Historical fiction is an extremely difficult genre to write as on the one hand you need to do a lot of homework and on the other all the effort that you put in to understand a specific era can go to waste if you do not feel your characters and merely see them as representative of a specific time period. Alexander Chee writes about what he gleans from this genre and how he wrote his own historical fiction in the essay Children of the Century in The New Republic.
The historical fiction representative of all other historical fictions is War and Peace.Ivan Turgenev has been one of Tolstoy’s severest critics. He criticizes Tolstoy for depicting a Russia that did not exist and yet he was simultaneously Tolstoy’s greatest admirer. The question is what should be authentic about historical fiction? What can the writer get away with and how can he succeed?
“War and Peace holds a strange place in literary history, participating in the crowning of realism as a substantial and serious literary mode in America, even as the novel also contributed to the argument that historical fiction could be by nature dangerous, illegitimate, and inaccurate. This is the reason historical fiction is sometimes reviewed by historians, who may evaluate the novel for how much it has gotten right, instead of for its literary merit—as if the only thing for a historical novel to do is to authentically replicate the past.”
This genre has been selling on the higher side since the 1990s. Even writers like Hilary Mantel have initially faced rejections because of the literary taboo associated with novels steeped in history.
How does the writer of this essay write his historical novel-The Queen of the Night? He reads books around the period he wants to explore. That’s a good start. What he understood is just as author Henry James puts it:
You may multiply little facts that can be got from pictures and documents and prints, as much as you like—the real thing is almost impossible to do, and in its absence the whole effect is naught; I mean the invention, the representative old consciousness—the soul, the sense, the horizon, the vision of individuals in whose minds half the things that make ours, that make the modern world, were nonexistent.
Authenticity can only come from within the writer- facts apart, a historical novel like any other good novel is the story of the self being told. It starts within the writer, at the time of writing, no matter which time he or she is writing about.