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    The Tudor Turn: The Poetics and Politics of Englishness in Contemporary Historical Novels

    O'Connor, Siobhan (2020) The Tudor Turn: The Poetics and Politics of Englishness in Contemporary Historical Novels. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    This thesis investigates the interrelationship between contemporary Englishness and historical fictions. It responds to two coeval elements of English culture that started to emerge around the beginning of the present century: a revival of national consciousness that arguably underpinned the 2016 vote to leave the European Union, and a turn towards fiction set in the world of Henry VIII. Through a close reading of six Henrician texts by Philippa Gregory, C.J. Sansom and Hilary Mantel, all of whom are leading authors in the field, it aims to establish the reasons for this setting’s prevalence and commercial success in the English historical fiction of the pre-Brexit period, and to determine what this might tell us about the nature of English identity at this time. Drawing on theories of nationhood and postmodernism, my analysis of the ways in which these texts write England applies a postcolonial reading of English identity and explores their interplay with nationalist discourses by mapping their themes and preoccupations to contemporaneous polemical texts on the state of the nation. In so doing, I identify a common focus on loss, melancholia, grievance and decline, and find that in their re-writing of each other the novels illuminate the divisions and competing instincts that have characterised English society before and since the EU referendum. In taking this cultural materialist approach to a corpus of texts that re-work the same elements of England’s past in different ways, the project contributes significantly to the understanding of how fiction, cultural memory and politics intersect, highlighting the ways in which they reflect, reinforce, or indeed undermine, the construction of national identity. My work demonstrates how these multiple re-imaginings of this specific historical period function as the ‘mirror and the light’ of the contemporary nation and draws attention to the particularities of the English imaginary.

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