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Historical Fiction Discussions > Why do you read historical fiction?

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message 1: by Hannah (last edited Jan 22, 2013 09:50PM) (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments My sister and I recently had a lively debate about why we adore historical fiction--Is it to be swept away to another time period? To learn something new? Or just to enjoy the drama and passion that often (but by no means always) seem to elude our contemporary times?

I'm curious to learn: What draws you to historical fiction? Book examples welcomed!


message 2: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Devon, I love it! I feel the same way. It's one of the things that definitely draws me to the past.

I just edited my original question to add "Book examples welcomed." Would love to hear which books help readers get to that special place they crave, whatever that is.


message 3: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie I like leaning history in an engaging manner. I don't want dry facts, but how the "times and events" molded the lives of people. Fiction allows one to play with the facts; in a good author's hands we are there in a world foreign to us, but nevertheless the same. We react today with anger and fear and love and hate, just as we did centuries ago. I want to learn about past times and at the same time look at how people behave, what motivates them, scares them, spurs them on and how they interact.


message 4: by Christoph (new)

Christoph Fischer | 10 comments To me writing historical fiction and researching it makes me live the past with the characters of my books. All becomes so much clearer. Only writing gives me the opportunity to really dive into the times and engage with what it would be like to live at those times. It is always great when you find a good source and even more so if that source confirms what you have already imagined. There is so much to learn from the past, it would be waste to just write about our all day experience in the present.


message 5: by Kit★ (new)

Kit★ (xkittyxlzt) I mostly just love being swept away to a far off time and place. And I'm just way more gravitated toward the older stuff, fashions and castles and all that good stuff :)


message 6: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Saadia (ZoeSaadia) | 377 comments Chrissie wrote: "I like leaning history in an engaging manner. I don't want dry facts, but how the "times and events" molded the lives of people. Fiction allows one to play with the facts; in a good author's hands ..."

I tend to agree with Chrissie :)
I want to learn history but I don;t want the dry facts (which in themselves are usually no facts, but just the opinions, although people tend to accept the textbooks like an exact science).

I want to sink onto drama and actions, but I want to come out enriched with knowledge. Here historical fiction gratifies me on both accounts (well, a good historical fiction, of course ;-))
Like Chrissie said, I want to find out how historical events influenced people's lives, those regular normal people that were just like us (different customs, different technology and laws, but still same regular normal people with passions and needs and drives no different from ours).

A good contemporary or science fiction doesn't do it for me, because I come out full of enjoyment at the good story, but not changed otherwise.
A good historical fiction allows me to learn without noticing it.


message 7: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Zoe, we agree! We both enjoy learning and want to empathize with the characters. :0)

P.S.I don't like cinematic melodramas.

I also like memoirs, be they fictional or not, they can achieve the same thing.


message 8: by Robin (new)

Robin (ukamerican) | 593 comments Mostly, to get swept away in another time period. If I'm reading about a historical figure, it's to explore the possible depths of that person's character in a way non-fiction can't.


message 9: by Zoe (last edited Jan 23, 2013 01:52AM) (new)

Zoe Saadia (ZoeSaadia) | 377 comments Chrissie wrote: "... P.S.I don't like cinematic melodramas..."


YES!!! (lol, was that a passionate yes? :D)

Cinema ruined so many great historical books and themes. Aside from "I, Claudius" I don't remember any good historical movie/series I happened to watch.
(well, "Rome" season 1 was ok, but not as deep as it could have been. They were too busy creating scandals to add to the melodrama, as though the reported by history happenings were not colorful enough :-/)


message 10: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Zoe, you actually misunderstood me. Books can be written in a cinematic fashion. I don't like such books. What makes a book cinematic in tone? Now that is a difficult question that probably none of us can agree on.


message 11: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Chrissie wrote: "I like leaning history in an engaging manner. I don't want dry facts, but how the "times and events" molded the lives of people. Fiction allows one to play with the facts; in a good author's hands ..."

