The 2015 Historical Fiction Festival
The historical novel has a long and distinguished history, even since Walter Scott set the ball rolling with “Waverley”, published anonymously in 1814. Almost all Scott’s novels are set in history, and history is an active force in them, real life historical forces and events impinging on the lives of imaginary characters as well as on real-life historical figures. Thomas Carlyle thought that Scott’s achievement was to remind us that men and women in the past were made of flesh and blood, their problems as real and urgent as any in modern times. Scott set the fashion for historical fiction. Almost all the great nineteenth century novelists attempted the genre: Dickens, Thackeray, Stevenson, even Trollope; Dumas, Hugo and Flaubert in France; Manzoni in Italy; Tolstoy in Russia,
In the first half of the twentieth century the historical novel went out of fashion, though good ones were still written by, for example, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Buchan and Naomi Mitchison, to mention only Scottish writers. More recently the wheel has turned. Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels have been critical as well as commercial successes.
The historical novel flourishes, no longer seen as a bastard genre – neither history nor fiction. Instead by illuminating past ages, it displays human nature in critical action.
This, the third Summerhall Historical Fiction Festival, explores the richness and variety of the historical novel: why writers love to write it, why readers delight in reading it.
Allan Massie – Chair
Iain Gale – Director