"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" - O.W.

Current Study

Current Projects:
Science Fiction exhibition at The Science Museum in London.

Book Out Now:
Sideways in Time: Alternate History and Counterfactual Narratives (Liverpool University Press, 2019). Co-edited Collection.

Book Forthcoming:

Current Sub-Studies

Areas of Interest:
> literature, trauma, and ethics
> science fiction and alternate history
> 20th and 21st century literature
> history and literature of science
> comics and graphic novels
> science communication

13 October 2010

The Historical Novel by Jerome de Groot

One of the reasons I chose the topic I did for Ph.D thesis was that it occupies and interdisciplinary space. "Interdisciplinary" is something of a hot topic in academic research at the moment, but it's also a method to which I find  myself drawn. I have a wide range of interests and I like playing them off against one another: it's one of the reason's I enjoy science fiction so much - that interplay between the science and the literature. My undergraduate dissertation blended canonical literature with the fantastic ("Spirits of Another Sort: Shakespeare and The Fairies") whilst my masters dissertation studied language and literature ("Furnishing New Vantage Points: Linguistic Relativity in Science Fiction") [One day there may be links here, if I can ever gain the courage to dust them down and rewrite them as papers for publication]. This time I'm mixing history with fiction and studying the weirder things that pop-up.

In order to do effectively study the "weirder things", I have to have at least a half-decent grasp on the more mundane results of mixing history and fiction, or to use the terminology of the academia - to properly study the non-mimetic, I have to understand the mimetic. And so I come to Jerome de Groot's The Historical Novel.

Part of Routledge's New Critical Idiom series, the book is a manageable 200 pages long, including an index and glossary of technical terms. It begins with a history of the historical novel, merging this account with the changing definitions that have surrounded the form since before Sir Walter Scott's Waverley to the present day. de Groot then goes on to analyse the varying modern conventions and interpretations, examining the historical novel's status as both "genre" and "literary" fiction. From the point of view of my research the most interesting chapters are the final two: one that deals with postmodern and metafictional tamperings with the traditional novel structure, and another which briefly (far too briefly) examines the manner in which authors use historical fiction to challenge history.

Over the course of his study de Groot references and draws in a wide ranging body of literature from gay and lesbian authors, ethnic minorities, award winners, best sellers, pulps. I've already indicated I'm not an expert in this field (although this was not the first book I've read on the topic), but he does seem to have all of the bases covered. Perhaps that is the work's greatest flaw. In the rush to cover everything, some things are less studiously examined than I might like - particularly the alternate histories in the closing section, but then I'm biased there. However, I can hardly fault the book for being too much introduction and not enough varied examination given that it is only intended to be a taster of the wider range of criticism in existence.

On the whole, I think I've benefited from reading The Historical Novel as it's improved my understanding of the genre which non-mimetic historical fiction is in juxtaposition to. Whilst much of the content of this book will not necessarily be relevant to my thesis, the overall lesson of it, and the varying definitions and debates of where history ends and fiction begins, will likely prove useful again and again.

Jerome de Groot, The Historical Novel (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010), 200p.


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