10 Thoughts on the Purpose of Historical Fiction

A second reading of Jerome de Groot’s The Historical Novel offers insights on the purposes of historical fiction beyond entertainment.

Quotation Marks“History itself [and therefore historical fiction] possesses interest for us more as the unfolding of certain moral and mental developments than as the mere enumeration of facts.”

Historical fiction offers an “analysis of recognizable human character within a specific set of circumstances,” such that we can “re-experience the social and human motives which led men [and women] to think, feel and act as they did in historical reality.”

Historical fiction develops an “awareness that the events of history have an impact on the contemporary.”

Historical fiction gives “the reader insight into the mind of a member of a past society” and therefore induces empathy and a “live connection between then and now.”

The historical novel allows us “to contemplate social change.” We see change in hindsight, “which then allows the individual to reflect upon their contemporary circumstance.” Similarly, historical fiction can trace the “path of religious and political change.”

The historical novel educates readers about the past. It might even be used “by teachers to supplement their classes.” This “educational element of historical fiction means that the reader approaches wishing to learn more about something unknown.”

“One of the major elements of the historical novel has been as an expression of national character and self-definition.” It allows us to explore the ways “nations, and therefore national identity, are constructed.”

Historical fiction “offered women readers the imaginative space to create different, more inclusive versions of history.” Historical fiction can “report from places made marginal [by history] and present a dissident or dissenting account of the past.”

Historical fiction allows us to “understand the extremes of human behaviour.” The novel can explore “various ways of facing, understanding and living with the horrific events in the past.”

Historical fiction helps us retain the past.

Noble purposes indeed. Something to think about the next time you enjoy historical fiction.

NOTE: some of these quotes were themselves quoted by de Groot while others are de Groot’s words.

FOR MORE INSIGHTS ON HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.




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The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

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10 Responses

  1. Historical fiction books are some of my favorite books to read. I like the quote that says “awareness that the events of history have an impact on the contemporary”. That is a big reason why I love historical fiction. They teach you about the history and also tell a story that is exciting, which makes you want to learn about that history even more.

  2. Thank you so much. Most of us have a tendency to take all things for granted. I see my “past” whose very existence was hardly known to be of significance except that to of my parents as it has become so vital at least to my “presence” that is destined to have no “future” in this World. And I must learn to live for it!

  3. I was intrigued by the ideas on a historical novels. I never thought that which i was writing could be termed a historical novel until the editor of a publishing company did – i was just writing events as i remembered them some fifty years ago. thank you, it will help me ‘fine tune’ my writing.

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