Writing historical fiction is the easiest way to escape the Now; to avoid dealing with the internet, you only have to step back a decade or two. If you’d prefer to write about characters entirely innocent of TV, you’d need to retreat as far as the 1940s; then you get the second world war and the Holocaust, subjects that, despite their historical specificity, are understood by everyone to be unimpeachably Timeless.
Four out of five of this year’s Newbery honorees are historical fiction. I’m curious — is it indeed easier to go back in time as Laura Miller suggests in today’s Guardian rather than grapple with contemporary circumstances like the Internet? While she’s writing about adult literary fiction, it seems to me the problem is true for writers of children’s and YA literature as well.
7 responses to “Why Historical Fiction Now?”
And two of the four feature female protagonists that were sent to live away from her parent during the Great Depression!
I dunno – I’m skeptical of any argument about writers “escaping” anything – somewhat akin to saying that authors write science fiction or fantasy to “escape reality.” In all cases, almost every author is usually really writing more about her present than any past/future/alterate world.
In any case, I can’t say I see much of a lack of contemporary fiction out there–and there are skads of books written entirely in emails/texts/facebook posts, etc.
I’d argue that this trend (and I think there is one) has partly to do with the impact of the Culture of Fear on contemporary childhood. Children’s literature almost by definition requires children’s autonomy, but children today are granted precious little of it; they are probably the most intensely supervised generation in history. Setting a story in the past—even the relatively recent past (think _When You Reach Me_) allows writers to give their protagonists freedom inconceivable in today’s culture without compromising believability or alarming nervous parents.
It’s possible to write a contemporary book with little in the way of cell phones and internet. You just need to pick the right geography or economic circumstance. Hyper-supervision is more a cultural thing than a contemporary one in my observation.
Historical fiction is it’s own headache. It sidesteps some problems and creates others.
Interesting points all. Thanks for weighing in. Some of them come up in the comments on the article. (Some, of course, are simply snarky.)
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