Fiction and the Historical Frame

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis makes the case for the existence of the ‘historical frame’, defined here as an (in)tangible border around historical materials that shapes their reception. By looking at a case study of historical novels and plays set in the late Roman Empire, it argues for the use of the historical frame as an analytical tool to better understand the complex framing processes in works defined as both ‘historical’ and ‘fictional’. The aim, by looking at the historical frame in fiction, is to offer a new perspective on the development of popular impressions of antiquity by considering how these impressions are stamped, approved, transmitted, appreciated, and inherited.

The historical frame is divided here into five interrelated aspects, namely the material, spatial, cultural, cognitive, and imaginative. These aspects are further grouped into two sides or categories that model the reading experience of historical fiction. The public-facing side of the historical frame is what the reader sees, and is produced by the author and publisher. It is made up of the material, spatial, and cultural aspects, which take the form of paratexts, genre, and ideas of history and fiction. The non-public-facing side consists of the reader’s cognitive and imaginative input as they negotiate the public-facing side. Building on theories of framing, paratextuality, reader-response and classical reception, the chapters that follow explore the interface between the two sides of the historical frame. In particular, they consider how this interface triangulates the reception of antiquity by connecting the reader to the past as it can be known and its representation. By investigating the theoretical underpinnings, construction, and dialogical workings of the historical frame, this thesis offers valuable insights into how it embeds not only the historical content of antiquity in the historical imagination, but also various conceptual ways to understand this.
Date of Award25 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorEllen C. O'Gorman (Supervisor) & Isabella Sandwell (Supervisor)


  • Historical Fiction
  • Framing
  • Classical Reception
  • History
  • Fiction
  • Reader Reception
  • Ancient History
  • Late Antiquity
  • Rome

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