English 190

Research Seminar: The Historical Novel


Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2017 Puckett, Kent
MW 2-3:30 301 Wheeler

Book List

Dickens, C.: A Tale of Two Cities; Eliot, G.: Middlemarch; Flaubert, G.: Sentimental Education; Scott, W.: Waverley; or, 'Tis Sixty Years Since; Tolstoy, L.: War and Peace

Description

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”  Charles Dickens’ famous opening to A Tale of Two Cities (1859) seems to begin with an effort to characterize a portion of the past, the years leading up to and including the French Revolution.  Instead, though, of giving us a clear sense of what the past was really about, Dickens presents both the era and efforts to capture the era in the self-consciously complex terms of contradiction, paradox, and comparison.  For Dickens the represented past is both a historical fact and a conceptual problem.  In this class we’ll look at a number of nineteenth-century historical novels.  Reading works by Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, and Gustave Flaubert, we’ll ask what it means to try to capture real and often famous events in the form of narrative fiction.  Does a novel about history always imply one or another philosophy of history?  What does it mean to treat real historical figures—like Napoleon—within the context of imaginative prose?  How much time—ten years, sixty years, a hundred years—needs to pass before remembered events become properly historical?  What happens when the political conditions of the past are remembered, revived, or revised in relation to the politics of the present?  What, indeed, does writing about the past have to say about the condition, the needs, the dreams of the present?

Please read the paragraph about English 190 on page 2 of the instructions area of this Announcement of Classes for more details about enrolling in or wait-listing for this course.

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