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For discussions of historical fiction. Threads that do not relate to historical fiction should be started in the Chat forum or elsewhere on the forum, depending on the topic.
annis
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Post by annis » Sun June 12th, 2011, 1:34 am

Regarding Question 1- Is a novel written by a ninety-year-old about events of seventy years ago (ie in their lifetime but not of most readers) Historical Fiction?

i was assuming your narrator is fictional. If a real person, then the answer would be as Margaret says, no.

Kate139
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Post by Kate139 » Sun June 12th, 2011, 7:26 am

Noted! Will amend your response accordingly. Kate

SGM
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Post by SGM » Sun June 12th, 2011, 10:54 am

1. Is a novel written by a ninety-year-old about events of seventy years ago (ie in their lifetime but not of most readers) Historical Fiction? Yes

2. Is a novel written by a twenty-year-old about events only thirty years ago (and therefore researched) Historical Fiction? Yes - my o'level history was from 1869 to present day but then the government changed it because they thought it was too political but it still stands as history for me. Yesterday IS history. What has the age of the author got to do with it?

3. If a novel is fundamentally about action that could take place in any era (ie universal themes) and the setting adds just colour rather than being critical to the story still Historical Fiction in a strict sense? Probably not but it would depend.

4. Should there be a strict cut off date of say 100 years for something to qualify as Historical Fiction (as in the case of vintage becoming antique when 100 years old)? No - see answer 2 above

5. Does a novel become HIstorical Fiction over time, even if it was once contemporary (eg Charles Dickens)? No - if it stands the test of time, it becomes a classic
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Kate139
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Post by Kate139 » Sun June 12th, 2011, 11:31 am

Re. Question 2. Apols if I've caused confusion! All questions were theoretical/philosophical ... I'm trying to establish views on whether HF is defined by the WRITER'S relationship to the book (eg need for research into a past they don't know) or the READER'S relationship to events! Probably muddied the water more now!! Kate.

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Margaret
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Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
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Post by Margaret » Mon June 13th, 2011, 6:08 am

There is one (published by a major house) that comes close to this description, actually, though I can't remember the author or the title. It was set in the 1980's, as I recall, and the author was young enough (I think in her mid-twenties) that she had to consult old newspapers, etc. to get a feel for the times.
Was this a YA novel, maybe?

For YA novels, I would set the standards a bit differently, and put more weight on the reader's age. When teens read a novel about the Vietnam War period, for example, it really is history to them, even though it feels more contemporary to me (a time I lived through). And a writer who is aiming a novel specifically for teen readers is thinking of the time period as history, even if the writer lived through that time period. It's a quite different mind-set, I would imagine, from writing for a general audience about events one lived through.
I'm trying to establish views on whether HF is defined by the WRITER'S relationship to the book (eg need for research into a past they don't know) or the READER'S relationship to events!
Except for YA, I think it's the writer's relationship to the book that is definitive, because that's what determines its style and central focus, as well as some of the biases writers can't escape when their stories are set during their own lifetimes. Quite often, a historical novel will have a subtext that relates to the author's own time. After 9/11, for example, quite a few historical novels related to terrorist plots in past times and places, and in many of them, the author's concern about overreacting in various ways (for example, by resorting to torture of suspects) makes parallels with our own time. One of the things historical novels have in common with science fiction is that the setting can be used to make a statement about our own time that might be too inflammatory or didactic in a contemporary novel.

I do think historical novels reach for universal themes by showing the essential needs and desires people had in the past that we still have today even though much has changed dramatically. Contemporary novels can do something similar by portraying people with very different backgrounds from the typical reader - but they don't have to. Sometimes a contemporary novel just drills down into a particular type of experience to illuminate it as much as possible, not so much to show what people have in common despite their differences, but to try to understand experiences that many readers share and find painful and confusing, like the death of a loved one or the failure of a marriage.

Historical novels and contemporary novels are not really all that vastly different from each other, especially in the gray area of the more recent past. But I do think there's a subtle difference because of the author's level of closeness to the material.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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boswellbaxter
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Post by boswellbaxter » Mon June 13th, 2011, 12:48 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]Was this a YA novel, maybe?

For YA novels, I would set the standards a bit differently, and put more weight on the reader's age. When teens read a novel about the Vietnam War period, for example, it really is history to them, even though it feels more contemporary to me (a time I lived through). And a writer who is aiming a novel specifically for teen readers is thinking of the time period as history, even if the writer lived through that time period. It's a quite different mind-set, I would imagine, from writing for a general audience about events one lived through. [/quote]

I don't believe so; I think it was an adult literary novel.
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Kate139
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Post by Kate139 » Mon June 13th, 2011, 2:32 pm

Come on all you shy HF fans out there. If, say, another 6 of you could venture an opinion that would help me enormously. There are no right or wrong answers, just opinions, all equally valid!

Sharz
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Post by Sharz » Mon June 13th, 2011, 3:44 pm

1. Is a novel written by a ninety-year-old about events of seventy years ago (ie in their lifetime but not of most readers) Historical Fiction?

Yes, provided that history plays a significant role in the story. (More on that later.)

