Great Historical Novels

Course Dates: 21/09/21 - 30/11/21
Time: 10:15 - 12:15
Location: Online
Historical fiction is enjoying a boom. Authors are recreating ancient Rome, Tudor England, medieval Europe and Civil War America while writing prequels and sequels to Homer and Jane Austen. We’ll be reading and discussing some classics of the genre from Mary Renault’s admired evocation of ancient Greece The King Must Die to novels by Alice Walker and James Meek and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £199.00 Senior fee £159.00 Concession £121.00

This course has now finished

Course Code: HLT126

Finished Tue, day, 21 Sep - 30 Nov '21

Duration: 10 sessions (over 11 weeks)

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

In this online literature course we’ll be seeing how a handful of modern writers have approached the challenge of writing about the past – from Mary Renault’s landmark account of the Greek mythical hero Theseus, in The King Must Die, to Virginia Woolf’s extraordinary creation in Orlando of a hero born in the reign of Elizabeth I who changes sex and lives for centuries, James Meeks’ virtuoso reimagining of Medieval Britain in To Calais, In Ordinary Time and Alice Walker’s powerful portrait of racial and sexual tension in the American Deep South of the 1900s, The Color Purple.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

How does a writer recreate and reinterpret the past? Is every historical novel in some way about the present? How do modern ideas of class, sex and race fit with our understanding of history? How truthfully can a modern writer penetrate the imaginative world of men and women dead for centuries? Do some of today’s authors “duck the tough issues in favour of writing about frocks - chick-lit with wimples", in the words of Hilary Mantel?

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

• Recognise recurring themes in historical fiction
• Relate these to the wider world of literature
• Feel confident enough to explore further study of historical fiction on your own.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

The course is introductory. An enthusiasm for reading and discussion is all that is required.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

The course is an interactive mixture of tutor exposition, small group work and class discussion. Videos and clips will also be shown and discussed. You will asked to read the texts before the class.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Students should buy or borrow the following novels:

To Calais, in Ordinary Time by James Meek (Canongate)
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (Orion)
The King Must Die by Mary Renault (Virago Modern Classics intro Bettany Hughes)
Orlando by Virginia Woolf (Vintage Classics).

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Please see our range of Literature courses under History, Culture and Writing on the website at

Julian Birkett

Julian Birkett is a teacher and writer specialising in modern literature. He previously worked in the Arts department at the BBC as a producer of series such as The Late Show, Modern Poets in their Own Words, The Victorians and The Culture Show. He has taught in London and at the University of Mumbai.He aims to create a friendly but thoughtful atmosphere in his City Lit classes and to provide a stimulating variety of activities from tutor input to discussion to group work and video clips.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.