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is there a "cutoff" point for historical fiction?

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donroc
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Post by donroc » Sat November 22nd, 2008, 11:08 pm

Without looking it up and relying on memory, I believe Peron took control of Argentina in the early 1940s and Evita died in the 1950s.
Last edited by donroc on Mon December 8th, 2008, 9:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.

http://www.donaldmichaelplatt.com
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXZthhY6 ... annel_page

Helen_Davis

Post by Helen_Davis » Sun November 23rd, 2008, 2:06 am

[quote=""donroc""]Without looking it up and relying on memory, I believe Peron took control of Argentine in the early 1940s and Evita died in the 1950s.[/quote]

you're right.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Mon November 24th, 2008, 9:18 pm

For www.HistoricalNovels.info my rule of thumb is whether the author lived through the time s/he writes about. So Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities is historical fiction, David Copperfield is not. My absolute cut-off point is the World War II period and its immediate aftermath (with a few exceptions, as in the Asia page, in order to include the early part of the Cultural Revolution period in China). I notice, however, that a few genuine historical novels (by my definition) are beginning to be written about the Vietnam War, by people who were not yet born when Saigon fell and the U.S. troops came home. In the WWII and WWI sections, I do list quite a few classic novels that don't fit my definition of historical. I also list Jane Austen's novels on the 19th Century Europe page, even though they are not historical, because a whole subgenre of historical novels has arisen that are sequels of one sort or another to Austen's novels, and it just felt to me like Jane Austen's novels belonged with that list.

I do feel there's a sometimes-subtle difference between novels written about times the author lived through and novels written by authors who had to research those times. It's like the difference between hiking up a mountain trail and viewing the mountain from a distance. Neither experience, by itself, gives a person the full truth about what the mountain is. Just so, people writing about their own times have a much more detailed knowledge of their time, but may take many things for granted that they don't mention in their work, and may also have prejudices that distort their understanding of their own times. Historical novelists have the disadvantage of having to learn everything through research rather than through their personal experience, and will almost inevitably allow a few anachronisms to slip through, but they also have the great advantage of being able to see the time period they are writing about in context with a larger flow of history, and free of the prejudices of the people who lived in that time (though still, alas, subject to the prejudices of their own times).
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Leo62
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When does 'historical' become 'contemporary?'

Post by Leo62 » Mon December 8th, 2008, 4:45 pm

In the book trade, anything set up to the end of WW2 seems to be classed as an historical novel. After that, it's just contemporary fiction.

But there's a lot of stuff around at the moment set in the '50's, '60's, even '70's that feels "period" to me. I mean, we're talking 40 or 50 years ago, a very different world, even if it is within living memory.

Something like "The Poisonwood Bible" feels like an historical novel to me (set in early '60's) but it's classed as contemporary fiction. And a writer like James Ellroy, who's considered very contemporary, always writes about the '40's and '50's (and a bit of '60's). As we get further into the 21st century, I wonder if the boundaries of what's considered historical will begin to shift?

The reason this is exercising me is that I've just started a novel set in 1970, and it feels every bit a period piece as my previous novel set in 1917. Yes, I can remember 1970 but I'm still researching the attitudes, fashions issues etc. of the time. It definitely feels like a different era - a long way away from 2008. As part of my research I watched the DVD of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. The hippie goings-on seemed very dated and naive - often hilariously so. It really brought home to me how distant that time is in terms of beliefs and attitudes.

Personally I get the sense that anything up to the end of the 70's is, well, history. :D
Last edited by Leo62 on Mon December 8th, 2008, 4:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Rowan
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Post by Rowan » Mon December 8th, 2008, 4:53 pm

We've been discussing this here and probably on older threads as well.

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Leo62
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Post by Leo62 » Mon December 8th, 2008, 4:57 pm

Oops sorry for duplicate thread :( - thanks for the link :)

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Mon December 8th, 2008, 8:28 pm

The boundary between history and the "present day" is always a moving target and hard to define. For me, a good rule of thumb for the dividing line between a novel considered historical and one considered contemporary is: could the author write a memoir set in the same time period? If so, it's essentially a contemporary novel even if the author had to do a lot of research and the time period had a quite different feel from this year's reality. After all, technically, by the time any novel is published, it's about a past time period - any novel published in 2008 was written in 2007 at the latest - before the current economic melt-down, for example. And most authors have to do some research - for example, to pin down details about how a lawyer or policeman works, about a hospital setting, botanical details, whatever.
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Post by Madeleine » Mon December 8th, 2008, 8:34 pm

When I was at school we asked our history teacher what the cut-off point for teaching history was, and she said "if you can remember it don't teach it", basically meaning I suppose that anything you can remember and have therefore lived through is too recent to be considered as history, I think it might also mean that if you have lived through a major event (even indirectly) then it might mean that you may not be able to have an unbiased view of the event in question. Not sure if it would apply to HF; personally I would say that WW2 would be a natural cut-off point for HF, even though of course there are still plenty of people about from that time.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Mon December 8th, 2008, 9:02 pm

Yes, I think absolutely there is a bias that enters into one's view of any time period one lived through - whether as a teacher or as an author. It's one of the things, in my view, that creates a sometimes-subtle but always real distinction between historical fiction and contemporary fiction. It doesn't mean one is more valuable than the other, but it does make them different. Look at Dickens' writing about Victorian London, for example. Very, very biased in favor of orphaned children and against the institutions and individuals who mistreated them, a bias that is precisely what made his writing powerful in his own time and still moving in ours. An author writing about Victorian London today would be in a better position to present, say, the director of an orphanage and show the societal and personal pressures that caused him to mistreat the children under his care, making him a sympathetic figure without excusing his behavior. Dickens would not have been able to do that.
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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donroc
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Post by donroc » Mon December 8th, 2008, 9:17 pm

WWII is History for nearly all of you and was a six-year current event for me as a child of seven to thirteen.

So, if I were to write a WWII novel about fighter aces, would it be HF or contemporary? I come down on the side of HF.
Image

Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.

http://www.donaldmichaelplatt.com
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXZthhY6 ... annel_page

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