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Title: Victorian negotiations with the recent past : history, fiction, utopia
Author: Kingstone, Helen
Awarding Body: University of Leeds
Current Institution: University of Leeds
Date of Award: 2013
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The challenges of contemporary-history-writing were brought into relief in Britain in the nineteenth century. Philosophical and pragmatic factors made the recent past a subject of discomfort for historians, but popular with novelists. Changing concepts of time and social value made it more difficult to draw boundaries on the remit of historiography, and to decide which individuals were worthy of inclusion. As a period still present in diverse living memories, the recent past was associated with multiplicity and particularity, in an era that valued grand and singular narratives, and looked to history to provide them. This was exacerbated in the later Victorian period by the establishment of history as a university discipline. Historians sought professional credibility, and thus avoided including the as-yet inconclusive recent past in their national histories. Those historians who did incorporate it often struggled to maintain a consistent tone, seeking overview while aware of their lack of hindsight. They resorted to the trope of ‘nation’ to impose apparent social unity. By contrast, the recent past was popular with novelists. This more personal genre enabled mid-century women writers to write provincial and localised narratives. By using polyphonic and ironic narrators, they commented on history without claiming definitive judgement, and gave voice to ‘unhistoric’ individuals. They included women, however, more successfully than they did the working class. At the end of the century, socialist writers seeking social transformation set utopian fictions in the future, enabling them to look back with an imaginary hindsight, and write contemporary history with impunity. They were, however, still faced with the problem of agency. The quasi-religious significance that had earlier been attributed to ‘History’ was now transferred to the collective. These genres, therefore, all offered different opportunities for contemporary-history-writing, but could not solve its intrinsic challenges.
Supervisor: Mitchell, Rosemary ; Nathan, Uglow Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available