2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Historical Tapestry will be hosting the challenge again next year. The challenge runs from Historical Fiction 20141 January to 31 December 2014 and you can choose from the following levels:

20th century reader €“ 2 books
Victorian reader €“ 5 books
Renaissance Reader €“ 10 books
Medieval €“ 15 books
Ancient History €“ 25 books
Prehistoric €“ 50+ books

I’ve been thinking about the definition of ‘historical fiction’. It’s not as straight forward as it seems – a historical novel is obviously one set in the past. But have far back in the past? Does it have to have been written by someone who did not live through the events described?

I’ve been a bit unsure sometimes whether a book is actually historical fiction, for example yesterday, 5 years ago, 10, 20 years ago are all in the past, but are books set so recently ‘historical fiction’? I don’t think so. So to make it clear for myself I have decided that next year I will be using the Historical Novel Society’s definition:

To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).

We also consider the following styles of novel to be historical fiction for our purposes: alternate histories (e.g. Robert Harris’ Fatherland), pseudo-histories (eg. Umberto Eco’sIsland of the Day Before), time-slip novels (e.g. Barbara Erskine’s Lady of Hay), historical fantasies (eg. Bernard Cornwell’s King Arthur trilogy) and multiple-time novels (e.g. Michael Cunningham’s The Hours).

I will be aiming for Ancient History (25 books) again but will see how close I can get to the Prehistoric level!

4 thoughts on “2014 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge”

  1. This was a question a lot of us debated when we took the Coursera Historical Fiction module last term. In the end I think you simply have to use your judgement as to whether or not the writer saw their book as one that was meant to illuminate the past in some way or have the theme illuminated by the fact that it is in the past.


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