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History of the world through fiction


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Showing 1-25 of 33 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 Feb 2012, 21:42:15 GMT
Mooch says:
What novels would be useful for one to get a sense of life in a different time? Can we plot a world history through fiction? Must be good reads and I'm not as bothered about great events as I am about a convincing feeling of being THEN

Posted on 4 Feb 2012, 23:24:13 GMT
Mrs. L. Gash says:
I have just started reading Anne Bronte's, The Tennant of Wildfell Hall, and can't believe how times have changed. It was published in 1847 and gives you a sense of "their time" from the beginning. The story is a morbid tale and alchoholism plays a big part, as it is about the Tennant of Wildfell Hall running away from her alcholic husband with her son. Back then that kind of thing went against the laws of that time, as she was effectively "owned" by her husband and he could have tried to find and reclaim her and all the money she earned for herself selling her paintings. Anyway, I like the realism of the darker side of life, but suggest the other Bronte books too, as they were all written and published at similar times (if not the same time). I think I will be trying the others too. I hope this helps.

Posted on 5 Feb 2012, 06:54:35 GMT
Sou'Wester says:
Books written contemporaneously with the times they depict will usually have a much more authentic feel than those where writers are trying to recreate an earlier time which they didn't experience personally.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Feb 2012, 08:46:52 GMT
Mooch says:
Yes, but I am particularly interested in novels, therefore for pre-18th Century we must look to non-contemporaneous works

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Feb 2012, 18:53:15 GMT
Last edited by the author on 5 Feb 2012, 20:55:44 GMT
LEP says:
Well, Jane Austin's books give you the Regency era and the manners of that time.

Dickens books give you the Victorian period in the time in which he actually wrote them e.g. Oliver Twist.

James Herriot's books give you the life of a vet during the 1940's.

Call the Midwife, currently on TV, gives you the East End of London in the early 1950's.

I'll think of others.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Feb 2012, 20:53:33 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Feb 2012, 14:09:49 GMT
LEP says:
Don Quixote - Cervantes (1605)
Jonathan Swift - A Modest Proposal
Daniel Defoe - Moll Flanders
Henry Fielding - Tom Jones (1749)
All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Remarque (WW1)
A farewell to Arms - Hemingway
From here to Eternity - James Jones
For Whom the Bell Tolls -Hemingway
Stendhal's - The Charterhouse of Parma
Tolstoy - War and peace
Stephen Crane - The Red Badge of Courage
Schindler's List
Burma Boy - Biyi Bandele
Vanity Fair - Thackeray
The Quiet American - Graham Greene
Sir Richard Steel - The Tender Husband
The Bridge over the River Kwai - Pierre Boulle

With the exception of Schindler's List, the above books were written either during or just after the times/events they describe.

Posted on 6 Feb 2012, 05:50:41 GMT
NB says:
You may like to have a look at Wings Of Freedom , a cross-cultural romance set during the early twentieth-century turbulent British India.

The novel brings alive a hear-warming love story in the backdrop of political conflicts in the British raj era, intrigues in the palaces of princes, freedom revolution swirling furiously, the ravages of first World War and the ethnic divisions in the post-Edwardian India.

Posted on 6 Feb 2012, 05:50:59 GMT
NB says:
You may like to have a look at Wings Of Freedom , a cross-cultural romance set during the early twentieth-century turbulent British India.

The novel brings alive a hear-warming love story in the backdrop of political conflicts in the British raj era, intrigues in the palaces of princes, freedom revolution swirling furiously, the ravages of first World War and the ethnic divisions in the post-Edwardian India.

Posted on 6 Feb 2012, 07:52:45 GMT
Oracle says:
Some of my favourites that fit the bill:

Tudor
Wolf Hall

18th century
Tom Jones
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Shogun Japan
Silk

French Revolution
A Place of Greater Safety

Victorian
Jane Eyre
Madame Bovary
Black Beauty
Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Fingersmith
The Crimson Petal and the White

Turn of the century
A Little Princess
Tipping the Velvet

World War 1
All Quiet on the Western Front

World War 2
Captain Corelli's Mandolin (Vintage Classics)
Atonement

20th century showbusiness
Wise Children

1960s/70s Africa
The Poisonwood Bible
Half of a Yellow Sun

Posted on 6 Feb 2012, 07:53:24 GMT
Oracle says:
I like this thread! :)

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2012, 08:12:20 GMT
Know what you mean, Mooch. Too much historical fiction is written with a modern mindset. If you want to read a novel that avoids this pitfall, and be transported to 14th century Norway, then I would recommend Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. This is head and shoulders above any other historical novel I have ever read. Have a look at the reviews.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2012, 08:22:14 GMT
Would novels include sagas? Snorri Sturluson was writing in the 14th century, but his stories are based on historical events during the settlement of Iceland in the tenth and eleventh century. If you can put aside your twenty-first century expectations of what a 'good read' should be, these will certainly take you back. My favourite is Njal's Saga, but Laxdaela Saga is probably the most readable for a modern reader.

