The Millions

How Can Historical Fiction Be Feminist?

Hilary Mantel, twice awarded the Booker Prize for her detailed fictional explorations of the court of Henry VIII, recently remarked that “women writers…can’t resist retrospectively empowering” women of the past in historical fiction. She presents us with a false choice: “If we write about the victims of history, are we reinforcing their status by detailing it? Or shall we rework history so victims are the winners?”

Historical fiction poses unique challenges and opportunities. Writing a historical novel requires all the same things writing a contemporary novel does—intelligence, dedication, research, and a whiff of heedless optimism—as well as

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