In Defense Of Historical Fiction Essay

1372 words - 5 pages

The genre of historical fiction novels can be subdivided into many categories and often crosses genres, such as historical mysteries and romances. The traditional definition of the historical fiction genre is “fiction set in the past” where the author is writing from research rather than personal experience. This definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation, controversy, and contradiction. Critics in the media, even when they praise individual historical novels in their reviews, somehow manage to turn this praise into criticism of the genre as a whole. In 1950, author Howard Fast, a historical novelist himself, wrote: “This is an era of many historical novels, few of them good and very few indeed which have more than a nodding acquaintance with fact.” (Johnson, historicalnovelsociety.org) Fast criticizes historical fiction authors by saying most examples of the genre are based more on fiction and imagination rather than actual historical fact. At first glance, historical fiction novels might appear to be detrimentally numerous and disrespected for taking imaginative liberties presenting actual historical fact, but with a closer look it becomes apparent there are many examples of good historical fiction where the author centers the tales not on the historical setting but on the plot which educates the reader to better understand themes and life in the past, as well as, through the use of imagination gives plausible explanations of mysterious or unknown events.
While I agree it is true historical novels have the reputation of being costume period dramas, in which the author’s need to cram all the prodigious research into a single novel sometimes overwhelms the plot; I would like to point out history has produced many historical fiction novels that have engaged and challenged readers for years and continue to educate about themes of the past. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a classic example of a successful historical fiction novel depicting the life and adventures of youthful boys in the Mississippi River town of St. Petersburg, Missouri and various locations along the river through Arkansas. Readers of this novel are confronted with difficult themes such as slavery and revolution in the south before the Civil War. In chapter 6 of the novel we see Huck’s father, Pap, confronted with a finely dressed and educated free African American. As the man passes Pap states, “There, now – that's a specimen. They call that a govment that can't sell a free nigger till he's been in the State six months. Here's a govment that calls itself a govment, and lets on to be a govment, and thinks it is a govment, and yet's got to set stock-still for six whole months before it can take a hold of a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free nigger.” (Twain 151). This little speech by Pap shows that he’s a blatant racist who treats African-Americans as though they are not at all human beings. This novel is full of authentic points...

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