Historical fiction  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Holocaust in fiction, historical film, prehistoric fiction, historical novel

Historical fiction is a sub-genre of fiction that often portrays alternate accounts or dramatization of historical figures or events. Stories in this genre, while fictional, make an honest attempt at capturing the spirit, manners, and social conditions of the person or time they represent with attention paid to detail and fidelity.

Contents

Definition

Historical fiction presents readers with a story that takes place during a notable period in history, and usually during a significant event in that period. Historical fiction often presents actual events from the point of view of people living in that time period.

In some historical fiction, famous events appear from points of view not recorded in history, showing historical figures dealing with actual events while depicting them in a way that is not recorded in history. Other times, the historical event complements a story's narrative, occurring in the background while characters deal with events (personal or otherwise) wholly unrelated to recorded history. Sometimes, historical fiction can be for the most part true, but the names of people and places have been in some way altered.

As this is fiction, artistic license is permitted in regard to presentation and subject matter, so long as it does not deviate in significant ways from established history. If events should deviate significantly, the story may then fall into the genre of alternate history, which is known for speculating on what could have happened if a significant historical event had gone differently. On a similar note, events occurring in historical fiction must adhere to the laws of physics. Stories that extend into the magical or fantastic are often considered historical fantasy.

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' 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.


Literature

Historical literature includes the works of authors that epitomize a specific period in history. Historical literature has been written since at least the 11th century BCE.

Authors

Media and culture

Works of historical fiction are not reserved exclusively to literature. Many films have been created which attempt to use a historic event or setting as a backdrop and actors portray fictional or historic figures set in these events. Below are a few notable examples.

Film and television

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




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Historical fiction" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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