A History of historical fiction

Over the last month Dr Matt Phillpott has published on the IHR Digital blog a series of posts describing the results of his investigation into the history of historical fiction.  The idea was to provide a brief overview of the subject.

These have now been collated into a short online article which is now available as a pdf file.

A history of historical fiction PDF Copy

For access to each section as blog posts click the links below.

1. A Brief History of Historical Fiction Introduction

2. Theories of historical fiction

3. Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley – the first historical novel? Part One

4. Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley – the first historical novel? Part Two

5. Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley – the first historical novel? Part Three

6. Early French historical novelists

7. The first phase of Historical Novels: Don Carlos, Montpensier and The Princess of Cleves

8. The Nineteenth Century Historical Novel – An educative genre

9. The Nineteenth Century Historical Novel – Nationalism and Desire

10. Historical Fiction in the twentieth Century

11. The gendering of historical fiction Part One

12. The gendering of historical fiction Part Two

13. Postmodernism and historical fiction Part One

14. Postmodernism and historical fiction Part Two

15. Novel Approaches



Day 4 Best bits

Today our lectures tackled the difficult question of whether the success of historical fiction benefits or threatens academic history.  Jackie Eales, Cora Kaplan, Paul Lay, and Stella Tillyard all tackled this question in their own unique ways.  Throughout the conference it has been stated and questioned as to whether historical authenticity and accuracy matters – does it really make a good historical novel.  Tillyard argues that what makes a good novel is the novelist not its authenticity.  This is a point definitely worthy of more discussion. 

Paul Lay answers the question by looking at the role of empathy and myth.  Cora Kaplan brings up a suggestion of a politics of the novel and Jackie Eales looks at how historians use and control their sources – worryingly perhaps for the historian she concludes that historians treatment of source material does not necessarily differ that much from a novelist. 

In addition we’ve received book reviews starting from the Romans with Robert Harris’ Pompeii, through to the reformation in the sixteenth century with a book about John Bale.  Tracey S. Rosenberg also treats us to a behind the scenes look at how she wrote her book The Girl in the Bunker (thus bringing our historical coverage up to the twentieth century).   

Don’t forget our competition.  So far entries are rather light so the prizes are all to play for.  Remember you could win £25 in Amazon vouchers or a year’s subscription to the Historical Research journal. 

Today we also announced our intention to run a workshop about using historical research for writing novels.  There are plenty of creative writing courses available but we feel we can offer something different – skills training that will enable you to carry out the research which this conference has highlighted time and time again can make or break an historical novel.  Please let us know if you are interested by commenting on that item.

Tomorrow we end the active phase of this conference (at least from our end) with audio from the roundtable of speakers, various book reviews and articles and the announcement of our competition winners.

So stay tuned and please do keep on commenting and discussing!

A Prelude to Novel Approaches

As some of you may already be aware the IHR are already building up to our Novel Approaches virtual conference on our IHR Digital Blog with a series of blog posts investigating the history of historical fiction and its relationship to academic history.

I’m the author of those posts (Matt Phillpott Project Officer for History SPOT) and I won’t claim to be an expert in this particular field.  However, I nevertheless thought it would be interesting and fun to investigate the literature on the subject with a view to understanding its ebbs and flows from a beginners point of view.

If you haven’t already done so please do join me for this ‘prelude’.

Posts so Far:

A Novel Approaches prelude: A Brief History of Historical Fiction

A Novel Approaches Prelude (2): Theories of historical fiction

A Novel Approaches prelude (3): Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley – The first historical novel? Part One

A Novel Approaches prelude (4): Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley – The first historical novel? Part Two

The next post will be published at 3pm on Friday 11 November with subsequent posts published on the following Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Posts will then continue daily throughout the week of the virtual conference ending with their collation on Friday 25 November on the virtual conference site.