Course overview

This course will consider two novels written in the 21st century which look at real people and real events from the 19th century. We will look at Thomas Keneally’s novel The Dickens Boy which was published in 2021 and considers the life of one of Charles Dickens’s sons who emigrated to Australia to make a life as a sheep farmer. The other novel we will be looking at is The Fraud by Zadie Smith which was published in 2023 and explores the notorious Tichborne trial of the 19th century, a trial about identity fraud and inheritance. We will study the novels in the order listed here.

Course description

During this course we will consider the representation of aspects of the 19th century through the lens of two 21st century writers. Thomas Keneally’s The Dickens Boy which was published in 2021 and The Fraud by Zadie Smith, which was published in 2023, both deal with real people and real events through the lens of historical fiction.

In The Dickens Boy the son of Charles Dickens, Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens, known as Plorn is sent, at the age of 16 to Australia to make something of himself. Plorn carries with him a crushing secret, he has never read a word of his father’s novels. Emigration to places like America and Australia was far from uncommon in the lives of real and fictional people in the 19th century. Keneally takes this true story and reimagines it with compassion and humour.

Zadie Smith’s The Fraud retells the story of the notorious Tichbourne saga of the 1850s and 1860s which centres around the Tichborne family and the heir Sir Roger Tichborne who was believed to be drowned at sea. However one day someone claiming to be him reappears looking to make good on their inheritance. This novel sticks to the facts of the real story and recreates the atmosphere of the 19th century, bringing to life an array characters.

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