Those reviews keep coming: Sibylle on Mistress of the Revolution, and a word about historical fiction

Sibylle, in her blog dares you not to fall in love with my heroine Gabrielle. “She’s very intelligent, strong
with lots of integrity. I wish I had her courage. The book is also excellent in
that it shows how important information is in times of political troubles :
Gabrielle (whom I kept picturing as the girl from Le Baiser à la Dérobée, the painting used for
the cover) survives because she knows what’s happening and is intelligent enough
to stay true to herself while being completely aware of what’s going on.”

Thank you, Sibylle, for this wonderful review! And thank you for reminding us of how important cover art is. It does provide a visual focus for the reader’s mental image of the protagonist.

My only issue with Sibylle’s review was when he says “I’ve always thought about historical fiction as very lowbrow, somewhat too easy
literature.”

Really, Sibylle? Granted, historical fiction, like every other genre, offers a wide range of literary quality. But let’s not forget that War and Peace, Quatre-Vingt-Treize, La Princesse de Cleves are works historical fiction. Are Tolstoy, Hugo, Balzac, Madame de La Fayette, Thackeray, Dickens, Eco, to name a few, lowbrow?

And speaking of historical fiction and covers, Sarah Johnson at Reading the Past gives us a visual preview of the upcoming crop of historicals for this fall. Beautiful covers, and only one decapitated woman! I, for one, am really glad to see this trend put to rest.

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11 Comments to “Those reviews keep coming: Sibylle on Mistress of the Revolution, and a word about historical fiction”

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  3. CATHERINE DELORS says:

    Great idea, Eva! Let’s launch a campaign.

    I think what I will do here is a series of individual posts about classics that are also historicals, to try and show that the genre can rise above The Harlequin Collection.

  4. Eva says:

    That’s interesting that the lowbrow assumption doesn’t exist in France-we should start a campaign to eradicate it in America! Especially w/ Hawthorne…I think everyone has to read The Scarlet Letter. And there’s Sir Walter Scott…he’s a classic and historical author. What a fun thing to think about-I might have to post on my blog now too. :)

  5. CATHERINE DELORS says:

    Absolutely, Danielle. Hugo wrote poetry, plays and all kinds of fiction, but Dumas dedicated his career to HF. And they became classics. In American literature, I was forgetting to mention Hawthorne. Sarah Johnson, on the site of Historical Novel Society, says it very well: if a historical has literary merit, people hasten to shoehorn it into another genre.

    Right now, I am reading another historical, Jacquou le Croquant. It begins in France in 1815, upon the fall of Bonaparte and the restoration of the Bourbons. Or rather I am rereading Jacquou. My late father recommended it to me when I was a kid. He thought it was one the best depictions of traditional peasant life ever written, and I realize now that he was right. It is very harsh, not a fluffy read by any standard, but what a novel!

  6. Danielle says:

    Oh, and I have to say I love Dumas (and am now reading and enjoying Hugo)–I think of their books as classics, but I suppose they were historical fiction writers, too.

  7. Danielle says:

    I read quite a lot of historical fiction and am a great fan of it. I think there are definitely some very high quality/literary examples of it out there. Definitely there’s fluffy reads as well, and sometimes that’s okay if you know what you’re getting into and just want entertainment. I also like ‘meatier’ reads most of the time–not just an entertaining story, but also I want it to be steeped in the details of the period, too. And I loved Chantal Thomas’s book, too! Thanks for the link–must go check out those new books.

  8. CATHERINE DELORS says:

    Sibylle – I haven’t read Philippa Gregory (I am not a fan of the Tudors) so I can’t comment on her novels, but I found much to enjoy in relatively recent historicals: Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, Chantal Thomas’s Farewell My Queen, Gary Jennings’s Aztec. Some of my friends also liked Le Chat Botte, about Bonaparte in the mid-1790s. Don’t know whether it was, or will be translated into English, though.
    When I was a kid, I devoured Druon’s Les Rois Maudits (The Accursed Kings.) Maybe lowbrow, but so much fun!

  9. CATHERINE DELORS says:

    No, Eva, I don’t think there’s a “historical fiction stigma” in France. HF is extremely popular with French readers, who understand that some historicals are literary (and extremely well researched) and some are only meant to entertain, without bothering too much about accuracy. The positive thing is that HF doesn’t necessarily scream downmarket. Beloved French authors like Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo can take credit for that.

  10. Sibylle says:

    Well, actually I should have been more specific : historical fiction today is, to me, very disappointing. Everything I’ve read in this genre written by contemporary authors haven’t left much of an impression. I talked about Philippa Gregory in my review, for example. It’s a very prolific genre, at least in English-speaking countries and I’m afraid I’ve only read the ones which feel more like historical Harlequins than anything else. I’m willing to give it another try, though, of course :)

  11. Eva says:

    You make such a good point about the literary traditions of historical fiction. I wish it would be more widely acknowledged, too: nowadays, it seems that if a book isn’t set in contemporary times and dealing with perfectly ‘normal’ characters and ‘normal’ plots, it isn’t literature (at least in America). Is that true in France as well?

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