Thoughts on Reading Historical Fiction

A Writer of History has many posts on writing historical fiction, but what about reading historical fiction? In the past, I’ve interviewed book bloggers and readers and I’ve also conducted 5 reader surveys to understand readers’ views. Let’s have a look at what others say about reading historical fiction.

Over at Gramercy Books, author Linda Kass explains: “Reading history allows us to understand what happened. Reading historical fiction allows us to be moved by what happened.  Even after we know the facts, we continue to search for sense and meaning. That is at the essence of our humanity.

Lit Hub features 10 authors on the topic Historical Fiction is More Important Than Ever. I’ve selected a few thoughts:

  • Historical fiction reflects the mistakes and triumphs of those who have come before us
  • Sometimes, the best way to learn the mistakes of the past is to feel them
  • Historical fiction, which often borrows actual moments in time related to shifting economic and societal issues, has an uncanny way of resonating with relevance even a hundred, or hundreds, of years later. 
  • historical fiction novels are not only a better read, but might be more helpful in making sense of the current world. Historical novels don’t just tell us what happened; they make us feel.
  • In order to understand our own situation, we need to see our times in context, otherwise we assume that people always acted and thought as we do

In writing about the value of historical fiction for students, educator Carol Sliwka says: By reading historical fiction and examining a character’s actions, students can hear practical advice for their own lives, see how people handle different situations, explore diversity and tolerance issues, gain historical intelligence, and become aware of the basis for many of America’s [substitute any other country] values and beliefs.

Author Susan Vreeland who wrote Girl in Hyacinth Blue and other novels offered this perspective: Through fiction which sets us down in another time period, we are offered a window to other lives, other sensibilities, attitudes, values than our own. We escape somewhat from ourselves. Each time we enter imaginatively into the life of another, it’s a small step upwards in the elevation of the human race. When there is no imagination of others’ lives, there is no human connection. Where there is no human connection, there is no compassion. Without compassion, community, commitment, lovingkindness, human understanding, peace–all shrivel. Individuals become isolated, the isolated turn cruel, and the tragic hovers. Historical fiction is an antidote to that.

On Why Historical Fiction Matters, Steven Mintz writes: historical fiction can offer a more inclusive portrait of the past, recover and develop stories that have been lost or forgotten and foreground figures and dissenting and radical perspectives that were relegated to history’s sidelines.

You might also enjoy an earlier post I wrote on the purpose of historical fiction.

Would love to hear your thoughts!


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website

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Meet M.K.Tod

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

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3 Responses

  1. I love these quotes about reading historical fiction. They give me additional ammunition when confronted by a history snob who refuses to read historical fiction because he or she only wants to read “the truth.” Thanks for sharing.

    1. Interesting to be confronted by that sort of challenge, Janet. I wonder if those individuals appreciate how much research we do to write a novel? Many thanks for stopping by.

      1. I don’t think those people have a clue how much research goes into writing historical fiction. They are missing out on a lot of reading enjoyment.

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