Friday, April 8, 2011

The Magic of History

Each time we open a book, the written word offers us an escape into a previously undiscovered reality--a mystery may plunge us into a world of deceit and intrigue, all the while testing our intuition, and vigilance; a good science fiction story might test the limits of our imaginations by creating a whole new world around us with a reality which calls into question even our most fundamental assumptions, while a historical fiction is another breed entirely.

What is it about historical fiction which so captivates our imaginations? The romance of a bygone era, the scrupulous social axioms by which both love and war were meant to abide, or perhaps the inherent contradiction therein?

Perhaps the allure of the past is our propensity to single out the great figures of lost times--when one has the expanse of history from which to draw inspiration for a great character, and a great story, the potential for excellence is only as limited as the history of the human race.

Of course, it can't be called easy to call up the specters of the past, all the while giving them modern relevance and depth. As Oscar Wilde said, "any fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it."

Here are some geniuses you might enjoy:

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Emma Orczy

The Constant Princess, Philippa Gregory

The Paris Wife, Paula McLain


Roberta said...

My favorite sort of historical fiction is when the story is set in major events (Wars of the Roses! Pompeii!), but the characters are "minor" - foot soldiers or clerks or slaves. then I feel like I've been in history from a unique point of view.

Fiona Dinwiddie said...

Great post! I like books about real historical figures like Loving Frank and the Phillipa Gregory and Margaret George novels. It makes the past more accessible to me.

Anonymous said...

Nice post! I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but I enjoyed The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron, inspired by the life of the slave who led a revolt.

Gwen said...

I'm pretty much a nonfiction reader, but I do enjoy history, and your well-written piece has inspired me to check out some historical fiction.

Joel said...

Being an inveterate history reader, I exalt in historical novels when the author has really done their homework (Caleb Carr is leaping immediately to mind).

In my constant search to read outside of my borders, Phillipa Gregory has frequently popped up as a seemingly worthy alternative. Thanks for the reminder and for the excellent post!

Cathy F. said...

Claire - you've just revealed a talent that I'm sure we will all benefit from. Welcome Aboard.

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