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Historical Fiction

Page history last edited by Tamara Simons 8 years, 8 months ago


     Historical fiction is one of the oldest forms of story-telling. This form makes it easy on the writer because it gives them a plot already when they determine what part of history they wish to write about. Historical fiction re-states historical events and/or people while also changing them slightly. In order for it to be historical fiction it has to have at least one part historically accurate. It could be the event, like the Civil War, or a person like Sir Walter Raleigh. All characters do not have to be historical figures. Most of the time there are some fictional characters. The majority of historical fiction novels are about historical events effecting fictional characters. [1]

     Historical fiction started in 1814. The first historical novel was Waverly. It was in the 1900's that historical fiction experienced its best and worst times. It was its best time because there were so many historical fiction books being made in those years and the worst time because many of those books were poorly written. [2]


Famous works include:

  • I, Claudius by Robert Grave
  • Waverly by Sir Walter Scott
  • Forty Days of Musa Dagh by Franz Werfel
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Gladiators by Arthur Koestler


     Historical fiction is often called an “umbrella genre” because it can contain qualities from several other genres. Sometimes it can be really confusing to tell what is historical fiction and what’s not, but there is one thing all historical fiction novels have in common and that is that they all take place in historical settings. (The Vietnam War is considered the dividing line between historical and contemporary eras.) [3] In these novels setting is everything. Details should never be determined by the needs of a character or plot but by the setting.[4]


     Unsurprisingly the “umbrella genre” has many sub-genres. Westerns, alternate history, time-slip novels, and multiple time novels are just a few. Be careful though - some people may not consider certain sub genres to be historical fiction (ex. time slip and alternate history). [5]  The most popular type of historical fiction is the war novel. Even when it’s not being used as the main theme it makes for a popular backdrop. [3]


Examples Of Historical Novels:

-       Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

-       The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

-       Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

-       What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

-       Atonement by Ian McEwan 


Historical Fiction writerscow cartoon


Anderson, M.T. The Pox Party. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the

     Nation. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 2006.


     Octavian is an African-American boy indentured to a scientific community in Boston at the time just before the Revolutionary War. He is the subject for many of the scientists' experiments, the main one being to determine if African-Americans have the same potential to learn as do those of European descent. This story puts an odd twist to the history of injustices done during the time of slavery. Although Octavian and his mother, a former African princess accustomed to abundant luxuries, live comfortably as subjects of the experiment, they are not free. Octavian realizes that even with all the sophistication and knowledge he has acquired, he is still regarded as little more than a guinea pig, or rat, or nothing.


Recommended by Mrs. Simons


Zusak, M. The Book Thief.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.


     The book thief is Liesel Meminger, a young girl who is placed with foster parents after her mother is taken away for being a Communist. The place is Nazi Germany.  She steals her first book at the burial of her 6 year old brother. It’s The Grave Digger’s Handbook. Not great reading, but she begins  to learn to read with that book. The next book she steals from the fire at a Nazi book burning.  Many others she steals from the town mayor’s wife. These books breathe life into her existence. Reading takes her away from all the pain and trauma in her life. She reads to the Jew her family hides in their basement. She reads to the families in the neighborhood bomb shelter. She reads with her foster father into the late hours of the night. She is surrounded by tragedy and words somehow bring comfort. And although The Book Thief is a sad story, the words weave a story full of hope.


Recommended by Mrs. Simons

Morrison,Toni. Beloved: A Novel. New York:Knopf, 1998.


     Sethe, an escaped slave who now lives in post-Civil War Ohio, has borne the unthinkable and works hard at "beating back the past." She struggles to keep Beloved, an intruder, from gaining possession of her present while throwing off the legacy of her past.


Recommended by Ronelle Howell

1. Encyclopedia Britannica: Macropedia. 2010. ed.

2. Johnson, Sarah. "A Brief History of Historical Fiction." Libraries Unlimited, Dec. 2005. 30 Apr. 2010.


3. Donelson, Kenneth L., and Alleen Pace. Nilsen. Literature for Today's Young Adults. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon, 2005. Print.

4.Hicks, Alun, and Dave Martin. "Teaching English and History Through Historical Fiction." NCWiseOwl. EBSCO, 13 Jan. 2004. Web. 12 Dec. 2011.

5. "Historical Novel Society: Definitions of Historical Fiction." The Historical Novel Society: The Place for New Historical Fiction. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.


Comments (2)

Sarah Askew said

at 10:12 am on Dec 2, 2009

I would like to read Beloved it sounds interesting and many people i know have read it and said it was a good book. The historical view gives you a different view of that time period and I would like to read more about it.

Jenna White said

at 3:14 pm on Nov 29, 2011

The Book Thief is amazing! If you have any love for history or just books period definitely check this one out.

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