History is immensely valuable. A knowledge of the past can help us understand who we are today, and why we think the way we do. Historical fiction can add to this process. A good novel can speculate on how people felt about things: their values and priorities, their dreams and desires.
What did they really believe in - those swaggering Tudors or sombre Victorians? How did they organise themselves and uphold their laws? How did they reward their heroes? How did they punish their villains? What exactly did they get up to after dark, those outrageous fops and demireps of Georgian England? And what anxieties, what peculiar secrets might they have kept from view, those elegant, tightly laced citizens of the Belle Époque?
We might not always be able to answer these questions with perfect accuracy. But that’s not what counts. It is the asking that is important - the setting out of all the options, all the different ways people can be. It is a key that liberates the imagination from the narrow chambers of the ‘here and now.’ And every time we open a history book or read a good story we hold that key in our hands.