Posted on 6 Feb 2012, 09:53:53 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Feb 2012, 09:58:35 GMT
Fiona Hurley says:
An Instance Of The Fingerpost by Iain Pears manages to capture the atmosphere and attitudes of early Restoration Oxford.

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani is set in 17th century Iran; not a time and place I know much about, but the author seems to have done her research and creates an evocative portrait of old Isfahan and its people.

The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone is about a character from the Icelandic sagas. You can really picture the old lady sitting down to tell her story to the scribe.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2012, 13:21:32 GMT
Last edited by the author on 7 Feb 2012, 18:40:34 GMT
LEP says:
For a surviving Old English book then go for Beowulf: original verse translation (Penguin)

Then of course there's Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (be brave and go for the Old English version and not translations - amusing/bawdy).

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2012, 13:30:11 GMT
LEP says:
Here's 2, not novels as such, but both actually written during the periods the authors livied in and will give you insight into those periods.

The Diary(s) of Samuel Pepys (Great Fire of London etc)

Boswell's Life of Johnson.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2012, 13:33:46 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Feb 2012, 18:48:30 GMT
LEP says:
Captain Marryat (sp?) - Children of the New Forest (English Civil War)

Then of course Thomas Hardy's works give you a sense of the agricultural working classes in the 19C (hate them myself, but that just me - too drepressing!)

Mark Twain - Huckleberry Finn

Tom Brown's Schooldays - Hughes

The problem you have with medieval works i.e. 15th C and earlier is that the majority of them are eclesiatical (sp?). There's Homer etc of course, but those cover the supposed mythical heros of the Greek Bronze Age.
You may be able to get copies of diaries and letters which describe a particular period e.g. the diary/journal of Pliny the elder, I think it is, describes the erruption of Versuvius (sp?) and destruction of Pompeii as he watched it from across the bay.

However, I don't think that you are going to get very early novels, as they probably weren't written. Only the rich could afford books and only they and monks (scribes) were able to read and write, and a lot of the rich/aristocracy couldn't and employed scribes to read and write for them. Pre-Caxton, books were hand written, usually by monks and were mostly religious works. There are written descriptions of Viking raids etc, and there's very early Irish books which were written centuries later to write down stories of Irish myths/legends e.g. The Book of the Dun Cow etc.

So you are left with historical novels written well after that particular period in time and of course there are plenty of them. If you want books set in a particular time-period/century, just go onto Google Search and ask the question. It will give you listings.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2012, 14:40:11 GMT
Last edited by the author on 6 Feb 2012, 14:43:14 GMT
LEP says:
Written pre 1737, when apparently a licensing act came into being which restricted the amount of political and social comment that could be made in plays and books:

She Stoops to Conquer and Other Stories (plays) - Oliver Goldsmith, Henry Fielding, David Garrick etal.
Satirical look at politics and society at that time.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2012, 16:49:13 GMT
M. Dowden says:
John Williams, I love the old Icelandic sagas. They may not be what we are used to reading these days but they are really good reads.

Posted on 6 Feb 2012, 16:59:28 GMT
M. Dowden says:
Ruth (Penguin Classics) gives an idea of single motherhood and such like in the period it was written.

A Small Circus (Penguin Hardback Classics) and Wolf Among Wolves give an insight into Germany between the two Wars.

The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (Wordsworth Classics) although a black comedy, gives a good insight into how terrorism was viewed and dealt with at the time of its publication.

No Name (Oxford World's Classics) gives an insight on how illegitimacy used to be viewed and the problems that can occur with inheritances, etc.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2012, 17:49:24 GMT
Last edited by the author on 7 Feb 2012, 14:18:38 GMT
LEP says:
There are several novels depicting life in mini-skirted 1960's Britain e.g. Nell Dunn's Up the Junction and Poor Cow and of course Cathy Come Home - Jeremy Sandford. Likewise, the 1950's, 1940's, 1930's etc., actually written during those periods.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Feb 2012, 18:41:23 GMT
Last edited by the author on 7 Feb 2012, 18:44:40 GMT
LEP says:
Here's some historical novels/novelists, whose research is good and capture the essence of a particular time period (according to Google):

Luo Guanzhongs (14C) - Romance of the Three Kingdoms, covers an imprtant period in Chinese history

Sir Walter Scott (regarded as the first to write historical novels) - Rob Roy and Waverley. Plus Ivanhoe (Middle Ages)

James Fennimore Cooper - The Last of the Mohicans etc.

