Discussion Forums - Historical Fiction

Topic: Where do we draw the line?

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Subject: Where do we draw the line?
Date Posted: 10/21/2010 8:08 AM ET
Member Since: 5/19/2007
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What is the cut-off date for "historical" fiction?  I just picked up a novel that is set in Scotland in 1950.  Now to me, that's not history, dagnabit!!  Some of you youngsters may disagree, but Jeanne and I are firmly in the That Was Just Yesterday camp. cheeky

But it did get me wondering: do we have a "rule" or yardstick or whatever?  

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 8:12 AM ET
Member Since: 7/15/2008
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I think I've heard somewhere of a 50 year rule, so your's would count as HF. That said, I agree with you but my own personal preferences are no later than the end of the 19C. WWI is kinda pushing it for me.

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 8:48 AM ET
Member Since: 5/19/2007
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I thought I'd heard that 50-year rule as well, Cathy.  And true, life was very different even just 50 years ago.  But still...

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 9:33 AM ET
Member Since: 3/14/2009
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I read this awhile ago and think it explains it very well.  http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/historyic.htm

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 9:48 AM ET
Member Since: 8/17/2009
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I, too, am familiary with the 50 year rule, but I don't really buy into that, myself.  When I was in elementary school in the late 70s, WWII and prior was history, and everything after WWII was considered "current events".  Probably because of this, I'm not sure if I'll ever consider events after WWII as "history".  

But I can go with Misfit's WWI, too, based on my own personal yardstick.  For me, something isn't really history until it has passed from living memory.  As long as someone could have a conversation about it with people who lived it, experienced it, remember it, and can tell you about it, it's not really history.  WWII era is still within living memory, definitely, although more and more of the people with those memories are dying every day.  WWI ... now that's darn close to passing from living memory.  A quick google search shows there are three living WWI veterans, four depending on precisely how broadly it's defined.  They are 109, 110 years old.  I don't know if they are mentally alert to talk about it.  And of course, there are people living for whom WWI was an event in their childhood or teens.  They are really getting up there, too.  WWI is passing from living memory, but it's probably not quite gone yet.

Last Edited on: 10/21/10 9:56 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/21/2010 10:09 AM ET
Member Since: 5/3/2008
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Ah yes, Vicky, I do know why you are asking this question. It reminds me of what I've heard dates a piece as an antique - 50 years older or more. I've been in antique shops where I see things that "I'M STILL USING" for Heaven's sake! And then theres's the issue of what determines whether an automobile is a "classic" or antique. I see some of these driving around and remember when they were brand new! I've had to face the fact that I've lived through quite a bit of history already. I , personally, don't have an issue with anything from WWll being listed as historical fiction, but it does get a little dicey after that. Maybe the kids can read some of that stuff and be okay with it as HF, but I don't think it's for me - too, too recent in memory yet! ;-)

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 10:50 AM ET
Member Since: 5/19/2007
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Jeanne...I know!  You haven't lived until you stroll through an "antique" store and see your toys on display!  Holy Toledo!!

I had a boy come into the library to get some information for his history report.  He wanted to write his report on hippies!  HIPPIES!  I told him that wasn't history; I'm afraid I lost my head a little bit there. LOL..

I need to check out Letty's link...thanks, Letty!

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 12:30 PM ET
Member Since: 10/29/2005
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I've thought a book is only H/F if the author had to research it and wasn't alive at the time to actually witness the history he or she is writing about, but then I find exceptions to that rule all the time. Really, I guess there isn't a "set in stone" rule for it.

I consider WWII books as H/F, but nothing set later than that. I guess WWII is my own personal cut off point, but I couldn't tell you exactly how I came to the decision. :-/

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 12:35 PM ET
Member Since: 12/10/2005
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Scotland in 1950.  ...  Jeanne and I are firmly in the That Was Just Yesterday camp.

What? That wasn't yesterday?

My son would consider it history. He's 22 and he tried telling me yesterday how long ago the Commie scare was. LOL! I wasn't exactly hauled before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, but it wasn't that long ago when there was such a thing.

Right, right?

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 3:12 PM ET
Member Since: 7/13/2005
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I think it depends on the person's age.  In my mind, WWII is history but events after the war ended, not so much. But to my mom, who is old enough to remember WWII, her idea of the date "history begins" is naturally somewhat earlier.  So I would say, if it's too old for anyone you know to have actually been there, then it's historical.

As for antiiques, I have also found stuff from my childhood in "antique" store.  I was always told that it had to be at least 100 years old to be an antique.  That's why the names of most of these stores is usually "antiques and collectibles" since there's no age requirement for collectibles.

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 3:35 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2008
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I've thought a book is only H/F if the author had to research it and wasn't alive at the time to actually witness the history he or she is writing about

I'm with Vali on this.  Some people refer to Dickens as HF, but he was writing about his own time period - that's not HF.  This issue goes around and around and we've discussed it before.  I think HF is a novel about the past, that is the auhor's past not the reader's past (or all fiction would eventually end up being historical).

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 3:49 PM ET
Member Since: 6/21/2008
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Donna, Please tell me what you think about My Name is Mary Sutter.

I thought that 50+ years was for all things considered antique but surely there is another definition for 'Historical".

Date Posted: 10/21/2010 6:55 PM ET
Member Since: 6/5/2007
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I'd also agree that my definition doesn't include contemporary writings that are now historical.

Date Posted: 10/22/2010 4:45 PM ET
Member Since: 3/31/2006
Posts: 28,530
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The 1940s seem to be it for me.  Anything that starts getting near the year I was born is not history!!!! angry

Vicky, my niece recommended a really great historical fiction book (as she put it) called Dove Song.  Historical Fiction...it was set during the Vietnam War!  It was a very good book, but shoot!  It was set during my childhood.

Last Edited on: 10/22/10 4:46 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 10/23/2010 11:07 AM ET
Member Since: 6/26/2006
Posts: 605
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May I speak as a history teacher (who is in her 50s)....the high school students of today were born during Clinton's second term as president.  To them, CD players are really old and haven't a clue how a record album plays.  They have never know life without cell phones or the internet.  One student commented on my Beatles poster with "So that's what they looked like."  Think about it - Lennon died long before the student was born and Harrison died when the student was only 6 yrs old.  The Vietnam Conflict ended when their parents were just babies or not even born, so would the 1960's be history?  oh, yeah... A fifty year cut-off is just our hopeful dreams.  Their textbooks list events of the early  2000s as history so perspective is all relative.

For Homecoming, we always have a retro day where each grade chooses a decade to dress up in those fashions.  When you see students who are dressed "Back to the 80s" and you realize they look like your own closet at home......