As I recounted in an earlier Roundup, as a way of promoting my first novel, The Slave, I set up a website called The Romance of History, where, together with a few other contributors, I wrote about my favourite historical and classic fiction. The website gave me scope to explore the subject in more depth than a blog post or a book review might, and I was able to explore themes and trends in historical fiction and compare approaches to them.
I didn’t study many of the literary classics in school, so when I discovered them in later life, I came to them with an open mind that was able to appreciate and even enjoy them. While for the most part, Victorian literature is about and for the leisured and middle classes, there is also a sub-genre which ventures into the Midlands where much of the wealth of the leisured classes was created. Novels such as the three I examine in From the Gallery: The Victorian ‘Industrial’ Novel give us an insight into how the industrial revolution worked and how it was regarded in its own time.
Now that we are well into the 21st century, we can start looking at the literature of the early and mid-twentieth century as classic, too. In A Boy’s Own Decline and Fall: two views of the late Roman Empire, I look at books by two of the greatest historical novelists of 20th century, Robert Graves and Gore Vidal, about two outstanding men through whom we learn about a period of history that most of us know little about.
Another of my great loves is classical art (though I must admit I’m one of those ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like’ kind of art lover) such as that of the Dutch masters, especially Johannes Vermeer. I’m not alone in loving his art, as we can see from a trend from the turn of this century, which I examine in Dutch Interiors: three historical novels inspired by art.
Art – cover art to be precise – is the inspiration for the next essay, too, Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover, in which I look at a selection of historical novels from the early years of this century and turn the old adage on its head. In this case, I reflect on why it is that despite the publishing houses’ investing so much into creating beautiful covers for these books, the novels themselves are ultimately so disappointing.
If you have friends who enjoy reading historical fiction, or just love a good read, please share this roundup with them. You can also read more of my thoughts about historical fiction in my book reviews on Goodreads.