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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Historical fiction is a genre in which the plot is set amidst historical events, or more generally, in which the author uses real events but adds one or more fictional characters or events, or changes the sequence of historical events.

Contents

Overview

Historical fiction may center on historical or on fictional characters, but usually represents an honest attempt based on considerable research (or at least serious reading) to tell a story set in the historical past as understood by the author's contemporaries. Those historical settings may not stand up to the enhanced knowledge of later historians.

An early example is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th-century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history.

The historical novel was popularized in the 19th century by artists classified as Romantics. Many regard Sir Walter Scott as the first to have used this technique, in his novels of Scottish history such as Waverley (1814) and Rob Roy (1818). His Ivanhoe (1820) gains credit for renewing interest in the Middle Ages. Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) furnishes another early example of the historical novel as does Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Many early historical novels played an important role in the rise of European popular interest in the history of the Middle Ages. Hugo's Hunchback often receives credit for fueling the movement to save Gothic architecture in France, leading to the establishment of the Monuments historiques, the French governmental authority for historic preservation.

Historical fiction has also served to encourage movements of romantic nationalism. A series of novels by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski on the history of Poland popularized the country's history after it had lost its independence in the Partitions of Poland. Subsequently the Polish winner of the 1905 Nobel Prize in literature, Henryk Sienkiewicz, wrote several immensely popular novels set in conflicts between the Poles and predatory Teutonic Knights, rebelling Cossacks and invading Swedes. (He also penned a once wildly popular novel about Nero's Rome and the early Christians, Quo Vadis, which has been filmed several times.)

Scott's Waverley novels ignited interest in Scottish history and still illuminate it. Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter fulfilled a similar function for Norwegian history; Undset later won a Nobel Prize for Literature (1928).

The genre of the historical novel has also permitted some authors, such as the Polish novelist Bolesław Prus in his sole historical novel, Pharaoh, to distance themselves from their own time and place in order to gain perspective on society and on the human condition, or to escape the depredations of the censor.

In some historical novels the main historic events take place mostly off-stage, while the characters inhabit the world in which those events are occurring. Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped recounts mostly private adventures set against the backdrop of the Jacobite troubles in Scotland. Charles Dickens' Barnaby Rudge is set amid the Gordon Riots, and A Tale of Two Cities in the French Revolution.

Other authors give historic characters a fictional setting, as in Alexandre Dumas' Queen Margot and Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon.

Historical fiction can serve satirical purposes. An example is George MacDonald Fraser's tales of the dashing cad, poltroon, and bounder Sir Harry Paget Flashman.

The historical novel has continued to remain popular with authors to this day as with the wildly popular Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey–Maturin series. The most striking development in British/Irish writing in the past 25 years has been the renewed interest in the First World War. Works include William Boyd's An Ice-Cream War; Sebastian Faulks' The Girl at the Lion d'Or (concerned with the War's consequences) and Birdsong; Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy and Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way.

Authors of the past

Living authors

Theory and Criticism

The Marxist literary critic, essayist, and social theorist György Lukács wrote extensively on the aesthetic and political significance of the historical novel. In 1937's der historische Roman, published originally in Russian, Lukács developed critical readings of several historical novels by authors including Keller, Dickens, and Flaubert. For him, the advent of the "genuinely" historical novel at the beginning of the 19th century is to be read in terms of two developments, or processes. First, the development of a specific genre in a specific medium: the development of the historical novel's unique stylistic and narrative elements. Secondly, the development of a representative, organic artwork capable of capturing the fractures, contradictions, and problems of the particular productive mode of its time [i.e. developing, early, entrenched capitalism].

See also

External links

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According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is

a novel that has as its setting a period of history and that attempts to convey the spirit, manners, and social conditions of a past age with realistic detail and fidelity (which is in some cases only apparent fidelity) to historical fact. The work may deal with actual historical personages...or it may contain a mixture of fictional and historical characters.[1]

Contents

Overview

An early example of historical fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history. In England, Daniel Defoe (ca. 1659–1731) was one of the first successful writers in this genre. Defoe works such as Robinson Crusoe (1719) used historical settings.

A pioneer of the genre in Western Europe was the German author Benedikte Naubert (1756–1819), who wrote 50 historical novels. Her technique of focusing attention on a person of minor historical significance and witnessing events through his eyes was borrowed by Sir Walter Scott, who had read her works.

