Historical fiction is a literary genre in which history is brought to life. The story must portray characters, events, settings, customs, culture, society, and beliefs accurately according to its historical context. Considerable research is taken in order to portray characters and settings realistically. However, good storytelling should not be sacrificed for perfect historical accuracy.
Facts should be skillfully woven into the story in order to evoke the past and keep the story entertaining.
Historical fiction contains the same elements required in regular fiction. However, it places more emphasis on the time period in which the story is set. Writers of historical fiction may choose to either center their story on past historical events or around a famous historical person. The main objective is to recreate the historical period of the novel so it is both accurate and entertaining to the readers. The genre is mainly read by those who want to experience and learn about history in a more creative way then they would experience by reading a text book. Historical fiction can also serve to provide insight to current events by using historical events to draw parallels to current society and events.
Historical fiction emerged in the 19th Century during the Romantic period. Sir Walter Scott is generally considered to be the first writer of the genre. In his novels Rob Roy (1818) and Ivanhoe (1820), Scott brings Scottish history during the Middle Ages alive. Victor Hugo is also credited with popularizing the genre with his novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831). Since then, historical fiction has merged with other genres to create several sub genres including novels set in the Middle Ages, American Western, Prehistoric period, Renaissance, Ancient Rome, and other historical periods. Some authors have experimented with the genre and created further sub genres including alternate histories, pseudo-histories, time slip novels, historical fantasies, and multiple time period novels. Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America (2005) is an example of alternate history in which Roth depicts a scenario in which Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin D. Roosevelt for the American presidency in 1940. Michael Cunningham’s novel, The Hours (1998), is an example of historical multiple-time fiction in which he writes a novel set within three different time periods involving the author Virginia Woolf.
Historical fiction has transcended into different medias including both film and television. Popular historical television series include Deadwood set within 19th Century American West and Rome set during the fall of the Roman Republic. Historical films based on historical individuals and events are also very popular. Charles Frazier’s novel, Cold Mountain (1998), which revolves around the Civil War, was recently adapted to film. Historical fiction is as popular as ever as people continue to be curious about the past.