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Historical preconditions of popularity of the genre in a post-war British prose.

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Lecture 1

Contemporary British Historical Novel

  1. Historical preconditions of popularity of the genre in a post-war British prose.
  2. The shift in attitude towards history in society and in fiction.
  3. Subject area and problematics of contemporary historical novels.


1. Бойніцька О. С. Британський новоісторичний роман / О. С. Бойніцька // Літературознавчі студії. – 2011. – С. 34–38.

2. Перевезенцева А. Ю. Развитие исторической прозы в английской литературе XX века / А. Ю. Перевезенцева // Вестник Нижегородского университета им. Н. И. Лобачевского. – Нижний Новгород, 2011. – № 6 (2). – С. 500–503.

3. Bentley N. Conpemporary British fiction / Nick Bentley. – Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press, 2008. – P. 128–159.

4. Boccardi M. The contemporary British historical novel: representation, nation, empire / Mariadele Boccardi. – Hampshire : Palgrave Macmillian, 2009. – 186 p.

5. Bradford R. The novel now: contemporary British fiction / Richard Bradford. – Oxford : Blackwell Publishing, 2007. – P. 81–99.

6. King S. The historical turn in British fiction / Suzanne King // A consise companion to contemporary British fiction, ed. by James F. English. – Oxford : Blackwell Publishing, 2006. - P. 167–187.


Recommended and discussed novels:

- Amis M. Time’s Arrow: or The Nature of the Offence (1991)

- Barker P. Regeneration (1991)

- Bennet R. Havoc in its Third Year (2004)

- Byatt A. S. Possession: A Romance (1990)

- Fowles J. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)

- Ishiguro K. The Remains of the Day(1989)

- McEwan I. Atonement (2001)

- Swift G. Waterland (1983)


Historical preconditions of popularity of the genre in a post-war British prose.

The historical novel, a subgenre of the English novel with a continuous presence since the eighteenth century, has in the past two decades flourished, enjoying popular success with a devoted readership, undergoing energetic revisions, garnering significant prizes, inspiring film and television adaptations, and commanding significant critical attention. A visit to any bookshop will ascertain the truth of these claims for the popularity of historical novel.


Historical fiction includes a wide range of works with a basis in biographical details and historical events, set in periods other than the writer’s and contemporary readers’ times, and representing characters in interaction with settings, cultures, events, and people of the past.

The historical novels can in turn be subdivided into even narrower categories among which crime, romance and adventure are easily detectable.


For much of the twentieth century the historical novel’s status as a vehicle for, sometimes misguided, idealism caused it to be treated with respectful disdain by most writers with aspirations toward serious recognition. It was relegated to the substatus of popular, escapist fiction.

Since the 1970s, however, the historical novel has attained a status which outranks its nineteenth-century manifestation and which has involved the transformation of its established conventions. It unshackled itself from its earlier image as a somewhat lowbrow cousin to serious writing.

The reasons for the revival of the genre take their roots in historical conditions. 2 World Wars wreck country's economy and, though a winner, Britain suffered a terrible economic decline and gradually completely lost its status as the leading country of the world. The Empire that continually enlarged in the XIX century covering by pink spots on a map almost quarter of the territory and population in the world, split in 1931, and the Suez ['suːɪz] crisis became the last stroke for the national proud of Britons.

The national revival is connected with the policies of Margaret Thatcher and especially the successful solution of Falkland conflict in 1982. This was the principal victory for the Great Briton which led to the recovering from decadent spirits Britain was in for many years. The Iron Lady claims the revival of Victorian values, in its essence the basis of Englishness. The concept of “British heritage” becomes more used both by Thatcher herself and her surroundings than “history”.

Some years earlier, in 1953, the coronation of Elizabeth II takes place. The event itself favoured the solidarity of the nation, evoked memories of the great historical epochs and gave hopes for changes.

The proper uses of the past for the formation of citizens in a postimperial nation were matters of discussion in the weeklies and monthly magazines, with contributions from Prime Ministers and Members of Parliament, as well as teachers, historians, and opinion makers. Would that past be celebrated as the heritage, with its National Trust backdrop and strong relation to a healthy tourist industry, or would it be open to versions of historians’ accounts, including the painful and unpleasant discoveries of social history and the mortifying reminders of racism, dispossession, exploitation, slavery, and even genocide that a full story of empire would include? Looking back to expose the crimes of the past, to engage in revisionist story-telling, or to bring up-to-date historical insights to readers of fiction have proven strong motivations for contemporary historical fiction.

This polemics connected with reexamination of historical experience almost immediately found its embodiment in literary works. The turn to history as a theme became a definitive feature of British fiction in the last 3 decades, making contemporary English literature being characterized by the acute consciousness of history and sharp focus on its meaning.


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