2. Is a novel written by a twenty-year-old about events only thirty years ago (and therefore researched) Historical Fiction?

No. Far too recent. 50 years seems to me the most recent it could be and still qualify. Personally, I lean toward a definition of “outside living memory”, which I would put at more like 75 years. I don’t mean literal “living memory” as in, so long as there’s one person alive who remembers it, it’s not yet history. I mean in the sense of there being people alive in our communities and within our reach, for whom this time is within their clear memory.

3. If a novel is fundamentally about action that could take place in any era (ie universal themes) and the setting adds just color rather than being critical to the story still Historical Fiction in a strict sense?

No. While universal themes are common to all fiction, I feel the historical period and its people or events must play a somewhat significant role in the story for it to qualify as historical fiction. The essence of historical fiction is to bring to life, to light, to explain or to theorize about, the people, events, and places of history. A novel that is overwhelmingly of another genre (action/adventure, romance, mystery, or fantasy, for example) is not historical fiction simply because its setting is historical. Playing “dress-up” does not make something historical fiction. There’s no bright line between genres, and there are a lot of good genre crossover books that can be accurately classified as historical fiction as well as some other genre. But IMO, historical fiction must contain a certain quotient of history.


4. Should there be a strict cut off date of say 100 years for something to qualify as Historical Fiction (as in the case of vintage becoming antique when 100 years old)?

I think so, although pinpointing the exact time is debatable. Personally, I’d bring it a little nearer than 100, as explained in 2 above.

5. Does a novel become HIstorical Fiction over time, even if it was once contemporary (eg Charles Dickens)? No.
Last edited by Sharz on Mon June 13th, 2011, 3:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Matt Phillips
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Post by Matt Phillips » Tue June 14th, 2011, 4:38 pm

1. Is a novel written by a ninety-year-old about events of seventy years ago (ie in their lifetime but not of most readers) Historical Fiction?

Yes.

2. Is a novel written by a twenty-year-old about events only thirty years ago (and therefore researched) Historical Fiction?

To me, 30 years is borderline. It has little to do with whether the author was old enough to experience the time for themselves. Even contemporary novels require at least some research unless they're entirely autobiographical.

3. If a novel is fundamentally about action that could take place in any era (ie universal themes) and the setting adds just colour rather than being critical to the story still Historical Fiction in a strict sense?

In general, yes, although with works set in more recent times, the line gets blurrier for me. As others said, all fiction should deal with universal themes. The further back you go, the harder it is to extricate a story from its time period (if well done) because of the fundamental differences in beliefs, attitudes, daily life, even if no major historical events affect the plot. But it's less clear for more recent settings. Take a thriller set in 1984. If it's a spy story related to U.S.-Soviet tensions at the time, or perhaps dealing with a terrorist threat to the 1984 Olympics, it's definitely a historical thriller in my book because the plot hinges on major historical events or conditions. But if it's a legal thriller dealing with a murder investigation or bank heist that just happens to take place in 1984, I would probably not consider that a historical.

Another example from film/TV: Take "Dazed and Confused" vs. "Mad Men." The '70s setting of "Dazed and Confused" provides nostalgic humor but the plot could've taken place more or less the same way today. With "Mad Men," the '60s setting is not just intended to provide nostalgia or a unique set of props and costumes, but is critical to the themes that drive the plot: more rampant (or at least overt) sexism and racism than today, the Cold War, the rise of a counterculture, etc. Also some historical events do affect the plot of "Mad Men" such as elections and deaths of major public figures. I would consider "Mad Men" historical but not "Dazed and Confused."


4. Should there be a strict cut off date of say 100 years for something to qualify as Historical Fiction (as in the case of vintage becoming antique when 100 years old)?

No, I think it's a matter of individual taste and sensibility. For me, 25 years is definitely too soon. 25-50 years is borderline, depending on how it's handled (see previous answer). More than 50 years would almost certainly be historical fiction, in my opinion.

5. Does a novel become HIstorical Fiction over time, even if it was once contemporary (eg Charles Dickens)?

No, although as BB mentioned, some of Dickens's works were historicals at the time he wrote them. If an author in 1810 wrote a novel set in 1810, it's not and never will be a historical. "Pride and Prejudice" is a wonderful classic but it should not appear in Amazon's HF category. Otherwise, we'd have to consider everything written before 1960 or so historical fiction.

Great questions - what is the article for?

Kate139
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Post by Kate139 » Wed June 15th, 2011, 7:46 am

Hello Matt.
To answer your question, it's just for an article I'm submitting on people's views on Historical Fiction. Can't be sure if it will see the light of day. What sparked it was that I very recently recommended a book to a friend on the basis it that it was the most beautiful, profound and witty book I could recall having read and I've read a lot of books of all genres in my time. (For what it's worth, it was a new release called "The Wordsmith's Tale" by an new writer called Stephen Edden, but I've already sung its praises elsewhere on this site) but this friend's response was "Sorry, I only read Literary Fiction, not Historical Fiction" as if the two are mutually exclusive! HF is like religion, it's loved AND despised in equal measure! We then got into a discussion about what HF technically is. Hence the article.
Anyway, glad you enjoyed the questions.

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