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Old February 5th, 2013, 07:14 AM   #1
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Do you have any bugbears over historical fiction?


I do enjoy reading historical fiction. However, I do have one major issue with much of it. That is the tendency to place modern thinking men in the minds of historical characters. Has anyone read C.J. Sansom? His books are very enjoyable. They are more murder mystery types rather than historical accounts of famous people. Yet famous people do get introduced. It's Sansom's(and others) tendency to place the intellectual mind of their main participants as enlightened figures that infuriates me. The hero of Sansom's novels is a lawyer named Matthew Shardlake. Shardlake has very few prejudices of his time; he's almost an enlightenment figure transported back to Tudor times. Are there any historical novels which do not suffer from this annoying habit? If so, can you name them.

What do you find annoying about historical fiction?
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Old February 5th, 2013, 07:19 AM   #2

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Quote:
Originally Posted by jackydee View Post
I do enjoy reading historical fiction. However, I do have one major issue with much of it. That is the tendency to place modern thinking men in the minds of historical characters. Has anyone read C.J. Sansom? His books are very enjoyable. They are more murder mystery types rather than historical accounts of famous people. Yet famous people do get introduced. It's Sansom's(and others) tendency to place the intellectual mind of their main participants as enlightened figures that infuriates me. The hero of Sansom's novels is a lawyer named Matthew Shardlake. Shardlake has very few prejudices of his time; he's almost an enlightenment figure transported back to Tudor times. Are there any historical novels which do not suffer from this annoying habit? If so, can you name them.

What do you find annoying about historical fiction?

No problem with historical fiction as long as it doesnt try to rewrite history.
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Old February 5th, 2013, 07:24 AM   #3

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"The Gates of the Alamo" by Stephen Harrigan
It is a Historical novel about the siege at the Alamo.
While I can appreciate any topic that brings up Texas
History, all the made up dialog just scratches my teeth.
Overall it isn't a bad book, but I fear, as you wrote, that
the author puts too much of himself and his modern thinking
in carving out the characters. Some people will believe what is
said/written, really happened.
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Old February 5th, 2013, 07:24 AM   #4

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No real issues...it is after all fiction, fiction is the key word.

Poorly written fiction with wooden characters and inane dialogue is always detestable, regardless of the genre. Issues then rise over its quality rather than its subject matter.

For those who might take historical fiction for historical truth, well that is another issue.
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Old February 5th, 2013, 08:57 AM   #5

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Quote:
Originally Posted by jackydee View Post
I do enjoy reading historical fiction. However, I do have one major issue with much of it. That is the tendency to place modern thinking men in the minds of historical characters. Has anyone read C.J. Sansom? His books are very enjoyable. They are more murder mystery types rather than historical accounts of famous people. Yet famous people do get introduced. It's Sansom's(and others) tendency to place the intellectual mind of their main participants as enlightened figures that infuriates me. The hero of Sansom's novels is a lawyer named Matthew Shardlake. Shardlake has very few prejudices of his time; he's almost an enlightenment figure transported back to Tudor times. Are there any historical novels which do not suffer from this annoying habit? If so, can you name them.

What do you find annoying about historical fiction?
You are upset about modern attitudes / ideas / views transported back into time. I understand your feelings. That is not Historical fiction , it is a mishmash because TIME is involved. But this difficulty will arise only if the novel is really set way back in time--say a few hundred years ago.
Why would fairly recent setting should cause any such problems ? Take for example i ) The Winds of War ii) War and Remembrance iii ) Mila 18 iv ) The Caine Mutiny v ) Exodus vi ) Battle Cry viii ) QB VII ix ) All Quiet on the Western Front x ) The Dirty Dozen xi ) For whom the Bell Tolls xii ) From Here to Eternity xiii ) A Farewell to Arms xiv ) Dr. Zhivago xv ) One day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich xvi ) Brown on Resolution.
Difficulties could crop up in appreciating i ) War and Peace ii ) Some of the Hornblower novels ( I although I am a diehard fan of C.S.Forester ), where some of the views of the Hero appear very modern.
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Old February 5th, 2013, 10:52 AM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by DreamWeaver View Post
No real issues...it is after all fiction, fiction is the key word.
It is fiction and I do try to allow some creative license but if there isn't a good deal of historical accuracy or realism, it's not historical fiction, just fiction. I like to read historical fiction to immerse myself in another time period, to imagine what it must have been like and if the novel is not accurately portraying that, it jolts me out of the story.

