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What is historical fiction vs fiction based in the past?

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[email protected]
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What is historical fiction vs fiction based in the past?

Post by [email protected] » Wed September 19th, 2012, 6:02 pm

Hi, all.

I'm new to this forum. I enjoy historical fiction (especially Paul Scott's Raj Quartet). I also enjoy general fiction based in particular time periods and places (e.g. The Forsythe Saga).

Upon discovering this forum, I wondered, is there something distinctive in novels that qualify it to be classified as "Historical Fiction" rather than regular fiction based in a historical period (as many novels are)?

Apologies if this is a naive question from a newbie.

best,
Pasky Pascual

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed September 19th, 2012, 7:47 pm

Hi Pasky, and welcome. There is indeed a whole thread on this topic, and when one of the moderators drops in, I'm sure they will dig it up and put in a link.

Generally any fiction based in the past is considered historical fiction. Some like to differentiate between whether it was 'historical' in the WRITER's time, for instance, they would not call Dicken's Great Expectations historical fiction, because is was set in his own time, but Dicken's Tale of Two Cities, set some sixty-odd years before, would be.

For my two cents, they are both fiction set in what is now history, and would probably appeal to the same readers, so I'd call them historical fiction. Both might also fall under the label 'classics'.

I prefer the stricter definition of Historical, which is any time for which there are no living witnesses. Others make the cutoff WWI, or WWII, or even the sixties. Which makes me something of a fossil, as I remember the latter era quite well and would not consider it anything more thatn 'recent history'.

But as a reader, you get to define it any way you like.

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Post by Margaret » Thu September 20th, 2012, 5:16 am

One of the most basic things, I think, is that a historical novel is actually set in the historical past. Some novels might be based in some way on historical events or a historical time period, but are set entirely in the present day. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code might be a good example. A lot of the story has to do with the historical artist Leonardo Da Vinci and his paintings, and also about Jesus and his time, but there are no scenes actually set during the time of Da Vinci or Jesus. It all takes place in the present day.
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Post by Madeleine » Thu September 20th, 2012, 8:37 am

I wouldn't classify a sixties setting as historical fiction either; you could further confuse things by calling novels set in during the sixties, for example, or fifties, as a period drama!
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Post by marklord » Thu September 27th, 2012, 2:44 pm

I think you could define anything that is set in the past as history. For instance if you watch a film or read a book about the Vietnam war I would call that historical - its very much of its time and place. Or even something set at the end of the cold war - just watching a documentary or a film set during the 80s I think you get the feeling that life was different then, and that things are no longer the same.

You might want to define things a bit more - post-war history, recent history, cold war history perhaps?

I guess the point is that what happens in history changes people's perceptions on the current, so if some important event hasn't happened yet in the book or film then people are living in the past - think about how the events of 9/11 has changed the current world we live in for instance.
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