Friday, March 23, 2012

Guest Blog: Carter Jefferson - The Value of Historical Novels

I've spent most of my reading life with historical novels--all periods, everywhere. My earliest memories of childhood reading include novels about boys who travelled with Caesar and Vercingetorix.  I can't possibly name more than a  few of the best authors--Mary Renault on ancient Greece, Edith Pargeter on Wales, Morgan Llewellen on Ireland, Douglas C. Jones on the U.S. Civil War, Susan Vreeland on the Italian painter Artemesia. There are hundreds of them.

Then there is the mystery set in earlier times. Recently I've been reading Charles Todd's Bess series, dealing with a nurse in WWI, and Charles Finch's books on England around 1865. Both are outstanding.

I'm sure that historical novels shaped my life. I read them from childhood on, and ended up getting a Ph.D. in history from the U. of Chicago. Not only are such novels fascinating in themselves, they are a painless way of learning about the lives of people in other places in other eras. Want to know about Aaron Burr or Abraham Lincoln? Read Gore Vidal's novels about them.

Biographies are one thing—novels are something different. Needless to say, some of the novels are more accurate than others, but the best of them are based on solid research.

Right now I'm in the middle of Katherine Webb's The Legacy, which jumps back and forth between now and 1900. Gotta go now and see how it comes out!
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Carter Jefferson can be found hanging out here.


Bud Rudesill said...

I believe historical novels can give readers a feel for real life in the past. Non-fiction is mostly just the obvious facts. Fiction writers can insert what they understand about human nature plus details of the times from various more obscure sources to help us feel what life was like. Hollywood and Romance genre historical pieces have taken us away from reality. Good historical fiction shows us our roots.

Bud Rudesill, Author

Marie Sultana Robinson said...

I love historical novels. They paint the picture of a world and a culture that I see traces of in my own world. Another thing I love are historical programs. One of my favorites has been to follow a historical musician and listen to him speak and sing.

* * * * * * * * * * Mona * * Leeson Vanek said...

Enjoyable blog. Historical novels are my favorite reads, and have influenced my outlook on life a great deal. The first I remember that made a deep impression was The Scarlett Letter A, which a School Superintendent's wife removed shortly thereafter, from the 6,7,8th grade library of the 1-12 grade school I'd just enrolled in in Noxon, Montana.

I'm grateful I read it before her arrival in 1946 -- and her self-motivated censorship.

Mona Leeson Vanek

Les Denham said...

I've read hundreds of historical novels myself. Right now I've just started Volume 3 of George Macdonald's "St. George and St. Michael", which is set in the Civil War in Britain in the 17th century. Much of the action takes place in Raglan Castle, which I first assumed to be fictional. But a Google search showed me it is a real historical castle, and pictures of the ruins show it to have been very close in detail to Macdonald's descriptions.

I can't remember the first historical novel I read. It was possibly "Quo Vadis" by Henryk Sienkiewicz, which I remember reading when I was about ten.

Bob Sanchez said...

The first historical novel I came across was Johnny Tremaine. My seventh-grade teacher read it to class in installments, and I loved it. Recently I read Jeannette de Beauvoir's The Crown and the Kingdom.