Balzac

Dumas

Ken Follett - Pillars of the Earth

Neal Stephenson's - Baroque Cycle

Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge (Gordon Riots) + A Tale of Two Cities (French Revolution)

Robert Graves - I Claudius

Edward Rutherfurd - interesting historicals (I've read Sarum and also The Forest)

Mary Renault - fantastic interpretations of Greek mytholodgy and also a series on Alexander the Great (good reads)

George Leonardos - The Palaeologian Dynasty: The Rise & Fall of Byzantimum

Boris Pekic - The Golden Fleece series (a family saga of European history)

Linda Proud - A Tabernacle for the Sun etc.

Colleen McCullough - Masters of Rome series

Gillian Bradshaw

Bernard Cornwell - Sharpe + Warlord Chronicles

Conn Iggulden - The Conqueror series (The Emperor series has historical innacuracies apparently)

Jonathan Coe - The Rotter's Club

The James Reasoner Civil War series (American CW)

Umberto Eco

Rimi B Chattergee - The City of Love

Richard Zimler - The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon + Hunting Midnight

Posted on 7 Feb 2012, 08:29:50 GMT
Ruth O'D says:
I'd recommend Robert Harris' Pompeii, Imperium and Lustrum for Roman times - Pompeii is the most enjoyable; the others are about Cicero and fascinating but heavier and more political.

Bernard Cornwell has 3 great medieval series, plus a one-off adventure set in Agincourt. They are well researched, but also great fun if you like old-fashioned tales of heroes and villians. I prefer the current one, starting with 'The Last Kingdom' and set during the reign of Alfred the Great, late 9th Century - mostly because it has Vikings in it! The others are set earlier in the time of King Arthur (Starting with ' The Winter King') and later, including the Battle of Crecy (Harlequin is the first book of this series).

Homer's 'Odyssey' is a fascinating read if you find a style of translation you like, and you can cope with all the divine intervention - Illiad is good too, but less varied. They are very detailed, and very 'human' considering how long ago they were written. And you would be getting the genuine Bronze Age mindset, not a modern re-invention.

Also try some of the 'history' books of the Bible - again they would give you a genuinely ancient perspective on how people lived and thought, irrespective of your religious views. Esther (exile in Persia) and Acts (1st Century christians) are probably the best 'reads', but Genesis (creation through to Joseph in Egypt), Nehemiah (return from Persia), 1 Samuel (King David) and Luke's gospel are all interesting and engaging historical accounts.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Feb 2012, 10:18:53 GMT
Oracle says:
I liked the Bernard Cornwell Arthur books, but I didn't suggest them here as to me the world in the books seemed more like a world created by BC than authentic C6th Britain.

Posted on 7 Feb 2012, 13:43:29 GMT
Ruth O'D says:
Oracle - The 'Arthur' books rely alot on imagination - Cornwell admits as much in the historical note - but they do aim to be historical and show what life might have been like in the dark ages. Compared to something like BBC's Merlin series, or even the traditional Arthur myths, they feel realistic and plausible, despite the guess-work, and thankfully the druids don't appear as hippies from the sixties or 21st Century tree-hugging environmentalists. Cornwell's Merlin may be more unpleasant than most, but he is also more interesting.

I recently read Pillars of the Earth and was infuriated by modern attitudes of many of the characters; one woman is fiercely anti-clerical, another is a confident business woman etc. He mightn't be perfect, but at least Bernard Cornwell has respect for historical accuracy and tries to write characters with a genuine medieval mindset.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Feb 2012, 14:03:11 GMT
Last edited by the author on 7 Feb 2012, 14:10:44 GMT
LEP says:
Well Oracle, as several of us have stated here, beyond the 15C we are largely left with ecclesiastical works, with the exception of Beowulf and perhaps one or two other fictional works. Then of course there are Greek, Norse and Irish myths and legends etc, including King Arthur.

So really we then have to fall back on well researched, well written, historical novels, unless we read non-fiction accounts like Pliny's and Pepys. However, as in all fiction, to a large extent the world and characters created will be the author's interpretation/imagination.

In my first listings, like you, I tried to suggest books which were written at the time in history. Then, pre 15C, largely had to resort to "good" historicals.
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Discussion in:  fiction discussion forum
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Initial post:  4 Feb 2012
Latest post:  20 Mar 2012

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