Fiction or History?

I am a historical fiction afficionado. I love cracking open a novel about Tudor England, the time of the Plantagenets, the witch trials, France of the Revolution, Tzarist Russia… the list goes on. Something about the tales of those who changed the face of history- or even those who just graced the fringes of society for a time- fascinates me. I am transported to a time without modern conveniences, like plumbing or the Internet, and yet I manage to draw paralells between my life and those of the protagonists. Whether or not the characters actually thought the things that authors put on the page, there is something reassuring about the fact that we are preceeded by others who, like us, faced decisions in life and in love. Fortunately for those of us who live in the 2000s, we don’t face beheading if we love someone out of our “rank” or speak ill of politicians.

I am so enthralled by historical fiction that I sometimes forget that it is just that- fiction. Sometimes the characters in my favorite novels did exist, and sometimes they are loosely-drawn portraits of people who might have walked the streets of London, Paris or St. Petersburg. Even in the former case, there is often no way to tell the story of a life lived in a time long ago with complete accuracy. Authors have to take liberties- albeit based in fact and steeped in research. Often, these talented authors manage to weave a tale so convincingly that I feel like I know these people who faced tribulations that are foreign to modern society. I feel a sense of admiration for the women who had to endure marriages of convenience, corsets, and no dental hygiene. In their place, I don’t know how I would have fared!

When I go on a historical fiction bender, I can read nothing else. While my literary appreciation extends far beyond the genre, there is something about it that has captured my attention from a young age. And while some might label the novels “fluffy” or “girly”, I learn something every time I crack open a new novel. Often the very names inspire some research of my own, which is, I think, intended by the authors. Long after I’ve closed the oft-500 page books, the characters linger in the back of my mind. I credit historical fiction, and such authors as Phillippa Gregory and Anne Easter Smith in part for my zest for travelling- I long to visit the glorious palaces and marketplaces chronicled in the well-worn pages of my favorites.

Maybe the best thing about historical fiction is that I can never put it down- as I write this, the novel I’m currently reading (“A Rose for the Crown” by Anne Easter Smith) is calling to me from the shelf. And so I must away to find out what happens to the mistress of Richard the third, perhaps not so much a villain as he was written by Shakespeare.

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