The Historical Novel and the Novel in History (grad seminar)




The historical novel emerged at the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Its emergence reflected, as Lukacs famously argued, a new conviction that human experience is not static--and that persons are shaped by their particular moment in history. This conviction is one that we continue to hold today, and it influences, among other things, the way we do literary scholarship. In this seminar, we will explore what it means to bring together literature and history. We will do so in part by reading pairs of historical novels that capture the genre's development over the course of the nineteenth century and its return, in a rather different form, in the present day: in these novels, we will find implicit theories of how broad historical forces affect individual actions and lives. At the same time, we will also read more explicitly theoretical works, from new historicists and historians of the book, as well as very recent scholarship that grapples with history in idiosyncratic ways. Most importantly, however, our theoretical discussions of history and literature will be grounded in practical training in how to do historically-minded scholarship. Over the course of the semester, students will define and pursue three research projects, and the questions and problems they confront in the process will be central to our discussions of history and literature.