All this talk about Historical Fiction and I realize that I recently finished reading the first part of John Dos Passos’ excellent U. S. A. trilogy, The 49th Parallel. It’s so good and compelling that I can’t believe I didn’t read it years ago. Of course, my true but oft repeated excuse is that I was trained to eschew American literature and have only tried to catch-up in my waning years. My work was always Keats, Joyce, Wycherley, and Milton; who knew there was great writing in America? … and Dos Passos is a great writer. Reading his fiction makes writers like Hemingway even more disappointing.
What is Historical Fiction? I suppose you might conclude that it is fiction which recreates events and personages taken from (or extrapolated from) history. So Historical Fiction specifically deals with recreating the past. But it’s Fiction so the author is free to modify the facts, rearrange the events, create more literary characters, etc. However, If we leave out those forms of speculative fiction that deal with future possibilities, is it unreasonable to see almost all fiction as being historical?
I often hear the argument about Historical Fiction only to realize that it is often confused with a particularly embarrassing form of writing is called Historical Romance: Bodice Rippers for the most part. So to start with a reasonable definition: Historical Romance is Genre Fiction whereas Historical Fiction is Literary Fiction. Got that? But what is the difference between Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction? We need an impartial Martian to come to earth and help us understand this differentiation … the literary commentators and critics are all over the place with their firm pronouncements.
(By the way: never trust what a commentator, critic, or pundit says … think for yourself!).