Descriptions of My Courses offered at Wesleyan and elsewhere since 2002


HUMS 643 Imagining the Past: History as Fiction and Fiction as History

Spring 2002
Historical fiction is one of literature’s most contested forms. Serious students of history have complained about the historical novel’s violations of facts, preferring the past undiluted by make-believe, while proponents of fiction have criticized the historical novel’s restriction to trivial details on obsession with period accuracy at the expense of the imagination.
Despite the negative claims on both sides, the form has attracted some of the most important novelists of all time, as well as several contemporary writers of distinction as diverse as Thomas Pynchon, Gore Vidal, Susan Sontag, and E.L. Doctorow.

The class will examine the challenges of history as a fictional subject. Readings will be drawn from some of the modern masterpieces of the form, including Robert Graves’s I Claudius, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, George Garrett’s Enter’d from the Sun, George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, Doctorow’s Ragtime, and Pat Barker’s Regeneration. Several films, including Spartacus, Glory, and Michael Collins, will also be analyzed. Exercises in writing personal and oral history will be included. Students will have an opportunity to concentrate on a particular historical period and sample various fictional treatments as well as to investigate particular kinds of historical novels, including fictional biographies and mysteries.

The final project will consist of a draft outline of a historical novel with a sample chapter and a critical introduction describing your method.