The historical novel was further popularized in the 19th century by writers classified as Romantics. Many regard Sir Walter Scott as the first to have used this technique, in his novels of Scottish history such as Waverley (1814) and Rob Roy (1818). His Ivanhoe (1820) gains credit for renewing interest in the Middle Ages. Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) furnishes another 19th century example of the romantic-historical novel as does Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. In the United States, Nathaniel Hawthorne and James Fenimore Cooper were prominent.

Many early historical novels played an important role in the rise of European popular interest in the history of the Middle Ages. Hugo's Hunchback often receives credit for fueling the movement to save Gothic architecture in France, leading to the establishment of the Monuments historiques, the French governmental authority for historic preservation.

Historical fiction has also served to encourage movements of romantic nationalism. A series of novels by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski on the history of Poland popularized the country's history after it had lost its independence in the Partitions of Poland. Subsequently the Polish winner of the 1905 Nobel Prize in literature, Henryk Sienkiewicz, wrote several immensely popular novels set in conflicts between the Poles and predatory Teutonic Knights, rebelling Cossacks and invading Swedes. (He also penned a once popular novel about Nero's Rome and the early Christians, Quo Vadis, which has been filmed several times.)

Scott's Waverley novels ignited interest in Scottish history and still illuminate it. Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter fulfilled a similar function for Norwegian history; Undset later won a Nobel Prize for Literature (1928).

The genre of the historical novel has also permitted some authors, such as the Polish novelist Bolesław Prus in his sole historical novel, Pharaoh, to distance themselves from their own time and place to gain perspective on society and on the human condition, or to escape the depredations of the censor.

In some historical novels, major historic events take place mostly off-stage, while the fictional characters inhabit the world where those events occur. Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped recounts mostly private adventures set against the backdrop of the Jacobite troubles in Scotland. Charles Dickens' Barnaby Rudge is set amid the Gordon Riots, and A Tale of Two Cities in the French Revolution.

In some works, the accuracy of the historical elements has been questioned, as in Alexandre Dumas' Queen Margot. Postmodern novelists such as John Barth and Thomas Pynchon operate with even more freedom, mixing historical characters and settings with invented history and fantasy, as in the novels The Sot-Weed Factor and Mason & Dixon respectively. A few writers create historical fiction without fictional characters. One example is I, Claudius, by 20th Century writer Robert Graves; another is the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough.

Time scales in historical novels vary widely. While many focus on a particular event or series of events, writers like James A. Michener and Edward Rutherfurd employ generations of fictional characters to tell tales that stretch for hundreds or thousands of years. Others, like McCullough and Gore Vidal, compose a chronological series of linked novels.

Some writers postulate an alternative to accepted historical presumptions. In I, Claudius, by 20th century writer Robert Graves, the Roman Emperor Claudius, until then commonly regarded as inept by historians, is presented in a more sympathetic light. Mary Renault's novels of ancient Greece, such as The Last of the Wine, implied suggestions of tolerance for homosexuality. Gore Vidal's novels about American history, including Burr and 1876, included iconoclastic and cynical insights about the nature of political processes and American history. Historical fiction can also serve satirical purposes. An example is George MacDonald Fraser's tales of the dashing cad, poltroon, and bounder Sir Harry Paget Flashman.

The historical novel remains popular with authors and readers to this day; bestsellers include Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey–Maturin series, Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, and Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. A striking development in British/Irish writing in the past 25 years has been the renewed interest in the First World War. Works include William Boyd's An Ice-Cream War; Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong and The Girl at the Lion d'Or (concerned with the War's consequences); Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy and Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way.

Another relatively recent trend is genre mixing; creating hyphenated sub-categories like the historical-mystery novels of Iain Pears and David Liss (some might argue that the venerable Sherlock Holmes stories created this mix), and the historical-thrillers of Dan Brown. The science fiction genre also contains a couple of historical sub-genres; alternate history such as Robert Silverberg's Roma Eterna, and time travel with historical settings, such as the "Company" stories of Kage Baker.

Authors of the past

Living authors

Theory and criticism

The Marxist literary critic, essayist, and social theorist György Lukács wrote extensively on the aesthetic and political significance of the historical novel. In 1937's der historische Roman, published originally in Russian, Lukács developed critical readings of several historical novels by authors including Keller, Dickens, and Flaubert. For him, the advent of the "genuinely" historical novel at the beginning of the 19th century is to be read in terms of two developments, or processes. First, the development of a specific genre in a specific medium: the development of the historical novel's unique stylistic and narrative elements. Secondly, the development of a representative, organic artwork capable of capturing the fractures, contradictions, and problems of the particular productive mode of its time [i.e. developing, early, entrenched capitalism].

See also

References

  1. ^ Brittanica.com (accessed 08-2010)

External links


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