Feasts of the Dead (novel) and The Material Imagination (critical thesis)

Borodale, Jane. 2024. Feasts of the Dead (novel) and The Material Imagination (critical thesis). Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

How can we create plausible historical worlds of the everyday through fiction, where written evidence is scant or missing? How do we describe the ordinary experience of living in the past, to gain new understandings of how it might have felt to ‘be’ at a given place and point in time? I argue that we can do this by using the material imagination.

My novel and critical thesis are two halves of the same enquiry. Aligning with the perspective of Hayden White, this thesis first establishes that writing history is a narrative and interpretive process. It then shows ways in which novelists can glean raw data about the past from close observation and phenomenological readings of objects and location, and how, as Christopher Tilley posits, we can ‘attempt to understand this world through the process of immersing our embodied selves in it and participating in it. Our body, then, is our primary research tool’ (2016, p.297). Identifying these research methods to use in the creation of immersive fictional worlds, I argue that drawing together clues found in material remnants, in conjunction with existing historiography, can provide a test bed for sharpening questions about the experiential reality of living in the past. Using these techniques, my novel aims to cast light on a group underrepresented in recent historical fiction: the English rural poor. It examines the experiential effects of living in adverse conditions in the Mendip countryside, during the tumultuous weather and political climate that led to the disastrous harvest of 1816, and considers the personhood of those who lived in that world which comprised their present.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Historical fiction, world building, rural novel, material imagination, historical experience

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


30 April 2024

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

16 May 2024 16:04

Last Modified:

16 May 2024 16:05



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