Saturday, September 24, 2016

Why Read Historical Fiction?

Why do we like to read historical fiction?

By Michelle Ule

Experts say if you want to learn about political history, read history books.

If you want to learn about social history and what life was like at a given time and place, read historical fiction.

While I happen to like reading history books, I find most of the fiction I gravitate toward is historical.

I suspect the same may be true of many of you.

By definition

Fiction take us out of current living for entertainment.

Historical fiction takes us back to a different time and place and, if read with an eye toward themes, can give us insight into our present.

Or not.

Regardless of your reasons, by reading historical fiction you gain knowledge.

My mother, for example, based all she knew about the Regency era in England on the novels she read.

She may not have been able to articulate Prime Minister William Pitt's political ideals, but she knew what the women wore, how they liked to spend time and what their concerns were.

Her knowledge, of course, was for members of the Jane Austen era and her character's peers and up into the aristocracy.

"But what about the poor people, the ones Dickens wrote about, Mom?" I asked.

She shook her head. "Their lives were very hard."

So she did know, though perhaps not in the nitty-gritty sense Charles Dickens described.

The history of historical fiction

It's been around a long time. William Shakespeare, for example, relied upon past histories to write his own plays--plays like Henry V and even Hamlet.

Many fine works are the result of altering an historical tale and adding fictional characters to explore themes and other ideas using basic facts.

I've used it myself in nearly all my historical novellas, particularly the two written out of family history events: The Dogtrot Christmas and An Inconvenient Gamble. 

The past true stories enabled me to embroider with descriptions and character studies to tell a deeper tale than what a straight recounting of events provided.

There really isn't anything new under the sun.

Our takeaway.

It's fiction therefore it isn't real, so what is our takeaway as a reader?

Universal truth is true, no matter the time or place.

Historical fiction, using its deep imagery and description can slip insights into our minds without cluttering them with the sense, "I need to learn something from this."

For example, "there's nothing new under the sun," which is a Biblical principle described by King Solomon, is proved every time you read an historical novel.

The events in which the characters find themselves feels familiar, if you strip them past whatever their time period.

Putting them into a different setting enables us to look at the human emotions and reactions without necessarily squirming until later.

So, when I read Scarlett O'Hara defiantly shaking her head and saying, "I'll think about that tomorrow," it can also be true of me.

But if I'm disapproving of Scarlett's behavior but recognize my own similar attitude, I can stop--and squirm.

(Use this argument only if you have people complaining about your reading habits).

Pure Entertainment?

If you read historical fiction for pure entertainment, good for you. 

There's nothing like a good book--no matter the genre!


Why read historical fiction? Click to Tweet

Scarlett O'Hara and Jane Austen as role models? Click to Tweet

Michelle Ule is the author of six published works. Her current project is a biography, Mrs. Oswald Chambers, which releases in October 2017. Read more about her at

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