Literary Historical Fiction

Because some of us who love history also love books with actual literary merit. Books should be about events that did not take place or could not have taken place within the writer's lifetime and are (were) 'historical fiction' from the writer's perspective, not just ours.

Pop fiction has its place, certainly, but that place is not this list.

(Also please no self-promotion. Authors adding their own books to Goodreads lists is tacky and sad.)
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766 books · 746 voters · list created April 14th, 2012 by Ashley (votes) .
180 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


Ashley 3999 books
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Susanna - Censored by GoodReads 3288 books
871 friends
Catelyn 643 books
34 friends
Mark 125 books
200 friends
Elisabeth 273 books
306 friends
Chris 314 books
0 friends
Megan 42 books
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Devin 509 books
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More voters…


Comments Showing 1-50 of 70 (70 new)


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads But is The Count of Monte Cristo historical fiction? Wasn't he writing it about France's own very recent past?


message 2: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Ooh, good point. This is part of the reason I started this list. There are so many varying definitions of "historical fiction" and I was curious about how other people see it.

How much time has to pass before we consider fiction to be historical? The book was finished in 1844, but covers the years 1815-1838. Conundrum!


message 3: by Jane (new)

Jane I like this list.


message 4: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Awesome! Feel free to add to it :)


message 5: by Jemidar (new)

Jemidar Brideshead Revisited isn't historical fiction either.


message 6: by Ashley (new)

Ashley It's another where there is room for debate, because of Charles Ryder's reflecting back on the war. I decided to err on the side of more quality books on this list than less when nominating that one.


message 7: by Masha (new)

Masha I think part of the definition should include 'events in the book did not take place or could not have taken place within the writer's lifetime'. It has to be 'historical fiction' from the writer's perspective not just ours.


message 8: by Jemidar (new)

Jemidar Masha wrote: "I think part of the definition should include 'events in the book did not take place or could not have taken place within the writer's lifetime'. It has to be 'historical fiction' from the writer'..."

I agree.


message 9: by Ashley (new)

Ashley I think that's a totally fair rule, and more articulately put than I could have said myself.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship Deleted Pillars of the Earth for being exactly the kind of book the "literary merit" qualifier is meant to exclude. There are some others on here that look suspect as well, but none quite so obviously.


message 11: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Deleting a handful of nonfiction that someone added.


message 12: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Also deleting four books for being self-promoting. Because nothing says "literary merit" like adding your self-published works to people's listopia lists.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads How is The Prince of Tides historical fiction?


message 14: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Good catch. If you see anything out of place and you have librarian status feel free to delete, just make sure to comment so we know.


message 15: by Toni (new)

Toni Todd /*/I've landed in Heaven! All these books at my fingertips and I'm afraid I won't live long enough To read all those I still want to read


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Removed, for not being historical fiction:

The Prince of Tides


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I'm going to suggest that Anne of Green Gables should also go. It was set at pretty much the time it was written (1908).


message 18: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl How is To Kill a Mockingbird historical fiction?

And it's been a long time since I read it...but does The Good Earth qualify? It has actual historical figures or historical events in it?


message 19: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Beloved? Can something be magical realism and also historical fiction? I think it needs to be one or the other, and if it has ghosts, it's not historical.


message 20: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Susanna wrote: "I'm going to suggest that Anne of Green Gables should also go. It was set at pretty much the time it was written (1908)."

That one caught my eye too. Zap it!


message 21: by Jemidar (last edited Jul 04, 2013 04:09PM) (new)

Jemidar The No.1 book looks awfully suspicious to me. Is there ny way to verify if it's Listopia stacking or not? I somehow don't think a book no one has heard of that has 12 ratings and 28 votes would outbid Hilary Mantel or Umberto Eco. I'm also not sure it qualifies as HF.


message 22: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Huston Jemidar, I don't think it does either. It's just been published as well, which is a glaring error in my eyes. I also wouldn't call it literary fiction, since it is pretty much a collection of short fiction in fantasy.


message 23: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl I deleted it. In addition to (most likely) being spam, it wasn't historical fiction. It was fantasy involving characters from literature.


message 24: by Jemidar (new)

Jemidar Thanks!


message 25: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Re: Beloved - Magical Realism =/= Fantasy. I say it stands.


message 26: by Ashley (new)

Ashley And I am gonna remove The Sacred Band as it appears to be a clear case of historically-influenced fantasy as opposed to simply fiction set in an historical period with some small fantastical elements.


message 27: by Jane (new)

Jane Ashley wrote: "And I am gonna remove The Sacred Band as it appears to be a clear case of historically-influenced fantasy as opposed to simply fiction set in an historical period with some small fantastical elements."

This discussion is very relevant to my current thoughts. I'm reading a novel billed as "literary Gothic" set in Victorian London. The dates/facts are WILDLY, um, stretched "for the purposes of the novel." There are heavy supernatural/fantasy elements.

Does it, I wonder, qualify in any way as HF? And Ashley, if I review this book can I quote what you said above? Can I attribute the quote?


