Waking into history: Forms of the postmodern historical novel

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Frank Palmeri - Committee Chair


This dissertation traces the development of the historical novel through the two major literary movements of the twentieth-century. The first chapter focuses on the relative absence of modernist historical fiction and examines the ambivalence toward historical concerns in modernist writing. In addition, the chapter discusses two of the most significant historical novels of modernism--Conrad's Nostromo and Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!--exploring the use of myth and tragedy in these works. The remainder of the dissertation details the more extensive engagement with historical fiction by postmodern writers. The second chapter discusses the development of the satiric historical novel, exemplified by John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor, Gore Vidal's Burr, and Thomas Berger's Little Big Man. Each of these works explores a different era of America's history through the protagonist's search for his own origins. Through satiric deflation of myths, these novelists invert accepted versions of the historical periods and revive voices and aspects of the country's history previously lost. The third chapter discusses the incorporation of the fantastic into historical fiction, concentrating on Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Like satiric histories, these works also interrogate accepted historical accounts and conceptions of history by presenting radically new approaches to historical causality. The fourth chapter investigates the way that postmodern science-fiction novels offer their own perspective on history through the subgenres of time-travel, apocalyptic fiction, and future history used by such novelists as Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, and Martin Amis. The fifth chapter closes the dissertation with an analysis of Thomas Pynchon's historical novels, V. and Gravity's Rainbow, both of which extensively utilize all the forms of the postmodern historical novel that have been discussed in the three previous chapters.


Literature, Modern; Literature, Germanic; Literature, Latin American; Literature, American; Literature, English

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