Sometimes people compare modern genre historical fiction unfavourably with 'proper' historical fiction -
So, for example, the Brontës are good because they were writing about circumstances they knew in 19th Century rural England. 'All Quiet on the Western Front' The novel set in the thick of WWI by Erich Maria Remarque is good since he had first-
I don't think so. At least not always. And here's why:
To begin with, and leaving aside the many excellent contemporary authors of our own era, here are a few examples of great novels from writers of the past who happened to write about times earlier than their own and of which they had no direct experience. See if you think these are inferior in any sense:
War and Peace -
Published in 1869 but set around 70 years earlier at the time of the Napoleonic wars.
A Tale of Two Cities -
Published 1859 but describing events before and during the French Revolution of 1789.
Though published in 1928, the action in this great biographical tour de force takes place across the centuries, from the 16th to the 20th.
Narcissus and Goldmund -
A wonderful novel published in 1930. Hesse describes events that took place in medieval Europe (14th Century) -
Written many decades or centuries after the events they describe, these are stories that continue to inspire and entertain us. They have remained in print and enjoyed still today because they combine sound research with brilliant writing skills. There might even be an argument for suggesting that historical fiction written retrospectively has advantages over that which is simply written at the time -
For instance ...
Dickens, Hesse, Tolstoy and Woolf -
And although he was a playwright rather than a novelist, dear old Shakespeare should not be forgotten in this context. Hardly anything he wrote was of his own times. Yet the universality of his work means that he can exist happily in any culture, in any translation at any time, and probably always will.
So don't be put off if your favourite writer of historical fiction seems a bit removed in time from the reality of what they are writing about. They might well be seated in a comfy chair, with a cup of tea to hand -
Modern Historical Fiction-
Robert Stephen Parry 2014