Thursday, 20 October 2011

On Historical Fiction

Thinking about teaching a course on historical fiction, but getting stuck on the syllabus. Start with Lukacs, Scott's Waverley, maybe do Tale of Two Cities. But then: War and Peace. How to teach such a course without doing War and Peace? But is there any way in the world the students would read it? Maybe do an entire course on War and Peace? But then I'd miss my Scott and Dickens, and I wouldn't be able to do any cool C20th historical stuff -- Wolf Hall, say.

Not sure what to do about this. But is has got me thinking, a little, about the relationship between historical fiction and really, really long novels: novels of kilopageage and megawordage. Here's one recent example: Stephenson's Baroque books. I wonder if there's some straightforward quantitative translation from historic to aesthetic going on: as if, even unconsciously, the expanding waistline of historical fiction is a mode of saying: 'but there's a lot of history, so we need a lot of novel to encompass it!' If so, then isn't that a slightly fatuous comparison?

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