Quote:
Poorly written fiction with wooden characters and inane dialogue is always detestable, regardless of the genre. Issues then rise over its quality rather than its subject matter.
I agree, that's probably my main reason for abandoning a book. Honestly, I do think most historical novelists are pretty good with accuracy - it does take a LOT of research to write a historical novel and so most authors probably know more about what is accurate or inaccurate than I do.

However, I once stopped reading a book by a pretty big name historical fiction author after I read the main character (Juana of Castile) use the very modern AND grammatically incorrect phrase "I could care less". It would have been bad enough in a non-historical novel... but it was two fold in this one!

I can't say what CJ Samson is like - but I do think when it comes to certain issues, it can be difficult to portray a historically accurate character who is also likable. Readers will have difficulty relating to a protagonist who, for example, supports slavery even if it was the norm at the time and place. Furthermore, I do think most readers don't necessarily want to read about someone who was the norm for their era, they want to read about someone extraordinary regardless of the time period.
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Old February 5th, 2013, 10:56 AM   #7

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As long as it doesn't purport to be factual, I have no general problems with it.

I do have a problem when Hollywood does something like stick a white dude in the middle of a story like the 47 Ronin, as if audiences can't enjoy a story without one.

Mind you, I did enjoy the British Roman army enormously.
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Old February 5th, 2013, 11:06 AM   #8

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I don't really have any issues about historical fiction except with one book. I know very much about the Divine Feminine and "The DaVinci Code" book bothered me very much. I had a very hard time reading it. There were so many falsehoods in it, it was a horrible read for me. The movie wasnt so bad.
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Old February 5th, 2013, 11:53 AM   #9

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I like to write historical fiction set in my two favorite eras of history - ancient Rome and the American Civil War.

From reading letters, I think I have a fairly good idea how Civil War soldiers talked, so I try to make the dialogue as believable and 19th Century as possible. When it comes to the Romans, however, I have to use my imagination, and I'm sure my characters sound more like 21st Century Americans than anything.
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Old February 5th, 2013, 11:56 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by History Chick View Post
It is fiction and I do try to allow some creative license but if there isn't a good deal of historical accuracy or realism, it's not historical fiction, just fiction. I like to read historical fiction to immerse myself in another time period, to imagine what it must have been like and if the novel is not accurately portraying that, it jolts me out of the story.



I agree, that's probably my main reason for abandoning a book. Honestly, I do think most historical novelists are pretty good with accuracy - it does take a LOT of research to write a historical novel and so most authors probably know more about what is accurate or inaccurate than I do.

However, I once stopped reading a book by a pretty big name historical fiction author after I read the main character (Juana of Castile) use the very modern AND grammatically incorrect phrase "I could care less". It would have been bad enough in a non-historical novel... but it was two fold in this one!

I can't say what CJ Samson is like - but I do think when it comes to certain issues, it can be difficult to portray a historically accurate character who is also likable. Readers will have difficulty relating to a protagonist who, for example, supports slavery even if it was the norm at the time and place. Furthermore, I do think most readers don't necessarily want to read about someone who was the norm for their era, they want to read about someone extraordinary regardless of the time period.
You make some good points. In the case of Sansom it was religion(amongst other things) that bothered me. The hero Shardlake has a far too an atheist leaning view for my comfort. This was 1530's England. While no doubt atheists existed it seemed incongruous for the period. Plus, any religious fanatics were pretty much automatically portrayed as bad or corrupt. Shardlake's knowledge of psychology also seemed far in advance of his time. I suppose im just after a main character who is limited intellectually by the period in question. As I said, too often these characters appear to be modern man transported back.
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