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Topic: Do you find it hard reading HF books that are about really well known peopl

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Subject: Do you find it hard reading HF books that are about really well known peopl
Date Posted: 6/20/2008 4:05 AM ET
Member Since: 3/31/2006
Posts: 28,535
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I wonder if this is just a quirk that I have.  I love historical fiction.  However, I am more likely to enjoy a book about a lesser known or unknown person that a king or queen or other very prominent person.

I think part of problem is it's hard for me to take the prominent person out of their historical and mythological role and put them into a story which may have everyday situations.  Case in point is I just finished Mary Called Magdalene.  I did fine when the book was about Mary Magdalene (because I don't know much about her).  But, it was really hard for me to read the parts with Jesus because it was hard to imagine Jesus putting up a tent and people fighting over who should sit next to him.  It comes off a little comical to me.  It's not that the book was poorly written.  It's done very well.  It's difficult for me to get into the right mindset, I guess.

Does anyone else have this problem?


Date Posted: 6/20/2008 2:55 PM ET
Member Since: 12/10/2005
Posts: 2,851
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I agree. If the characterizations aren't realistic, and assuming I know something about the individual, I lose patience real fast.

The best example of this from books I've read over the past couple of years is Sandra Worth's Richard III series. A recent quote at historicalfiction.org, by the screenname boswellbaxter (who is Susan Higginbotham, author of The Traitor's Wife), states:

everyone is either very good (Richard, of course, Anne, and John Neville) or very bad (the Woodvilles, of course), with very little in between. And I thought the portrayal of William Hastings as someone who got his jollies from raping virgin peasant girls was character assassination--rather ironic from an author who deplores the depiction of Richard III as a hunchbacked monster.

She's right on, IMO.

Right now, I'm reading Crown of Roses by Valerie Anand, which is one of the driest novels I've ever read. But I stick with it because of her portrayal of Richard. It's even-handed. He's neither too good nor too bad. I think there are other problems with the book, but the characterization of Richard III isn't one of them.

Good topic!


Subject: Mixing fictional with 'real' persons
Date Posted: 6/20/2008 9:01 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
Posts: 1,427
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I can't describe very well what it is about a book such as Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow that disconcerts me so.  But it has something to do with Doctorow's melding his fictional characters with real-life personages from the turn-of-the-century era in which the book was set.  Stanford White, Harry Houdini, etc. were historical, and a part of the popular culture of this country.

The odd thing is, though, that when John Dos Passos, in his trilogy,  U.S.A., alternated sections that were about fictional characters with sections called 'newsreels' and 'biographical sketches of real people, it didn't bother me a bit.  In fact, it seemed to fill out the story, lending it a solidity, I thought.

Date Posted: 6/20/2008 10:26 PM ET
Member Since: 3/31/2006
Posts: 28,535
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I think the depictions in Mary called Magdalene were done very well.  I had a mental block on seeing Jesus doing normal every day things or characters talking about Jesus like "Where is Jesus?  We were supposed to meet Jesus in the village".  I don't know.  It's just comical to me.  It's a mindset I can't break out of.

Maybe it's because historical figures like Jesus are larger than life.


Last Edited on: 6/20/08 10:27 PM ET - Total times edited: 1