Historical Fiction

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Joyce Saricks discusses genre fiction (with an eye to aiding the relationship between librarian and reader), and makes some interesting points about appeal. She writes: “I define Historical Fiction as a novel set in the past, before the author’s lifetime or experience. Thus, novels about World War II might be considered Historical Fiction if the author were born after 1945, but Jane Austen’s comedies of manners are not Historical Fiction, as she writes about the times in which she lived. Through its serious respect for historical accuracy and detail, Historical Fiction enhances the reader’s knowledge of past events, lives, and customs. The goal of authors of Historical Fiction is to bring history to life in novel form.” (p.291)

“Story lines in Historical Fiction generally emphasize either a particular time or event or they follow the lives of characters in a time.” (p.294)

Characteristics of Historical Fiction

“1. There is a wealth of accurate historical detail relating to setting (geography, customs, beliefs, culture, society, habits) as well as to characters and events.

2. The mood of Historical novels runs the gamut from rollicking to somber, and this tone may be a major, if unacknowledged, factor in reading choices.

3. Story lines may focus on a particular historical event or time period, or they may follow the life of a character (real or fictional). Novels may raise difficult social or moral issues through the plot.

4. Characters may be real or fictional, but they are portrayed in such a way that they fit the times. Their lives and actions are shaped by the historical times and details, not vice versa.

5. Historical novels are usually big books, with stories that unfold at a leisurely pace. Even shorter Historical novels are usually so densely written that they must be read slowly.

6. Language and style may affect a reader’s experience. Some readers appreciate an ‘authentic’ style, while others find this distracting. Dialects and formats also affect reader reaction.” (p.292)

Ref: Joyce G. Saricks (2009) The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2nd edn.) American Library Association: Chicago

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