In the Interwebs: Historical Novel Society

My apologies for the lack of posts lately. I thought I would have all sorts of free time after graduation; however, it seems that work (grading, setting up classes, student counseling, writing projects) fills in any “free time.” I am, though, thinking through what constitutes historical fiction (or the historical novel); I’ve been reading Leon Uris’ Trinity this past week and I tell you, I’ve finally found a historical novel that has lived up to the style of Kenneth Roberts. As such, my brain has been going 90-to-nothing lately about historical fiction in general and how this genre can be (and is, in my opinion), a great vehicle for teaching history (something that Kenneth Roberts believed). I plan on writing a post shortly to this end.

As I’ve been doing some we searches, I came across the website for the Historical Novel Society. This website is a great resource for current and past historical novels, articles and speeches given regarding the nature of historical novels, and much more. I’ve not had a chance to look through the site in fine detail, but what I’ve seen is solid work. A particularly helpful article is adapted from a speech by Sarah Johnson of Eastern Illinois University in 2002 titled Defining the Genre: What are the rules for historical fiction? In short, she discusses the bad rap historical novels receive among the press and the lack of a consensus over a definition of “historical fiction.” Johnson concludes:

You may notice that I haven’t completely answered the question of what makes a novel “historical.” I hope this is something that we as authors and readers can continue to speak about. There may never be an exact definition, but I don’t think it prevents us from appreciating the genre any less. And as for more on the elements of a successful historical novel, I’ll leave it to the author members of this panel to continue this discussion. Thank you.

Certainly I don’t seek to definitively answer the question myself, but I hope in the near future to explore the value of historical fiction as a legitimate means of teaching history. What better way to engage one’s mind in learning than by appealing to one’s senses and emotions through narration as opposed to the dry, stilted text books? More to come…

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