Should Historical Fiction Be Accurate?

I don’t remember the first time I heard about Philippa Gregory, but I remember the first book that I read by her. I was always interested in Henry VIII and his many wives, so The Other Boleyn Girl captured my special interest. Needless, to say, I was sucked in from the first word. If you don’t know much about it, the story is told through Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary and her rise to become the king’s mistress and then be cast aside for her sister. It was something that enraptured me because I never quite imagined Anne having any siblings or how she became to be the woman that Henry broke the church regulations for.

Aside from the historical period that the books are set in, I love Gregory’s books for her storytelling. It’s hard to tell the story of famous women in history because so many people believed that a woman’s story wasn’t worth documenting in the history books. Gregory uses the information that she can glean from historical records and fills in the information from legends and her own speculation of what might have happened.

This has caused a lot of criticism from a lot of people. A couple years ago, someone I knew at the time didn’t read her books or watch The White Queen because she thought it was grossly inaccurate. Fun, but not good enough for her tastes.

And this is where I diverge from book snobs. When a book is labeled as historical fiction, that is exactly what it is: fiction. Obviously the book is going to be based on some historical fact or a period of time not contemporary to the writer, but because it’s fiction, the author has some liberties to smudge certain facts or use legend to interweave with the story at large. It doesn’t matter to me because I’m reading it to enjoy rather than to educate myself. As long as the author has a note at the end of the book saying what is real and what has been changed, I really don’t care what happens.

A historical fiction novel should be there to get you interested enough in the subject matter to go out and find out for yourself if you’re that interested. If I really wanted my fiction to be accurate, then I would’ve read nonfiction instead and there has been some historical fiction that has made the reading dry and boring and very uninteresting.

I hope Gregory continues to write more books. I’ll continue to read them.


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