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship Do keep in mind that unless a book is blatantly mischaracterized (nonfiction) or outside the explicit parameters of the list (set during the author's lifetime), GR wants librarians to err on the side of not removing books from lists. Beloved and The Good Earth are considered historical fiction by a lot of people, evidenced by the fact that it's the second "genre" listed for each of them (after "classics"). I imagine those people would argue, as I would, that HF need not include historical figures or well-known events, and that there's no reason it can't contain supernatural elements. (Anyway, the ghost in Beloved is there to make thematic points about slavery and its effect on her mother, not just to make the book a ghost story.) So best to leave those on.


[redacted by S.H.I.E.L.D.] Oh thank God, no one has nominated Outlander for once. I could cry with joy.


[redacted by S.H.I.E.L.D.] Should War and Peace be on here? I thought that was set during the authors lifetime, or very close to.


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship No, War and Peace is set between 1805 and 1812, and Tolstoy was born in 1828.


[redacted by S.H.I.E.L.D.] Ah, see, that just shows I need to read War and Peace


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship It's not nearly as scary as it looks!


[redacted by S.H.I.E.L.D.] Oh I read the unabridged Le Mort D'Arthur cover to cover. Not much scares me after that. :P


message 35: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Removing a handful of "historical fantasy" that snuck on the list. I'm also wondering at those German titles that were added. I don't want to be xenophobic or anything, but I also can't tell if they fit on the list and a lot of them seem not to have been translated into English so it's not like I can find those version and add them to the list instead. I'd like someone else's input before I delete.


message 36: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Maybe we should make a rule that you limit this to the English-language versions? And if there isn't one don't add it?


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Anne of Green Gables is not historical fiction.


message 38: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Deleted! Thanks for the heads up.


message 39: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Jane wrote: "Ashley wrote: "And I am gonna remove The Sacred Band as it appears to be a clear case of historically-influenced fantasy as opposed to simply fiction set in an historical period with some small fan..."

Have at it!


message 40: by Ashley (last edited Jul 17, 2013 01:41PM) (new)

Ashley Removed "Senyoria" as I can't find an English translation for it; deleted all other non-English titles and replaced them on the list with their English versions.

Also removing "High Hearts" for not being literary.


message 41: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Removing an assortment of Sarah Dunant and Tracy Chevalier novels that were added. Those authors are both closer to Phillipa Gregory than Gore Vidal, and definitely not "literary".


message 42: by Toni (new)

Toni Todd aww I love Sarah Dunant


message 43: by Ashley (new)

Ashley I've read her, she's fine, but does she belong on a list with Jose Saramago and William Faulkner?


message 44: by Toni (new)

Toni Todd well I'm Not sure that Faulkner is more interesting to some people.Just because others are in awe of some of the dead authors doesn't make them easier to understand,This is where authors such as Phillipa Gregory& Sarah Dunant come into play-My Grandmother once told me that people and places may Change -human nature remains the same-What I'm saying is that intellect is in the knowledge of the individual


message 45: by Jemidar (new)

Jemidar That all may well be true but it's not the point of this particular list. The list creator intended it for books with literary merit (as opposed to genre writers) which doesn't necessarily mean their authors are dead or their writing is hard to understand. Personally, I'm not a great fan of Faulkner but I appreciate this list all the same.


message 46: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Jemidar wrote: "That all may well be true but it's not the point of this particular list. The list creator intended it for books with literary merit (as opposed to genre writers) which doesn't necessarily mean th..."

Thank you. I was looking for a concise way to say what you just did.


message 47: by Toni (last edited Aug 03, 2013 01:54PM) (new)

Toni Todd The list really doesn't matter to those of us who read for relaxation, for information,for the sheer pleasure of it Maybe for those who read only if they HAVE to for school, college or How to books. I understand what you meant Ashley This moment is now history as I write it Does that make it any less valid?


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship That's simply not the case. Relaxation, information and enjoyment are exactly why I read, and I prefer high-quality books and don't enjoy bad writing. People who only read books assigned to them in school wouldn't be looking at this list at all, just reading what's assigned. Now, Faulkner's very dense for my personal tastes and I haven't really been able to get anything out of his works outside of a classroom environment, but there's certainly a happy medium between his books and the likes of Sarah Dunant's or Ken Follett's.

(There are some other books on here I'd question. Sarah's Key? Memoirs of a Geisha? Does Michener or Clavell really qualify as literary? But overall it's a pretty decent list.)


message 49: by Jemidar (last edited Aug 03, 2013 03:07PM) (new)

Jemidar Toni wrote: "The list really doesn't matter to those of us who read for relaxation, for information,for the sheer pleasure of it Maybe for those who read only if they HAVE to for school, college or How to books..."

If this list doesn't matter to you or suit your tastes then find a list that does or start your own for the types of books you like. We all like different books for different reasons which is why these lists exist--they help us find the sort of books we want to read.


message 50: by Toni (new)

Toni Todd Good For YOU,! Now you GET MY point!


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