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The University of Southampton

ENGL3099 The Historical Novel

Module Overview

What can novels tell us about history? What can history tell us about novels? This module will explore these questions by studying the literary genre of the historical novel, from its origins in the eighteenth century to its emergence as one of the most prominent genres of the present day. We will read novels from all over the English-speaking world, following the emergence of the historical novel in Ireland, Scotland, England, the United States, Pakistan, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa. We will look at influential theories of the relationship between history and fiction, by thinkers like Georg Lukács and Hayden White. And we will ask what the historical novel can tell us about the nature of time, trauma, national identity, the relationship between generations, decolonization, and more.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The history and characteristic of the historical novel as a literary genre
  • Theories of the relationship between history and fiction
  • Comparative approaches to studying historical fiction
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Conduct original research on historical source material
  • Write comparative essays across a wide span of literary history
  • Articulate the difference between fictional and historical writing
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Express complex ideas in long form essays
  • Conduct independent research


This module will study the historical novel from its origins in the eighteenth-century, right up to the present day. We will study one novel a week, which will be the focus of debate and discussion in our seminars. Some weeks we will also study key theories of historical fiction that will inform your reader. As this module moves across centuries and countries, there will be a wide variety in the novels you will choose, so each week will be different: studying early eighteenth-century historical novels from Ireland, Victorian fiction, modernist fiction, postcolonial and decolonial writing, and contemporary novels based on historical research. Novelists you read might include: Walter Scott, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Chinua Achebe, and W. G. Sebald

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Seminars, Presentations, and Learning Support Hours This module includes a Learning Support Hour. This is a flexible weekly contact hour, designed to support and respond to the particular cohort taking the module from year to year. This hour will include (but not be limited to) activities such as language, theory and research skills classes; group work supervisions; assignment preparation and essay writing guidance; assignment consultations; feedback and feed-forward sessions.

Completion of assessment task40
Follow-up work20
Preparation for scheduled sessions60
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

The Historical Novel. by Georg Lukacs (1955)

Metahistory. by Hayden White (1973)

History & Theory. Journal available online.

New Literary History. Journal available online.

Critical Inquiry. Journal available online.

Theory of the Novel: A Historical Approach. Micheal McKeon (ed) (2000)



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2600 words) 65%
Essay  (1600 words) 35%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay 35%
Essay 65%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3700 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Course novels should typically not exceed more than £50

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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