The present and the past in historical fiction: Maggie O’Farrell, Pat Barker and Sara Collins
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
Course Code: HLT35
Duration: 8 sessions (over 8 weeks)
What is the course about?
This online literature course looks at three twenty-first-century historical novels which vividly reimagine past societies and lives, in a variety of periods and in different styles.
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (2006), by the award-winning Maggie O’Farrell: set in Edinburgh in the 1930s and the 1990s, a young woman discovers she has an elderly great-aunt who has been, until now, quietly removed from the family’s history after she was committed to an institution at the age of 16.
Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls (2018) was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for fiction in 2019. A retelling of Homer’s Iliad, it focuses on women’s experiences of war, from the perspective of the Trojan women captured by the Greeks.
Sara Collins’s The Confessions of Frannie Langton (2019) is set in 1820s Jamaica and London. This acclaimed first novel is voiced by an enslaved black woman. A murder mystery and more, it draws on influences as diverse as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.
We’ll also look at extracts from Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (2016) and A.L. Blakemore’s The Manningtree Witches (2021).
We’ll investigate how these novels tell their stories with creative blends of invention, historical sources and references to literary antecedents, and how they can both illuminate and challenge ideas we have about the past. We’ll think too about how contemporary historical fiction pulls us back to today: how do these novels explore the legacies of the past in the present?
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.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.
What will we cover?
We will cover a variety of topics as we delve into these novels’ particular strategies for recreating past lives and societies and reflect on our experiences as readers. We’ll consider what makes a novel ‘feel ‘authentic to us, including details of style, language and perspective, as well as its story and setting – including social, political and economic contexts. We will think too about how these novels work with literary genres and influences, from Greek myths to gothic mysteries, and how these shape our reading.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
By the end of this course you should be able to:
• Discuss these books confidently, with an extended knowledge of historical fiction as a topic of literary study
• Extend your understanding of literary forms and techniques
• Discuss ideas about fiction, historical knowledge and rewriting.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
All you need is curiosity and an enthusiasm for reading contemporary historical fiction, listening to others and joining in discussions. You don’t need to have studied literature formally.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
There will be a variety of teaching, including whole group and small group discussions, informal talks or mini-lectures, working with additional material including video clips, and close reading. Guided by the tutor, the focus is on participation and interaction, with opportunities each week for you to share responses and ideas.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
You’ll need to buy or borrow these novels, available in paperback:
Maggie O’Farrell, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (Tinder Press, 2020 [first published 2006])
Pat Barker, The Silence of the Girls (Penguin, 2019 )
Sara Collins, The Confessions of Frannie Langton (Penguin, 2019)
The tutor will provide other extracts and learning materials for the course.
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
For literature courses please look on the web at www.citylit.ac.uk/courses under History, Culture and Writing/Literature.
Dr Kate Wilkinson teaches English literature and has a particular interest in twenty-first-century novels. Since 2015 she has taught at Queen Mary University of London, on courses ranging from Middle English to cultural theory. Her PhD and publications explore the vibrant life of letters in fiction, and what this can tell us about our contemporary world.
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.