The dead are not dead: they are the ancestors. History never goes away.
"The Dead Are Real: Hilary Mantel’s Imagination," by Larissa MacFarquhar, Oct. 15, 2012 (The New Yorker) is an essay about historical fiction.
What is it? Who writes it?
There are so many pithy paragraphs in this essay that any of us who have an interest in historical fiction would be sorry not to have read it.
Here follows a comment which describes my personal vexations with so much that is marketed as historical fiction but is not;:
The reputation of historical fiction is unstable. In the thirties, the Marxist literary critic György Lukács argued that early historical novels like those by Scott, Balzac, and Tolstoy showed that man’s nature was not fixed but transformed over time; thus, they showed that revolution was possible and, in doing so, made it more likely. But these days the historical novel is not quite respectable. It has difficulty distinguishing itself from its easy sister the historical romance. It is thought to involve irritating ways of talking, or excessive descriptions of clothes.To often history is employed in fiction by the sort of people who regard history as "a bathtub in which we all can splash around as we like" -- you can imagine how people for whom history is both profession and passion feel about that!
The past, in fiction, has more prestige than the future, but, as with the future, its prestige declines with its distance from the present. Novels about the past hundred years or so are all right, but once you go beyond the First World War, once you leave indoor plumbing and move into crinolines and wigs, your genre status deteriorates very quickly. A book jacket depicting Henry VIII, or a queen wearing pearls, is off-putting to a certain sort of reader. Why would a writer write about the distant past, that reader might wonder, if not to escape the realist discipline imposed by familiarity? If not to flee to a world blurry enough so that men can behave like Vikings and not seem ridiculous, and ladies can be ladies without being pathetic? And if a writer writes about historically significant people then she is forced into a respectful posture that depreciates her status still further, since it has become one of the hallmarks of literary fiction that its authors regard their characters with something between affectionate condescension and total contempt.