In a little over a week, I have to give a paper at the Popular Culture Association on the interplay of history and fiction. As I’ve been parsing the topic out (and managing to work myself into a muddle), I’ve posted on the topic today on both History Hoydens and Access Romance. On History Hoydens, I look at what fiction can do for history, while on Access Romance, I tackle what history adds to fiction. I’d be curious to hear any and all thoughts on the topic….
Historical fiction does two important things for me. Firstly, it gives me the first glimmer of information about a time period or a person which makes me interested in learning more about it. After reading any of Phillippa Gregory’s books, I always google the topic afterwards to see exactly how much of what she wrote actually happened. History taught in class is usually so dull, and putting the fictional twist on it makes me interested and really care about what happened. Secondly, I’m in a Stuart England class at the University of Oklahoma right now and a lot more of the information is sticking with me and holding my interest because I already know a little bit about it from this type of book. As for why I am drawn to them in the first place…I think it just interests me to know more about the specifics (even though I know they are ficitonal) of how big events happened. Plus men just seemed to be so much more heroic back then. 🙂
I was a history major in college, so I gravitate toward historical fiction. Fiction packed into a historical frame gives you a more of a focus on a specific time period; you get more than just a general glimpse of a bygone era – when you immerse yourself in a story set into history, rather than reading about it in a text book, the history comes alive. In the same sense, history added to fiction gives the story a greater depth and richness. If you take a general story idea (something ambiguous like a “spy” story), depending on the time period you pop it into you could end up with quite a variety of stories simply because mannerisms, customs, fashions, society, etc., of each historical period have their own unique effect/outcome on a piece of fiction.
There’s something about the chivalry and mannerisms that were so prevalent in prior centuries (at least in higher society) that is sadly lacking in contemporary times, and I think it’s a form of escapism for us modern ladies in a era of political correctness, equality, and feminism. I think that is key in why historical fiction is so popular; women “don’t know what they got till it’s gone” and it’s the classic greener pastures scenario. We want to read about the 19th century chivalrous hero because men just aren’t made like that anymore, unfortunately.