Landscapes of History in the Novels of Lawrence Norfolk

Open access


This article deals with novels by Lawrence Norfolk which are read with a focus on their visual quality and the way they depict history. It is argued that Norfolk’s historical novels are unique in their portrayal of “landscapes of history”, large canvases in which individual characters play marginal, or a rather insignificant role. This approach distinguishes Norfolk from much of contemporary historical fiction, albeit at times this strategy might not be wholly satisfactory from a critical perspective. However, the article claims that Norfolk’s novels are intellectually inspiring since, similar to landscape, they invite a certain gaze, yet deny us the possibility of naming, of conceptualising. They provide readers with impressive vistas on history, which is seen as something too large to understand and penetrate. In this the novels are anti-humanistic. Individual characters (and their actions) are insignificant, or significant only to such an extent that they subscribe to some mythical framework, as Norfolk shows in, arguably, his best novel, In the Shape of a Boar (2000).

Boccardi, Mariadele. The Contemporary British Historical Novel, Representation, Nation. London: Palgrave Macmillan 2009. Print.

Bradbury, Malcom. The Modern British Novel. London: Penguin 1993. Print.

Elias, Amy J, Sublime Desire, History and post-1960s Fiction. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press 2001. Print.

Jones, Thomas. “Dark Sayings.” London Review of Books. Vol. 22, No. 21, November 2, 2000. Print.

Keen, Suzanne. Romances of the Archive in Contemporary British Fiction. Toronto: Toronto University Press 2001. Print.

Norfolk, Lawrence. John Saturnall’s Feast. London: Bloomsbury 2013. Print.

---. Lemprière’s Dictionary. New York: Harmony Books 1991. Print.

---. The Pope’s Rhinoceros. London: Vintage 1998. Print.

---. In the Shape of a Boar. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2000. Print.

Ziolkowski, Theodore. Lure of the Arcane, The Literature of Cult and Conspiracy. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press 2013. Print.

Prague Journal of English Studies

The Journal of Charles University, Faculty of Education

Journal Information


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 125 123 7
PDF Downloads 68 67 6