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FB-54623-10
Revolution and the Historical Novel
John McWilliams, Middlebury College

Grant details: https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx?f=1&gn=FB-54623-10

Revolution and the Historical Novel (Book)
Title: Revolution and the Historical Novel
Author: John McWilliams
Abstract: John McWilliams has written the first, much needed account of the ways the promise and threat of political revolution have informed masterpieces of the historical novel. The jolting sense of historical change caused by the French Revolution led to an immense readership for a new kind of fiction, centered on revolution, counter-revolution and warfare, which soon came to be called “the historical novel.” During the turbulent wake of The Declaration of the Rights of Man, promptly followed by the phenomenon of Napoleon Bonaparte, the historical novel thus served as a literary hybrid in the most positive sense of that often-dismissive term. It enabled readers to project personal hopes and anxieties about revolutionary change back into national history. While immersed in the fictive lives of genteel, often privileged heroes, readers could measure their own political convictions against the wavering loyalties of their counterparts in a previous but still familiar time. McWilliams provides close readings of some twenty historical novels, from Scott and Cooper through Tolstoy, Zola and Hugo, to Pasternak and Lampedusa, and ultimately to Marquez and Hilary Mantel, but with continuing regard to historical contexts past and present. He traces the transformation of the literary conventions established by Scott’s Waverley novels, showing both the continuities and the changes needed to meet contemporary times and perspectives. Although the progressive hopes imbedded in Scott’s narrative form proved no longer adaptable to twentieth century carnage and the rise of totalitarianism, the meaning of any single novel emerges through comparison to the tradition of its predecessors. A foreword and epilogue explore the indebtedness of McWilliams’s perspective to the Marxist scholarly tradition of Georg Lukacs and Frederic Jameson, while defining his differences from them. This is a scholarly work of no small ambition and achievement.
Year: 2018
Publisher: Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books
Type: Single author monograph
Copy sent to NEH?: Yes


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