Chrissie, I'd say this is it for me, too. I love being reminded that human nature has essentially always been the same. I also strongly disagree when I read reviewers say things like "No one would have questioned slavery at that time" or "No woman would have been so bold" etc. There's some truth to those statements, but I personally believe all those human characteristics--disturbed by deep inequality; daring to be different than was expected of you--may be anomalies but have always existed. It's up to the historical novelist to make us believe it by showing how off the norm their perspective is, but that the character holds it anyway.

Gone with the Wind is the best example that comes to mind.


message 12: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Devon wrote: "I'm highly attracted to the fashion, glamour, different lifestyles, and human behavior of the past. I'm a particular fan of historical romance because of forbidden love: a prince falling for a serv..."

Thanks for the book ideas, Devon! As long as we're looking at historical classics rather than HF, I just reread Jane Eyre and loved it even more than the first couple of times around. The unequal power relationship is baldly drawn in a way that contemporary authors probably couldn't stomach, but it makes it much more real.

I thought Cary Fukunaga's 2011 film adaptation was perfect in every way.


message 13: by Hannah (last edited Jan 23, 2013 06:59AM) (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Chrissie wrote: "Zoe, you actually misunderstood me. Books can be written in a cinematic fashion. I don't like such books. What makes a book cinematic in tone? Now that is a difficult question that probably none of..."

Wow, what an interesting question. Is it that the author never lets us inside the heads of any of the characters? Is it that visual imagery trumps storytelling? I'm not sure I'd mind a cinematic novel if I knew what it was, but I'm not sure.


message 14: by NayNay (new)

NayNay I adore historical fiction, authors like Alison Weir, Jean Plaidy, Kate Emerson, D.L. Bogdon, Susan Higginbotham, C. W. Gortner, Bernard Cornwell and many more. I enjoy all different time periods, but my love for history started with the Tudor Era.

I like the escapism, when an author can take me to another time and place. Getting into the minds of historical figures, and to share their experiences. I think by reading historical fiction, we are remembering these people were human, they are not just a name in a book.

Now as I sit here and write this, I am thinking the real reason I enjoy historical fiction so much is because of the 'MAYBES', the 'DID THAT REALLY HAPPEN'!
Did Henry VIII really father both of Mary Boleyns children? Was Edward IV really a bastard, fathered by a Archer and not fathered by Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York? Was Lady Margaret Beaufort (mother to Henry VII) really involved in the killings of The Princes in the Tower?

Historical Fiction can be tricky, do authors's rewrite history to suit current tastes. I often wonder? No matter I still love HF, I love the vivid details, the ability to see what has happen in the passed, to bring these people back to life....I love all of it!!


message 15: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Hannah wrote: "Chrissie wrote: "Zoe, you actually misunderstood me. Books can be written in a cinematic fashion. I don't like such books. What makes a book cinematic in tone? Now that is a difficult question that..."

Cinematic books are definitely more plot oriented than character studies. Something to do with that maybe.


message 16: by Peter (new)

Peter Healy (thetigerfights) | 1 comments I like when events of the time drive the storyline and characters partake in the experience. A good blend of fact and fiction can inform and entertain, making for a great read.


message 17: by Zoe (new)

Zoe Saadia (ZoeSaadia) | 377 comments If I ask "what cinematic books are?" will I disclose too much ignorance? ;-)


message 18: by Bryn (new)

Bryn Hammond (BrynHammond) | 478 comments I like a fiction that takes me elsewhere, and I'm as happy with science fiction as historical. I think I need the content of new cultures and how people interact with them. Might be why I happily read your realistic novel from the 19thC but almost cannot, do not, from centuries I've lived in. Imagination and ideas are my watchwords, and both sf and hf give me those. Humans in different environments? Or aliens. I think I like to see how different creatures can be -- or how differently they can live -- to keep our minds wide. If you never look to the past, or the future, you don't know the possibilities of life, human life or intelligent life. You think 'this is the only way to exist' and that's bad bad bad.

Meant to keep this shorter but I remembered my true answer to the question.


message 19: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Zoe, well that is my same question! Though I think Chrissie answered it.

Devon, thanks, I will.


message 20: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Christophe and Bryn, your books both sound interesting. Writing about a historical time immerses you in it even more deeply and fully than reading, no doubt.

Bryn, do you combine HF and SF? I've never read any such works, e.g. I think steampunk is that type of combination (?) but it sounds interesting.


message 21: by Zoe (last edited Jan 23, 2013 01:05PM) (new)

Zoe Saadia (ZoeSaadia) | 377 comments Hannah wrote: "Zoe, well that is my same question! Though I think Chrissie answered it..."




Well, yes, but still ;-)
"Cinematic books are definitely more plot oriented than character studies. "

Is it something to do with the classic "show, don't tell"? :-)


message 22: by Bryn (last edited Jan 23, 2013 01:16PM) (new)

Bryn Hammond (BrynHammond) | 478 comments Hi Hannah. No, I write my historical fiction straight. I used to write science fiction, though, and in my young days assumed I'd be a sf writer. :} So I feel they go together.

Steampunk is a thing I've yet to explore, but that I think might attract me.


message 23: by Liz! (new)

Liz! (Bazil is Awosome!)  (elizabethknowles) | 3 comments Historical fiction is a way of putting my two favourite things together; my love of history and reading. Historical fiction is great and I love reading it nearly as much as fantasy.


message 24: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Zoe, maybe someone can chime in with an example. Honestly, I imagine a cinematic novel as evoking lush imagery, sweeping vistas, and a large cast of characters, which doesn't sound so bad to me.

However, I do read to feel like I'm inside someone else's skin, and that's something a film can never do.


message 25: by C.P. (last edited Jan 23, 2013 07:21PM) (new)

C.P. Lesley (cplesley) | 788 comments I have always loved history—period. First, I read historical fiction. Then I became a historian. In the last few years, I have shifted to writing historical fiction, because I think it offers a way to portray history that anyone can access. As a writer, too, history offers me a kind of freedom: no cell phones, no Internet, no DNA tests, no police! The very stuff of fiction is all around.

I still read HF, though. It's the best.


message 26: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Regarding cinematic ... I've heard people complain that
Water for Elephants is cinematic. It's still on my To-Read list. Anyone have any thoughts?


message 27: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Hannah wrote: "Regarding cinematic ... I've heard people complain that
Water for Elephants is cinematic. It's still on my To-Read list. Anyone have any thoughts?"


it is good! perhaps not realistic but i very much liked the message and the bits about how life really is in a care center. for me it was not cinematic. i loved also learning about circus life during the depression. do read it, i think.


message 28: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Thanks, Chrissie, I will read it. Loved, loved, loved the movie. If Robert Pattinson's acting couldn't ruin it, you know it's good.

Dutch, isn't it amazing the power of fiction to reveal a completely different culture? It can be very humbling to realize how advanced other cultures were at such early times. The 11th century Japanese work The Tale of Genji (penned by a woman and often considered the first novel) and the 10th century Persian epic Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings were revelations for me. These cultures were so refined, artistic, literary, and intellectual at a time when my own ancestors were just emerging from the Dark Ages.


message 29: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Eisenmeier (carpelibrumbooks) | 239 comments I like learning about history in an engaging manner; dry textbooks just don't do it for me. Also, it's the chance to learn about different lifestyles and styles, as certain people in this thread *cough* Dutch *cough* have heard.


message 30: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Potocar (lisapotocar) | 44 comments I love reading historical fiction for the way it transports me back in time so that I can experience exotic places, cultures, major happenings. Since there has been no time-travel machine invented yet, as far as I know, I have to satisfy my crave to know the past through a really good book.

Lisa


message 31: by Caddy (new)

Caddy Rowland (CaddyRowland) | 85 comments For the drama and passion...and for the angst characters go through because of class struggle and/or social mores.


message 32: by Hannah (last edited Jan 25, 2013 10:05PM) (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Caddy wrote: "For the drama and passion...and for the angst characters go through because of class struggle and/or social mores."

So true ... the additional social and economic restraints on historical peoples seem to create the perfect parameters for drama. Somewhere I read an author saying you just can't write a great love story set in contemporary times because there aren't enough obstacles to love. I think that's easily disproved, but it's an interesting point all the same.


message 33: by Yangsze (last edited Jan 25, 2013 10:45PM) (new)

Yangsze Choo | 50 comments Birdsong sounds really interesting -- thanks for the suggestion!

I love historical fiction for many of the same reasons that others have commented on. To enter a dream, to explore a different era, and live in the skin of others who faced completely social constraints. I also enjoy historical fiction for this peculiar sense of nostalgia that I feel for an era (e.g. Edwardian) that was never mine to begin with.

As much as I love fiction, I'd also like to suggest a non-fiction historical book that I think very worth reading -- "City of Djinns" by William Dalrymple. It is beautifully written about the Indian city of Delhi and its colourful past, complete with exquisite palaces and crazed rulers. And for a historical fiction book to go with it, M.M. Kaye's classic "The Far Pavilions".


message 34: by Annette (new)

Annette I have my degree in History because the past fascinates me. Its like putting together a puzzle and the end result is me. Good historical fiction puts me in the time and place in the past which helps me understand the present.


message 35: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Annette, what you say is so perfect!


message 36: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Devon wrote: "Hannah wrote: Thanks for the book ideas, Devon! As long as we're looking at historical classics rather than HF, I just reread Jane Eyre and loved it even more than the first couple of times around...."

Happy reading!! I actually have a 1913 copy of the novel from my grandmother (it's too delicate to actually read of course)--hey, I guess it just became an antique this year!

My grandmother was an interior designer who dealt in antiques on the side as a way to supply her clients.


message 37: by Hannah (last edited Jan 26, 2013 09:07AM) (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments Annette wrote: "I have my degree in History because the past fascinates me. Its like putting together a puzzle and the end result is me. Good historical fiction puts me in the time and place in the past which help..."

Annette, that's an interesting way to put it. I do love when HF manages to subtly shed light on our present times, either by the contrast of similarities with past times.

Outside of fiction, I enjoy hearing how people descended from ancient cultures experience history differently than I do as an American. My Persian husband, for example, holds certain views based on things that happened in his country 2,500 years ago.


message 38: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Hannah wrote: " I do love when HF manages to subtly shed light on our present times, either by the contrast of similarities with past times."

In my view, to understand the present you must understand the past. I have lived in different countries, each with their own traditions and cultures. To understand why the cultures are different you need to know the countries history.


message 39: by Zoe (last edited Jan 26, 2013 11:12AM) (new)

Zoe Saadia (ZoeSaadia) | 377 comments Again I could not agree more! (sorry for over-agreeing with Chrissie in this thread, lol)

Yes, we cannot understand the present without understanding the past, and for each country and continent it's so glaringly different. And if we are coming to judge someone else's culture through our own perception we are making mistake.

Moreover, after living in three absolutely different countries (living, not visiting) I came to discover how the same historical event (like WW2, for example) can be viewed so differently you can hardly recognize the event at all. And I'm not talking about any sort of propaganda. It's just that every country was involved in this same event differently, and so they tend to stress their own involvement/plight while briefing over the rest.

It made me realize all the stronger that history is anything but the exact science, even when it's fairly recent and very well documented.

(I'm afraid I steered off the subject)


message 40: by Liza (new)

Liza | 123 comments I love historical fiction that I can learn from. I really prefer when its based on actual historical events, with people that really lived. I enjoy getting a glimpse into the life and times, and learning a little about history too! Although I also like fictional characters set in a historical context, I feel like I get more out of the story the more its based in truth.


message 41: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Potocar (lisapotocar) | 44 comments Annette wrote: "I have my degree in History because the past fascinates me. Its like putting together a puzzle and the end result is me. Good historical fiction puts me in the time and place in the past which help..."

Actually, Annette, your comment "Good historical fiction puts me in the time and place in the past which helps me understand the present" is precisely the point I build in my "Author's Note" to young adults: to understand the present and glean some predictability to the future, we have to know the past.


message 42: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Potocar (lisapotocar) | 44 comments Liza wrote: "I love historical fiction that I can learn from. I really prefer when its based on actual historical events, with people that really lived. I enjoy getting a glimpse into the life and times, and l..."

I too love a good historical story that weaves extant people and events of the period around fictional characters.


message 43: by Liza (new)

Liza Perrat (httpwwwgoodreadscomLizaPerrat) | 389 comments Chrissie wrote: "I like leaning history in an engaging manner. I don't want dry facts, but how the "times and events" molded the lives of people. Fiction allows one to play with the facts; in a good author's hands ..."

I couldn't have put it better, Chrissie... exactly why I love to read historical fiction too!


message 44: by C.P. (new)

C.P. Lesley (cplesley) | 788 comments Yes, me too. And it works in the other direction, too. If you have an exotic specialty like mine, fiction is often a much better way to communicate with people outside a narrow field (assuming it's historically accurate fiction) than nonfiction. I think most people prefer to spend their free time reading a novel about some area new to them than an academic study. I know I do!


message 45: by Chrissie (new)

Chrissie Thanks, Liza.


message 46: by [deleted user] (new)

Zoe wrote: "Chrissie wrote: "I like leaning history in an engaging manner. I don't want dry facts, but how the "times and events" molded the lives of people. Fiction allows one to play with the facts; in a goo..."

I completely agree. Historical fiction fills the senses the way dry facts can't.


message 47: by Hannah (new)

Hannah Durocher | 52 comments I'm curious about how HF fits within the larger book industry. Does the popularity of HF wax and wane like other trends, or is it enduring? Are we currently experiencing an upswing in popularity of HF, and if so, does that mean we may see a downswing in the future (woe is us!) And finally, if we are seeing an upswing, why do you all think that is--economic downturn, global upheaval, etc.?


message 48: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Potocar (lisapotocar) | 44 comments Hannah wrote: "I'm curious about how HF fits within the larger book industry. Does the popularity of HF wax and wane like other trends, or is it enduring? Are we currently experiencing an upswing in popularity of..."

I think that the historical fiction that goes viral is enduring. But I believe it is more of a trending thing, obviously driven by readers. I was recently told by an author friend who writes historical fiction and is market savvy that agents and editors are not accepting a whole lot of this genre right now because it's unpopular.


message 49: by Maggie (last edited Jan 30, 2013 02:47PM) (new)

Maggie Anton | 260 comments History for the most part, and certainly up until recently, has been written by men about men. Historical fiction, however, is often written with female protagonists. So for modern readers to get a woman's perspective on times past, historical fiction is our only option. Many of today's HF authors, and I include myself among these, do a tremendous amount of research to make their novels as accurate as possible. Thus HF can be a truer picture of the past then history books, particular where women are concerned.
Maggie Anton


message 50: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Potocar (lisapotocar) | 44 comments Maggie wrote: "History for the most part, and certainly up until recently, has been written by men about men. Historical fiction, however, is often written with female protagonists. So for modern readers to get a..."

A very profound point, Maggie! Actually, doesn't Anne in Jane Austen's Persuasion make this same point to her lover's (Captain Wentworth) buddy (name is escaping me right now) in the Royal Navy--that men are writing all of the poetry and literature about love, which doesn't consider a woman's perspective?


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Books mentioned in this topic

Gone with the Wind (other topics)
Jane Eyre (other topics)
Water for Elephants (other topics)
The Tale of Genji (other topics)
Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings (other topics)
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Authors mentioned in this topic

Maggie Anton (other topics)
George MacDonald Fraser (other topics)
Steve Schach (other topics)
Taylor Caldwell (other topics)
Louis L'Amour (other topics)
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