We asked Clare Walters, one of our MA in Children’s Literature alumna, to write about her experience auditing the Time and History module taught by Dr Lisa Sainsbury in Spring 2015.
All Things Must Pass
A reflection on the Time and History module for the Children’s Literature MA
Audited and reviewed by Clare Walters
The module began with a discussion of what might be meant by ‘historical fiction’. We loosely defined it as books that, at the time they were published, engaged with the past, often mixing in real historical characters with fictional ones. We noted that the nineteenth century texts – The Children of the New Forest and Kidnapped – reflected a fairly stable view of British history, but acknowledged that these books are now viewed in a different light. They are ‘doubly’ historical in that, being read years after first publication, they can reveal more about the time they were written than the period they describe. This was true even of the mid-twentieth century novel The Eagle of the Ninth.
A number of questions were posed of each text. Could a particular ideological framework could be identified, or a didactic purpose revealed? Were authenticity and accuracy of primary importance? And who was the implied reader? We applied these questions to fictional histories, too – those first-person novels where the narrative framework relies on an individual’s (potentially unreliable) memory, such as The Stonebook Quartet, Issac Campion and Code Name Verity. We discussed the inclusion of historical objects in fiction and asked whether these could provide continuity to the present; and we debated the role of images in the historical picturebook Rose Blanche.
Around Week Five the focus changed to the time-slip novels Charlotte Sometimes, A Stitch in Time and Midwinterblood, where the action shifts between various time frames. In these books less emphasis is placed on the historical and more on the personal. The text becomes an emotional dialogue between past and present, and there is often interplay between a linear structure of time (chronos), and a more mythical sense of time, in which significant moments repeat themselves (kairos).