Reading Historical Fiction

Wednesday, February 19, 20014

I started a new book the other day. It is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. It covers much of the 16th century in England. I love the Tudor time period, and I know that millions of readers do also. Henry VIII and everything about him and his family seems to enthrall us as no other particular past time does.

Hundreds of books, both fiction and non fiction, have been written to cover or rather explain the complexities of these lives. And therein lies one of the biggest problems with historical fiction: Which writers can you trust and which embellish stories as they see fit?

It is not easy to answer definitively those questions. In fact, I am not sure any answer is absolute. Why? Because even when an author is writing non-fiction, facts can become distorted. When I taught Theory of Knowledge in the IB curriculum, the main question we dealt with was “How do we know what we know?” Without getting too deep into the subject, let’s simply agree that real truth in many areas is still very subjective. Okay, some science and math stuff is fairly easy to accept as true. 1+1=2, gravity, etc. seem to be true, but we know that in some kinds of mathematics that 2 answer is not correct, and gravity does not work the same in all circumstances. The humanities are even harder to address. I had my students read two separate historians’ writings on the same event. And, you guessed it! The result was two examples of facts interpreted through the pen of two people, one on the winning side of the crusading battle and one one the losing side of the vanquished defenders. Even my descriptive words are biased.

So, what is the answer to the dilemma? Just a bit of research into an author and other books written on the subject can help immensely. If you read a great deal of historical fiction, you learn that there are authors you can trust. You may wish to join Goodreads where you can find discussions of all types of books. Membership is free.

I have learned that Sourcebooks re-released in 2010 an historical fiction that I read when I was about 15.  I found it while reading the blog site Scandalous Women. It was my first historical novel and inspired me to keep reading them through the present. That novel is Désirée by Annemarie Selinko. The true story of Napoleon Bonaparte’s first love who later became queen of Sweden. It was quite scandalous and racy for a 15 year old in the early 1960′s. I vividly remember reading about Josephine’s formal dress made of a gauze like material that would be unbelievably daring even today. I was hooked. Love, sex, wars, gallantry, intrigue–made me yearn for more. From there I went to Horatio Hornblower by C. S. Forester and read every book in that series. No Nancy Drew for me. I never read even one.

I have found an interesting site for historical novel readers founded in 1997 named the Historical Novel Society. You may join the actual society for $50.00 per year; however membership is not required to use the site. It has several categories (author, genre, period, century, and publisher) with reviews of the books for you to search.

Another good site is Dear Author: A Romance Review blog for Readers by Readers. The particular URL is for historical fiction. There is an excellent posting of the characteristics of a good and popular historical novel.

Cindy Vallar has created a fascinating site named Thistles and Pirates after her first novel. A section named Historical Fiction vs History provides comparisons between the two. There is a huge listing of articles on historical novels vs history available on the web. She also includes the names of books in several categories. Of books that had inspired her, I have read two which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Another blog site is A Writer of History by M.K. Tod. One particular posting is an interview of Charlotte Gray. Trustworthiness is an aspect she discusses and mentions Hilary Mantel, author of the book I am reading.

Amazon even has a site for children’s historical fiction.

So pick a time period or a genre of historical novels and start reading.

Voila! So here’s your answer for finding historical fiction.








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