Historical Fiction anyone? Yes, but is it Art?

12th April 2011

The perennial debate on historical fiction and accuracy

Sometimes it seems one can hardly go on the internet without encountering some passionate debate or forum in which everyone agonizes endlessly over whether historical fiction should be factual, about whether novelists should strive for accuracy, or whether straying from the known facts at any moment is at all good for any of us.

At a time when, some might argue, the genre is in danger of becoming little more than a re-packaging of biographical information in the 1st person, here is one writer's humble view on the subject - the main thrust of which is that historical fiction (be it good bad or indifferent) is actually LITERATURE; that literature is art; and that artists ... well, they're a funny lot, aren't they! They just don't seem to know when to stick to the rules!

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, so here goes:
THIS IS HISTORY (Bombing of Guernica 1937)
ruined buildings after ariel attack
Guernica Ruin.
THIS IS ART (Guernica by Picasso)
Picasso Guernica
THIS IS HISTORY (quite interesting, really)
book cover - biblical history - blue in colour
Bible History.
THIS IS ART (Handel’s Messiah – ’nuff said?)
page of sheet music
Manuscript Messiah.
THIS IS HISTORY (French Revolution 1789)
drawing of French Revolution guillotine
French Revolution.
THIS IS ART (a spot of Dickens 1859)
Dicken's historical fiction book ATale of Two Cities book cover, red with text
A Tale of Two Cities.
So, get the idea? No footnotes, no apologies, no agonising and wringing of hands, no looking over shoulders in case some academic celebrity or the other might be wagging their fingers.
Let's just do historical fiction instead, shall we?
Yes, but is it Art?
You bet.
Authored by Robert Stephen Parry

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