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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thoughts in my Head: What is Historical Fiction?

What is historical fiction (HF)?  Is it defined as stories that take place in certain time period?  Does it have to be a X amount years old?  Is it strictly story telling or can it be mystery, romance, etc.?

I am sometimes perplexed by book designations, because some of the books I have read recently feel like HF books.  For example The Making of the Duchess.  Yes, it is considered a romance, but the writing included historical elements.  The romances of Georgette Heyer can be viewed in the same manner.  Both writers and others include such detailed descriptions of social conventions and activities, that they evoke the very time period they are writing about.  Some books scream HF, such as novels by  Elizabeth Chadwick's , Alison Weir, and Philippa Gregory to name a few.  But should any novel considered to be HF, be judged against the likes of these?

Time period is another aspect which can be confusing.  Sure, something written about the 1970's doesn't seem that historical but what about WWII or the Roaring 20's?  Would you consider novels set in these era as HF?  I would.  Novels set in medieval times or during the Renaissance are absolutely HF, but I don't think HF should be defined by how old the setting of the story is. 

I think we are seeing a great degree of  genre blurring.  Many of the book genres we have grown up with have changed and expanded to include many sub-genres.  Sci-fi and fantasy have paranormal and paranormal romance, and then there is the whole question of what constitutes YA.  Lets not even go down that road. 

Books can no longer be defined by their genres.  Sure, in a bookstore they can be shelved into broad categories, like sci-fi, literature, teen, but anymore the genre lines are so blurred, that one book can be classified as many things.  At the end of the day, a book is a book but don't necessarily judge a book by the time period it is set in. 

What are your thoughts?  Can books have multiple classifications?  Is it just me or do you often wonder what exactly that you're is?


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Irene said...

As I once wrote in my Show me 5 Saturday post, I have such a hard time with this "genre" thing. That when I read for our library the poor librarian was just beside herself trying to figure out what how many genres I had created in the end we settle on "we only buy VG (very good) books, and there was a content such as "foul language" etc. that I had to consider, but beyond that she let me do what I wanted to with the genres, the kids didn't mind. I think I considerably shorten her life span.

Tales of Whimsy said...

Cool question :)

I think HF should be judged according to accuracy and the time it is meant to take place in.

I definitely think books can have multiple classifications. In fact I prefer books that blend genres.


Jinx said...

It seems it's getting more and more difficult to classify some books.
As we both discussed on my blog, it seems paranormal romance and erotica are blurring the lines here!
But I always think about the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Normally, in book stores you'll find it in the romance section but it's so much more, it's time travel and historical fiction as well.

How could you possibly shelf that book that would where it would make more sense?

Blodeuedd said...

Like the book I read today, I would not count 60s as HF, but then part of the book took place in the 1860s. I mostly just cross over the entire last century when it comes to HF. But yes it could be counted.

And then those mixed genres, have mercy. I go crazy writing in genres sometimes. It's sure hard

Ash said...

I think genres are generally really blurry. I love nonfiction and anyone who reads a lot of nonfiction knows you will find a book that is nonfiction in every section of a bookstore, including the fiction section.

Unknown said...

I personally consider historical fiction anything that took place before I was born - haha, that is quite a lot because I am only 22! When I read stuff set in the 60's and such, I don't consider it contemporary, because it's not for me. But that is just my loose classification.

The Bookworm said...

Interesting post.
I think its hard to classify books. At the bookstore I go to, there is a huge section of books called 'literature'. Aren't all books literature? lol. And thats the section I always head for first. Thats where all the good stuff is like Anne Rice, Phillippa Gregory and Nick Hornsby to name a few.

Staci said...

I certainly think many books can be classified in several genres. I like how nothing is what it appears to be and don't mind reading HF/with some magical realism added in or other aspects. But I do draw the line when it comes to blending Science Fiction with HF....I hate Sci-fi!!

Marg said...

I classify anything set before about 50 years ago as historical fiction, but with a disclaimer that books like Jane Austen's which were contemporary when they were written are not historical fiction.

So many books these days cross genres, and that's the way I like it!

mitchell james kaplan said...

I couldn't agree more. A good book is a good book. Some books may be "generic" but not every book set in the past is formulaic. Is Memoirs of a Geisha really the same kind of book as The Three Musketeers? The concept of Historical Fiction as a genre is a way of denying the uniqueness of every written work.

Anonymous said...

I think most books can classified in more than one category. I think it's mainly about marketing. It's really the publisher that decides the best way to sell it to the masses. We are all just pawns in their scheming ;)

Anonymous said...
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Jenny Girl said...

Irene: You are such a sweetie for helping the librarian. I know I would have went crazy.

JuJu: Genre blending is an excellent idea.

Jinx: I couldn't believe that was how Outlander got shelved either. I would never consider that a "romance" book. I need to widen my definitions too.

Linda: Last century is a good idea.

Ash: I am meh when it comes to nonfiction. I need a good suggestion.

Heather: Makes sense. If it's earlier than you = historical

Marg: I would call Austen classical and would never consider her HF either. Maybe because she is one of those authors you have to read in school? My perception again :)

Naida: Oh Anne Rice! Forgot about her. Fiction? evne though it's vampires?

Staci: Hate sci-fi? Really? Gotta find you one you will like.

Mitchell: Now I consider Dumas to be a classic author. Never read the Three Musketeers but adored the Count of Monte Cristo.
And yes every book is certainly unique. I think that is my main problem with defining things. I judge things on their individual merits or traits.

Stacybuckeye: Yes, we are subjected to the schemes of marketing. I know of quite a few books I have not read based on marketing.

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