‘Strange companies’: The Northman in popular historical fiction
This essay analyses how Bernard Cornwell and Giles Kristian, two authors of popular novels about Vikings, navigate historical research and dominant stereotypes about Vikings. The ubiquitous figure of the hyper-masculine and barbaric Viking may be at odds with the expectations that historical fiction will reflect a realistic portrait of past times. Cornwell and Kristian strike a balance between dynamic drama and embodied historical detail to arrive at a figure who reads as authentically of the Viking Age and persuasively of the desiring imagination of the present.
JHF 2:1, 2019, 1—17Download article as pdf.
Bleedthrough: The Two-Way Traffic between Popular Historiography and Fiction
While historical fiction is dependent on historiography, it can exert a powerful hold on authors of non-fiction and their depictions of the past, especially at popular level. Case-studies of characters from the Crusades (Conrad of Montferrat) and the French Revolution (Maximilien Robespierre and his close friends and family) demonstrate how fiction can perpetuate superseded historical interpretations, instead of engaging with current research. They also show how often popular non-fiction relies on images and stereotypes that originate in fictional works. Lines are further blurred by novelists appearing as experts on historical documentaries. While commercial factors play a part, so too does emotional investment, often rooted in childhood reading, as shown in an example drawing on the representation of prehistoric animals.
JHF 2:1, 2019, 18—44Download article as pdf.
Fantastical History: Dreams in The Roman Mysteries
When it comes to dreams and prophecies, where is the dividing line between realist historical fiction and historical fantasy? This paper explores Caroline Lawrence's use of prophetic dreams in her historical detective series for children, The Roman Mysteries, and asks how and why the author is able to weave a fantastical element of this nature into a realist series. This allows us to consider wider questions concerning what sets fantasy apart as a genre and how historical fiction in particular can embrace certain types of genre slippage without losing its essentially realist identity.
JHF 2:1, 2019, 45—64Download article as pdf.
Historical Fiction: Towards A Definition
This paper explores the origins and theoretical response to the historical novel. It touches on the nineteenth century split between academic history and historical fiction, which promoted an artificial opposition between history and fiction, and discusses the lack of scholarly definitions of the genre. Issues surrounding the classifications that are available are examined, before a new definition is proposed.
JHF 2:1, 2019, 65—80Download article as pdf.