will be two-hour meetings once a week (20 contact hours in all) which will include:
(a) lectures and seminars: these introduce the basic information to the students. Hence there will be basic seminar-style sessions with tutor leading with talk and PowerPoint presentations as basis for group discussion and questions and answers. Students will be invited to read up on relevant topics for homework including specific passages from the selected novels; and
(b) discussion and group work: where appropriate, students will work in small groups to reflect critically on set questions and to contribute their own ideas.
Coursework and Assessment
To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved. Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.
There will be no formal examinations. There are two assessment choices for this course: (a) 3 x 500-word writing assignments (equally weighted), and (b) one essay of 1500 words at the end of the module (100%).
Your work will be assessed by your tutor, who will offer you written reports which we hope you will find constructive. The most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning. Our methods are flexible and are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.
This is not a comprehensive list. The sections below work as guidelines to direct your further reading. You should also use the library databases and catalogues to build your own bibliographies.
Key Resource List
- Higdon, David Leon (1984) Shadows of the Past in Contemporary British Fiction. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
- Johnsen, Rosemary Erickson (2006) Contemporary Feminist Historical Crime Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
- Johnson, S. L. (2005) Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre. Westport and Oxford: Libraries Unlimited
- Spargo, Tamsin, ed (2000), Reading the Past: Literature and History. Basingstoke: Palgrave
- Wallace, Diana (2005) The Woman’s Historical Novel: British Women Writers, 1900-2000. Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan.
- Beck, Peter J., (2012) Presenting History: Past and Present. London: Palgrave Macmillan
- Gilmour, Robin (2000) ‘Using the Victorians: the Victorian Age in Contemporary Fiction’, in Alice Jenkins and Juliet John, eds. Rereading Victorian Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp.189-200.
- Gutleben, Christian (2001) Nostalgic Postmodernism: The Victorian Tradition and the Contemporary British Novel. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
- Heilmann, Ann and Mark Llewellyn, eds (2007) Metafiction and Metahistory in Contemporary Women’s Writing. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Hutcheon, Linda (1989) ‘“The Pastime of Past Time”: Fiction, History, Historiographical Metafiction’, The Politics of Postmodernism (London: Routledge). Also in Michael J. Hoffham and Patrick D. Murphy, eds (1996), Essentials of the Theory of Fiction (Leicester: Leicester University Press), pp. 473-95.
- Hutcheon, Linda (1988), A poetics of postmodernism: history, theory, fiction. New York, London: Routledge
- Kaplan, Cora (2007) Victoriana: Histories, Fiction, Criticism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
- King, Jeannette (2005) The Victorian Woman Question in Contemporary Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Kucich, John and Dianne F. Sadoff, eds (2000) Victorian Afterlife: Postmodern Culture Rewrites the Nineteenth Century. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Lowenthal, David (1985) The Past is a Foreign Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Pieters, Jürgen (2005) Speaking with the Dead: Explorations in Literature and History. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
- Rich, Adrienne (1971) ‘When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision’, in Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi, eds (1975) Adrienne Rich’s Poetry (New York: Norton), pp. 90-98.
- Roberts, Geoffrey, ed. (2001), The History and Narrative Reader. London & New York, Routledge
- Showalter, Elaine (1987) The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980 (London: Virago, 1987)
- Taylor, Miles and Michael Wolff, eds (2004) The Victorians since 1901: Histories, Representations and Revisions. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
- White, Hayden (1990) Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press; first published 1978).
- Widdowson, Peter (2006) ‘“Writing back”: contemporary re-visionary fiction’, Textual Practice, vol. 20: 3, pp.491-507.
Library and Computing Facilities
As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University library and computing facilities. You can find out more about these facilities on our website www.cardiff.ac.uk/learn under Student Information, or by ringing the Centre on
(029) 2087 0000.
Accessibility of Courses
Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and Dyslexia screening. Please contact the Centre on (029) 2087 0000 for an information leaflet.