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Topic: Challenge Category: Historical Fiction

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Subject: Challenge Category: Historical Fiction
Date Posted: 2/28/2010 6:45 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
Posts: 1,376
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Forgive me if this thread has already been started, but I couldn't find it. :)

I just finished Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year. According to the introduction in my edition, it is the very first historical novel, so I figured it fit. Unfortunately, despite being pretty short, it took me forever to finish it, putting me behind on my other challenges. Still, I suppose I should've expected it. . . the novel had barely been invented as a literary form, so it's unfair for me to expect Defoe to use conventions that I enjoy that no one was using at the time. . . Here's my review:

Classic though this is, it was hard to really enjoy A Journal of the Plague Year. It was written before the novel form was really developed (at least in England) so it has very little narrative structure, no real plot, and (worst of all) not a single break in the narrative, making it very hard to put down and pick back up. It was also the first (or near first) piece of historical fiction -- mainly because the dividing line between history and fiction was so much looser. It is probably more palatable to a modern reader if read as a history text -- then the insertion of all the weekly bills is less surprising -- but historians have quibbled with quite a few of the facts Defoe reports.

Still, there were plenty of passages that were absolutely riveting. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the development of the novel form, anyone interested in plagues and epidemics in history, and anyone interested in the history of London -- it simply has to be taken on its own terms.

Date Posted: 3/7/2010 8:38 PM ET
Member Since: 5/31/2009
Posts: 3,094
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The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas, a historical fiction classic.  The story begins with the very public and horrible crowd murders of  two brothers, Cornelius and John De Witte, who are believed to be traitors opposed to the rule of Prince William of Orange.  Cornelius Van Baerle is the godson of one of the brothers, Cornelius De Witte, who has been given a sealed packet by his godfather to hold in safety for him.   Van Baerle leads a quiet life, focusing primarily on the growth and development of beautiful tulips.  A jealous tulip-growing neighbor reveals the existence of the letter packet and Van Baerle is arrested and convicted by association.  He has been working to develop a pure black tulip and has three tiny suckers which he believes will grow into the black tulip in his possession at the time of his arrest.  He is sentenced to live imprisonment.  The story unfolds with the jailer's daughter falls in love with Van Baerle and he with her.  Together they grow a black tulip but before they can submit it to the Horticultural Society and gain the prestigious prize, the tulip is stolen by the jealous neighbor.  To discover the climax read the book yourself.  Very good read.

Last Edited on: 3/7/10 8:44 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 3/9/2010 10:15 AM ET
Member Since: 8/13/2009
Posts: 298
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...the novel had barely been invented as a literary form, so it's unfair for me to expect Defoe to use conventions that I enjoy that no one was using at the time. . .

Thanks for making this point!  This is what I had to keep in mind while reading The Princess of Cleves by Madame de Lafayette, considered the first french novel.  It has a plot, though, and a theme, and the author weaves in the famous historical figure of the young Mary, Queen of Scots skillfully and realistically.  The history, however, reads like a cut and paste from history books of the time, but it's mainly confined to the the first section of the book (there are 3)  where the historical characters are introduced like a catalogue.  (A bit clunky and boring).

The story is about the married Princess de Cleves, who falls in love with a handsome and persistent Duc, but consciously struggles against commiting adultery, only seeing unhappiness for herself whether she succumbs or not.  In a cynical, rich, and pleasure-loving society conditioned to find "love" outside of marriage, the position of aristocratic women in marriage and the question of trust between spouses and lovers is examined through various short subplots in the novel.  The Princess' own sincere inner struggle is what makes this book timeless.