History and the Contemporary NovelBook - 1989
Cowart presents a study of international historical fiction since World War II, with reflections on the affinities between historical and fictional narrative, analysis of the basic modes of historical fiction, and readings of a number of historical novels, including John Barth s "The Sot-Weed Factor, "Marguerite Yourcenar s "Memoirs of Hadrian, "Russell Hoban s "Riddley Walker, "Margaret Atwood s "The Handmaid s Tale, "Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa s "The Leopard, "D. M. Thomas s "The White Hotel, "William Faulkner s "Go Down, Moses, "and Umberto Eco s "The Name of the Rose."
He proposes recognizing four modes of the historical novel: the past as a "distant mirror" of the present, fictions whose authors seek to pinpoint the precise historical moment when the modern age or some prominent feature of it came into existence, fictions whose authors aspire purely or largely to historical verisimilitude, and fictions whose authors reverse history to contemplate utopia and dystopia in the future. Thus, historical fiction can be organized under the rubrics: The Distant Mirror; The Turning Point; The Way It Was; and The Way It Will Be.
This fourfold schema and his focus on postwar novels set Cowart s work apart from previous studies, which have not devoted adequate space to the contemporary historical novel. Cowart argues that postwar historical fiction merits more extensive treatment because it is the product of an age unique in the annals of historyan age in which history itself may end."