Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Beth Rosenberg

Number of Pages



British novelists since Walter Scott have exhibited an interest in history, but this discursive affinity has transformed itself into a veritable obsession in the fiction of the last two decades. Indeed, a concern with and distrust of history and historiographic projects is often hailed as a defining characteristic of postmodernism. And while writers of "new historical novels" cannot be said to form a movement as such, the predominance of such texts reveals the presence of communal concerns, and a readily identifiable strain of literary production that addresses the circulation of mutual symptoms, beliefs, and anxieties as a response to living in this particular moment in history. Adopting and adapting the theories of Hayden White and Peter Brooks, I highlight various types of "narrative desire" that drive both narrators and readers in their emplotment of history. Examining three representative novels---A. S. Byatt's Possession: A Romance, Ian McEwan's Black Dogs, and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children---this study explores the communal logic and impulse that identifies both reading and constructing narratives as purposeful gestures in coming to terms with our present and future. Each novel attempts to control the ambiguities of history and our ability truly to know it by allowing historical fact and fiction to merge, overlap, and create a new whole. These novels also reflect a number of cultural anxieties about the various narratives that have been constructed to explain the past: Byatt contests the postmodern dismissal of Victorian ideologies in the working through of narratives; McEwan requires a reassessment of the Enlightenment narrative in the face of the collective trauma of the twentieth century's violent history; and Rushdie re-narrates recent Indian history in order to find an issue out of the impasse of fundamentalist and monolithic conceptions of national identity. These novelists, in different ways, employ what has become known as postmodern artifice, sometimes as a way to reject the notion of historical construction, sometimes to advocate it, but always to bring us closer to what they believe are significant values and truths.


A. S. Byatt; Authors; Byatt, A. S.; British; Contemporary; Desire; Historical; Historical Reparations; India; Ian Mcewan; Mcewan, Ian; Narrative; Narrative Desire; Reparations; Rushdie, Salman; Salman Rushdie

Controlled Subject

Literature, Modern; British literature; English literature--Irish authors; Irish literature

File Format


File Size

8519.68 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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