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charles dickens
best of time
writing a novel
fiction book
foolishness
free time
stresses
perceptions
What Is Historical Fiction?
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What is Historical Fiction?

When we think about the past, we say, “The good old days.” Was the past any better than today, or do our perceptions reflect notions of nostalgia that forget the stresses former generations faced? Sure each generation has built on the scientific and technical advances of previous generations, allowing more free time from the tedium of survival.

Have we replaced our free time with meaningful pursuits that have enhanced life or have we gotten caught up in things that fail to serve us, rather that have become our masters? Have we learned and grown from the past or have we ignored it and repeated the same mistakes generations later?

Until writing a novel of historical fiction book this author was not aware a controversy existed over the validity, relevance or demand for historical novels, and never wondered, “Why Historical Fiction?” Take this little quiz. In what literary work did these lines appear? “It was the best of time and it was the worst of times...”

That is correct. The words appeared in Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities. Historical fiction means the work was written based upon historical information. The work was also about an era or epoch other than the one in which the writer lived. Is the book popular? It is ranked as the most popular book ever written selling over 200 million copies. Historical fiction was and is relevant.

Why write or read historical fiction? The line from A Tale of Two Cities pretty well sums up the answer. Use actual events from the past to compare and contrast them to the present to teach us that our lives are not so bad. Another reason to enjoy the historical novel is to let us learn from our mistakes so we do not repeat them. Was that the intention of dickens? Read the rest of the opening paragraph from A Tale of Two Cities and decide:

" …it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going to Heaven, we were all going in the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

Obviously, Dickens understood creative license in writing a paragraph with fifteen comma splices. Dickens was a master in using creative license to emphasize his point. He demonstrated the practice to connect with the reader, not abuse the reader, grind an axe or gore a sacred cow. Dickens was a reformer and had strong opinions about education, both formal and informal, opportunities for life-long learning and judicial reform.

Dickens did not write treatises about educational reform. He focused on indirect as opposed to direct delivery. He allowed his characters to speak for him. James L. Hughes, Published Dickens As An Educator in 1900, He stated:

"The highest form of teaching is the informal, the indirect, the incidental. The fact that his educational principles are revealed chiefly by the evolution of the characters in his novels and stories, instead of by the direct philosophic statements of scientific pedagogy or psychology, gives Dickens a higher rank as an educator, not only because it gives him much wider influence, but because it makes his teaching more effective by arousing deep, strong felling to give permanency and propulsive force to his great thoughts. (Page 1)"

This author has often stated that you can learn more about psychology and human nature from reading Dickens than you can from studying psychology. Of all the critical attributes of Dickens style, the most acclaim has probably been offered regarding his characters. There have been compete books written about who is who in the world of Charles Dickens.

Mr. Grangrind in Hardtimes was a caricature of the belief that education could be reduced to a mathematical formula. Dickens critiqued the narrow and shallow thinking in 1850 that would later produce educational laws like No Child Left Behind and other educational accountability laws - that are more political than educational – that are more about privatizing public education for profit than providing educational opportunities for each child. We have not learned from Dickens.

Dickens also believed in making life-long learning and reading available to everybody, not only those who could afford expensive books. He serialized his novels and articles in Household Words (1850-59) and All Year Round (1859-70) and other “Penny Magazines” for the “diffusion of knowledge.

He was a harbinger of the current Internet practice of publishing massive amounts of free or very affordable articles. He advocated for the principles of progress and improvement, education, civil and religious liberty and equal legislation. He wove interesting information about science, history, literary topics and biographical sketches into his stories.

To write historical fiction, one should research the epoch or era being portrayed. Read old books, but do not attempt to write in the same style. The authors writing the books of the era probably used a more formal language than spoken dialogue. Look at Shakespeare for example. Get a feel for the overriding historical highlights, but refrain from making your work of fiction an historical treatise. Develop your characters and their dialogue. Attempt to keep it natural and interesting.

Finally, why historical fiction? Historical fiction should entertain and establish an emotional connection with the reader, with both the writer and the characters. It should teach us about the past so we do not repeat the same mistakes and help us to appreciate or find the good in our current circumstances. Historic fiction should help us understand and appreciate human nature. The historic novel should teach us about life without lecturing or preaching.


Street Talk

Cynthia, Thank you. Your comments and insights are great. It helps to know people actually read what is written. Jerry

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Awesome! You're right. Getting people to think is difficult and you did it well. Thinking doesn't seem to come naturally to me because I often feel too overwhelmed to go there. Entertaining and establishing an emotional connection with your reader is indeed a great way to witness and teach through your words. Each moment we live can be the best and the worst of times because we are indeed learning, growing and becoming more than we were the moment before. Learning about life is an ongoing journey. Books from the likes of Dickens shine light on our mistakes through characters and help us find good in right now the same way.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Thanks Cynthia. That is what it is all about - getting people to think. Glad you enjoyed it.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Historical fiction can take many forms. You're right about entertaining and establishing an emotional connection. Nice article - got me thinking, just the differences from my dad and me. Even the simplest things like I've got running water, toilets and toilet paper. He was so much closer to what I saw when I walked in the Roman Forum in Rome (before it was blocked from public total access).

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Thanks Pat. Social media is a challenge to me. I have to call one of the kids over to help. Will get it worked out. Sent a note to a cowboy friend in Texas to check your site. He will enjoy it, too. Best regards, Jerry

Reply
  about 7 years ago

Nicely written. I like your writing style. Was over to your website and I think you got it goin' on over there as well. One issue with your facebook share, though. It doesn't provide the link to your site in the share. I didn't share because I didn't know what the share would look like. Maybe something for you to check out.. I read the excerpt of your book and I just might have to get it once we have that kindle in our hands.

Reply
  about 7 years ago
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