Some recent essays about historical fiction
First is Francis Spufford's "It Feels More Honest to Write Fiction." This article for the Guardian, by the British author of the debut novel Golden Hill, explores his transition from nonfiction history to historical fiction and the shift in thought processes that this involved. As he discovered, it's a daring, unsettling task to move from using facts as a constant reference point to relying on one's own imagination and assumptions in order to tell stories.
Here's just a snippet: "What I notice now, is that I hardly seem to be writing in words, the way I used to. I mean, of course I am. A novel is a long, long string of words; is made of no other material at all. But that’s what it ends by being. It begins as a set of decisions about character, and time, and angle of vision, all taken before the final embodiment of those things in words... Good writing in fiction is always doing an impossibly large number of things at the same time, and most of that happens beneath the surface, where the reader never sees it directly."
For the popular History Girls blog (which is celebrating its 5th anniversary), Australian historian and writer Gillian Polack surveys the changes we've been seeing in history and fiction in an essay entitled Treasuring History Through Fiction. "Two decades ago," she writes, "there was a vast gulf between historians and fiction writers. This hasn’t always been the case. It wasn’t so much the case in the time of Walter Scott. And it’s not the case right now. It’s now socially far more acceptable to read certain types of fiction as part of enjoying history. The way history is written into many novels has changed: it’s more sophisticated, more aware and far more researched."
For those who pay attention to the genre, this is an important read that focuses on the state of historical fiction today, and how people think about history -- and what this means for both readers and writers. She bases her conclusions on research she's conducted, including interviews with historical novelists. I'm in the process of reading her new academic book on the subject (mentioned in the article).
And for Fiction Writers Review, Mary Volmer (whose new novel Reliance, Illinois I'll be reviewing shortly) has a piece called "The Tourist, the Expat, and the Native: A Traveler's Approach to Crafting Historical Fiction."
She writes: "Although historical novelists write from research, rather than personal experience, about places in time that we cannot physically explore, we employ a traveler’s hunger for discovery, her sense of wonder and displacement; we apply her reflective instinct. The work of the historical novelist is an ever-deepening process of immersion, from tourist to expat to native." And she details the changes that writers undergo as they become more fluent in the world their characters inhabit.
Don't just go by my summaries, though; it's best to read the pieces linked above in full. You may find yourself mentally underlining apt phrasings while taking in their insights. Or you may disagree, of course, but the issues raised are worth pondering.
The Journal of Southern History
The Journal of Southern History, which is edited at and sponsored by Rice University, is a quarterly devoted to the history of the American South and is unrestricted as to chronological period, methodology, or southern historical topic. The Journal publishes refereed articles and solicited book reviews and book notes on all aspects of southern history. As the organ of the Southern Historical Association, which is headquartered in the Department of History at the University of Georgia, the Journal also publishes items pertaining to the business of the Association as well as news and notices of interest to historians of and in the South. The purpose of the Southern Historical Association is to encourage the study of history in the South with an emphasis on the history of the South.
Coverage: 1935-2012 (Vol. 1, No. 1 - Vol. 78, No. 4)
The "moving wall" represents the time period between the last issue available in JSTOR and the most recently published issue of a journal. Moving walls are generally represented in years. In rare instances, a publisher has elected to have a "zero" moving wall, so their current issues are available in JSTOR shortly after publication.
Note: In calculating the moving wall, the current year is not counted.
For example, if the current year is 2008 and a journal has a 5 year moving wall, articles from the year 2002 are available.
- Terms Related to the Moving Wall
- Fixed walls: Journals with no new volumes being added to the archive.
- Absorbed: Journals that are combined with another title.
- Complete: Journals that are no longer published or that have been combined with another title.
Subjects: History, American Studies, History, Area Studies
Collections: Arts & Sciences I Collection, JSTOR Essential Collection