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Historical Fiction

A brief introduction

Historical Fiction Described

presents readers with a view and experience of


the past

its issues, beliefs, traditions, practices, behaviors, cultural


expectations, and the like.

Historical Fiction Described

brings these things to life in ways that non-fiction


accounts may often fail to do:

it gives us characters with whom we can empathize (if not


actually identify);
it gives us something to care about and to understand
within a context.

Illustrations:

we might understand a particular prejudice or an


improbable belief much better if we see it in the
context of a character whom we like and whose
behavior makes sense when seen in depth and
detail
if we see sexism in a particular context, we can
understand how reasonable people might have
felt that way
superstitions may work the same way

Illustrations:

The work of a midwife becomes much more


important and much more emotionally
engaging if we have a sense of the women
and babies whose lives and happiness are
at stake than if we simply learn about
midwifery in the abstract.

The Appeal of Historical Fiction

Vicariously experience events and feelings


Confront some universal truths
Discover core values in characters lives
See differences, not only in clothing and
conditions but also in beliefs, attitudes
Understand prejudices and biases of
another time

The Appeal of Historical Fiction

See what we have in common with people in


other times
Come to understand that when and where people
live influences where they are
Satisfy our curiosity about the past
See how different perspectives affect our sense of
the past
Experience in an immediate and compelling way
historical events that might otherwise seem a bit
boring.
from Childrens Literature by Diana Mitchell, p. 275.

Connecting plot and past

For historical fiction to make any sense at all,


there have to be connections between the
historical setting and such key elements of the
novel as setting, plot, and characters.

Connecting plot and past

The writers style may or may not be connected


with the time and place, and the themes may be
universal.
But if setting, plot, and characters arent
connected to the time, theres no point in having
an historical novel.

Asking about the past and the plot

With any historical fiction, we can ask


questions that try to articulate these
connections.

help readers understand

the historical period and


the ways in which the elements of the novel work

What makes a good historical novel?

the same things that make any novel good:

appealing plot and characters


effective use of setting
inclusion of historical details in a way that seems
natural and appropriate

historical accuracy!

Accuracy!

Details need to be correct: not just a


question of what might have been available
at the time, but what would have been
commonly available to characters and in
circumstances such as those we see in the
book.

Accuracy!

Line between facts and fiction needs to be


clear

especially true in a novel that blends historical


events and characters with ficitonal ones

Accuracy!

Novel must avoid distorting the past.

language, attitudes, opportunities, behaviors,


and so on should be appropriate to the time and
place and society
most common error is probably with language
most serious error is making characters in
historic settings present twentieth- and twentyfirst-century attitudes

Evaluating Historical Fiction

Is fact distinguished from fiction?


Does the book itself make clear the extent
and nature of the research the author
conducted? Are sources listed?
Do actions and the plot develop out of the
time period?
Do the characters come to life? Do we feel
connected to them?

Evaluating Historical Fiction

Do characters express attitudes and beliefs


consisted with the time period?
Are historical settings and events woven
into the story in seamless ways, or do they
characters spout history lessons?
Are the themes significant ones?
Does the writing bring the story to life?
Is the story authentic and language, details,
and the spirit of the times?
from Diana Mitchell, Childrens Literature, 288.

The End