Historical novel is a form of fictional narrative which reconstructs the history and re-creates it imaginatively. Both historical and fictional characters may appear. Though writing fiction, the good historical novelist researches his or her chosen period thoroughly and strives for verisimilitude.
In Britain, this genre appears to have developed from Mme de La Fayette’s Princesse de Clèves (1678) and then via the Gothic novel. Much Gothic fiction was set in the Middle Ages. Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent (1800), usually taken to be the first example of a regional novel in English, is the first fully-fledged historical novel. She followed this with Adelaide in 1806. Jane Porter published The Scottish Chiefs (1810) and The Pastor’s Fireside (1815). In 1814 Sir Walter Scott published Waverley, the first of his many novels. Scott is mainly famous for his historical novels. As a result of his massive contribution to the genre its popularity spread during the 19th c. Many well-known writers and many now little-known ones produced historical novels. For example, William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847-8), Charles Kingsley’s Hypatia (1853), Westward Ho! (1855), and Hereward the Wake (1866); Charles Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth (1861) and Griffith Gaunt (1866); Arthur Conan Doyle’s Micah Clarke (1889), The White Company (1891), The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896) and Rodney Stone (1896); Stanley Weyman’s A Gentleman of France (1893), The Red Cockade (1895), Under the Red Robe (1896), Count Hannibal (1901) and Chippinge (1906); Maurice Hewlett’s The Forest Lovers (1898) and The Queen’s Quair (1904). Charles Dickens, Bulwer Lytton, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy also wrote historical novels.
In the 20th c. this kind of fiction has not been so popular; nevertheless, there have been a number of distinguished practitioners. For example, Robert Graves wrote I, Claudius (1934), Georgette Heyer’s historical novels include Devil’s Cub (1934), Regency Buck (1935), Faro’s Daughter (1941); Naomi Mitchison’s The Corn King and the Spring Queen (1931) and The Blood of the Martyrs (1939); Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine (1956), The King Must Die (1958), The Bull from the Sea (1962) and Funeral Games (1981); T. H. White, who explored the possibilities of Arthurian legend in The Once and Future King (1958); William Golding’s The Inheritors (1955), The Spire (1964), and the trilogy Rites of Passage (1980), Close Quarters (1987) and Fire Down Below (1989); and J. G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur (1973) are famous examples of historical novels.
Other historical novelists of note have been Charlotte Yonge, Zoë Oldenburg, Carola Oman, Janet Lewis, Patrick O’Brian, Mary Stewart, and Alfred Duggan. Among European historical novelists Balzac, Stendhal, Thomas Mann, and Ivo Andrić have been preeminent.
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