ENGLISH 339-E
Prof. Cora Agatucci

Literary Genres

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Introduction to HF

Introduction to Historical Fiction:
Edna Aizenberg

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Post-colonial writers "need...to come to terms with a past usurped by a colonial regime."

Aizenberg, Edna. "The Third World Novel as Counterhistory: Things Fall Apart and Asturias's Men of Maize." In Approaches to Teaching Achebe's Things Fall ApartEd. Bernth Lindfors.   Approaches to Teaching World Literature Series: 37.  New York: Modern Language Association, 1991.
Abstract: Historical fiction is the chosen genre of many 20th-century novels written by "Third World," multicultural, and post-colonial writers--and this is "no accident," according to Edna Aizenberg.  These writers share a "need . . . to come to terms with a past usurped by a colonial regime," to refute the colonizers' "'official' versions" of that past, and to re-create a "national history, particularly those portions distorted or censored by [Western] conquerors and their successors" (85).  

Aizenberg raises some key questions useful for approaching most works of historical fiction:
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"What historical moments [in the past] did the author choose for novelization and why?" (85-86).  Historical fiction often focuses on "moments of crisis, junctures at which historical conflicts crystallized," and/or an "historical turning point because of its direct implication for the present" (87).

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What is the relation between the novel and the historical moment in which it was written? (87).  That is, consider whether and how the historical fiction by the author in her/his time is an "aesthetic" and sometimes socio-political response to "historic change" (87) and/or representations of the past. 

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What (revisionist) view of history does it project? (87-88). Every text can be usefully approached as a "dialogue with previous texts"--e.g. of fiction and/or history.  So consider how--and why--a given historical fiction engages previous his/stories in "dialogue"--whether it accepts or adapts, outright rejects, changes and revises, the (his)stories that have gone before it.    

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What narrative [storytelling and] linguistic [language] strategies does this historical fiction employ to present hi/story--especially if the author's version departs from, or contradicts, "official" received versions of "history"?  (Aizenberg 88-89).

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