English | Genre Studies: Historical Fiction
L681 | 00000 | Lynch & Wasserstrom

Time:  TBA (section number has yet to be assigned)


Rather than surveying the history of the historical novel, this
course aims instead to assess how cultures' connections to the past
are mediated by the relationship--sometimes collaborative and
sometimes competitive-- between the discourses of fact and the
discourses of fiction. The readings we are selecting for this course
move across continents and centuries (from Herodotus and Sima Qian
to Philip Roth and Rigoberta Menchú) and encompass historiographical
theory and theories of fiction as well as histories, historical
fictions and detective novels, and the hybrid "factions" and "true
crime" writings that bridge those categories.  Our rubric "Frauds,
Forgeries, and Imposters" is meant to register how often the most
interesting thinking about the qualities specific to authentic
history—thinking that engages scholars such as Natalie Zemon Davis,
Jonathan Spence, John Brewer, and Simon Schama—has taken as its
pretext figures (Martin Guerre most notably) who cause trouble for
stable definitions of authenticity. Our readings this semester are,
accordingly, populated by people who disappear or who give false
accounts of themselves and by corpses whose cause of death is
enigmatic --and to some degree remains so, since dead men tell no

Of course, that same rubric, "Frauds, Forgeries, and Imposters,"
frequently names the terms in which historians think about rival
representations of the past.  (A persona that historians often adopt
is, as we shall see, that of the coroner or detective who brings the
perpetrators of these "crimes of writing" before the tribunal of
history in order to separate the "true story" from the false stories
that have obscured it.) Our selection of readings is, on the
contrary, designed to make us more self-conscious about historians'
reliance on fiction—their practice of converting fictions into
evidence, for instance-- as well as more self-conscious about
novelists' strategic alignments with historical renderings of the
past.  One recurrent theme in our readings will therefore be the
covert presence of the literary inside the historical—the
possibility, for instance, that to tell the past as a story is
already to tell it as a fiction.  Another theme will be the
entangled histories that connect forgeries and historical documents
and that likewise connect, by extension, history-makers and history-
finders.  We will also be considering the recent efflorescence
of "what if" history— accounts of what never happened that deploy
particular rhetorical strategies to invite their reading as

The texts we are considering for this class include Walter Scott,
Old Mortality (a good book to read ahead of the time, over the
summer); Lu Hsun (Lu Xun), The True Story of Ah Q; Philip Roth, The
Plot Against America; Kazuo Ishiguro, When We Were Orphans; William
Gibson and Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine; John Brewer, A
Sentimental Murder; Jonathan Spence, The Death of Woman Wang;
Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre; Simon Schama, Dead
Certainties; and Rigoberta Menchú, I, Rigoberta Menchú.  Theorists
of fiction and/or history whom we are to likely discuss include
Hayden White, Roland Barthes, Jayne Elizabeth Lewis, Alexander
Welsh, Mark Salber Phillips, and Reinhart Koselleck. (For a closer-
to-definitive reading list, please contact one or both of us over
the summer.)  We will be asking members of the class to write
several one-page response papers; a short paper engaging with the
theories of narrative form we'll be reading; and a brief (3,000-
4,000 words) introduction to a historical novel (or to an experiment
in history-writing, read as a historical novel). The two of us will
be jointly grading and reading everything that students in the class
hand in, regardless of whether they're registered for an H course or
an L course.  Whether taken under the H (History) or the L (English)
number, this class counts for credit toward the Cultural Studies
minor.  Meets with H680.