Reading Historical Fiction: the Revenant and Remembered Past

Written by Kate Mitchell Nicola Parsons
Review by Claire Cowling

This scholarly collection of essays investigates historical fiction written from the 18th century to that produced in contemporary times. The book includes work from a number of important scholarly critics and tackles a variety of texts within it, together with a range of new, contemporary debates and approaches taken to an analysis of historical fiction. Most importantly, a focus is placed on the relevance of the readers and their capabilities in negotiating the links among the past, the present and future history.

The authors which are dealt with in this book are an interesting choice: there are writers who are often considered in relation to historical fiction, such as Daniel Defoe, Lord Byron, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Charles Dickens from a historical perspective, and John Fowles and A.S. Byatt from a more recent one. However, it also considers authors who are not always discussed in relation to historical fiction, such as William Morris and Ann Radcliffe, or Sophie Gee. This in itself brings a fresh insight into authors whose works can provide a new and interesting perspective to the study of historical fiction.

This is a book which is of use to those who have a vested interest in scholarly knowledge of the debates surrounding historical fiction, but the knowledge of how these works are viewed in the current climate could be of equal use to authors of historical novels. It may also be a general reader’s interesting, if not such an easily accessible (or affordable), way of discovering what is happening in the world of historical fiction.