Monday, July 11, 2011

HISTORICAL fiction vs. historical FICTION

The White Queen: A Novel (The Cousins' War)
I was over at my aunt's house a couple of weeks ago. She's a prolific reader, and we were downstairs looking at some of her books.  She lent me a few...perfect timing since it was right before we left on vacation.

The first book was The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory.  She has written extensively about the Tudor period in England, and I've read many of her books.  This one was set earlier in England's history during the War of the Roses, a period I don't know much about.  The book is from the perspective of Elizabeth Woodville, a minor noblewoman who changes allegiance from the Lancaster to the York sides when she falls in love with the king.  I really enjoyed the story.  The characters were well-drawn and the plot was really interesting.  I love getting to learn a little while I read, and good historical fiction really makes the past come alive.  Definitely worth reading.

Daughter of York: A Novel
Next, I read Anne Easter Smith's Daughter of York.  Written about the same time period and with many of the same historical figures, this book tells the story of Margaret of York, the king's sister, and her love affair with Anthony Woodville, the queen's brother.  This was also a well-written and interesting book.  I really cared about the characters and was invested in their story.  It was a little confusing sometimes to keep all of the characters straight (lots of similar the fact that King Edward and both of his brothers all had sons named Edward).  I found myself really rooting for Margaret and Anthony and enjoyed their story.

***If all you want is a quick review of both books, stop here.  The next part includes a spoiler about Daughter of York.***

Finally, at the end of Daughter of York, after all kinds of trials and tribulations, Margaret sails off for Burgundy knowing that she and Anthony are going to get to be together.  Yea for the happy ending!  Unfortunately (for my love of happy endings and for history), then I read the author's note, where she basically says 1) there's no historical evidence that there was ever a love affair between Margaret and Anthony and 2) shortly after she left England he married someone else and she endured some tragic losses of loved ones.

As far as I'm concerned, this latter book is a good story, but it's not historical fiction.  It's taking historical characters and using them in a story of your own making.  I'm laughing at myself saying this, but I felt a little betrayed after reading that note.  In my mind, historical fiction takes what really happened and brings it to life.  Yes, of course the author has to make up details that didn't make it into source materials, create minor characters, and imagine conversations, but the heart of the story is true.  In contrast, the heart of Daughter of York was pure conjecture.

What do you think?  Do I need to take a breath, have a drink, and get a life?  Do you like historical fiction?  Would that annoy you?