chapter  4
Fictions and Histories
Pages 17

Why should any writer choose to write historical fi ction? Nearly every classic fi ction writer has written at least one solid period piece. George Eliot wrote Romola describing Florence in the 1490s and the rise and fall of Savanorola. Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, remaking the French Revolution to terrifying effect. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is, in fact, an historical novel, although it does fall into that intriguing genre of period writing, the recreation of the remembered past, like Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley, Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley and George Eliot’s Middlemarch. When a writer chooses to set a novel fi fty or sixty years back from the time of writing, the contemporary reader is always made to refl ect upon recent shifts and changes. We contemplate what we have become by looking at the choices made by the previous generation. This can be a frightening business.