Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Some Thoughts on the "Historical Fiction" Genre

In a recent LinkedIn Historical Novel group chat, I made a casual comment that it seems in the world of historical fiction, history is almost automatically taken to mean Western History, and that such an assumption obviously ignores a large part of humankind history.

To my above casual comment, one group member, who formerly taught History of Philosophy and World History at an American university, remarked that my observation is correct and that “Western History” is still assumed by some to be “history”. Gladly though, he added, things are changing for the better, a phenomenon borne out by the fact that even the “Epic of Darkness” (a collection of Chinese tales and legends depicting primeval China in epic poetry) is being taught and studied in American classes.

Another group member explained that the assumption is due to publishers and film producers only going with what is “popular” and thus to some extent limiting Western readers’ choices. It is assumed in the publishing industry that “Western” is what readers want, and so that is what readers get.

I am not a historian and my abovementioned observation arose purely from my reading experience, through which I noticed that the bulk of historical fiction written in English is related to Western History or has a Western historical setting. There is obviously a relative paucity of fiction with an Oriental or Chinese historical context or setting. When publishers, literary agents, booksellers or writers refer to “historical fiction”, they seem to have only “Western historical fiction” in mind.

Being bilingual, I can easily satisfy my interest in Chinese history by reading fiction and non-fiction in Chinese. But I can see this would be a problem for Westerners who may share my interest but who only read English. Their only option would be to read translated works, and even these are in short supply in the historical fiction genre.

As readers, would you agree with what the two LinkedIn members said? Would you like to see the historical fiction genre diversify into the Oriental history field?

No comments: