Historical Fiction Set in the 18th Century

The past two decades have seen an outpouring of historical novels that resembles the deluge that swept across Europe and North America in response to Sir Walter Scott’s best-selling Waverley series, 1814-1832. Like the followers and imitators of Scott, today’s historical novelists show a wide range of writerly ability; some of these novels are much better written, more compelling, and more original than others. They have also invented new approaches to the genre, such as the historical detective story, the novel-within-a-novel, and historical fantasy.

Yet we still turn to historical fiction because we want to experience the past in an immediate and enjoyable way. We want to know what the people were like, how it felt to live in London during the plague or Paris during the revolution, whether Marie Antoinette was an airhead or Charles II was a cad. Inevitably, we wonder: is what this novel saying true? What is this writer making up? Why should writers turn to the eighteenth century, as so many of them have?

This collection seeks to provide answers to some of your questions. Some of the writers on this page are scholars; some of them are novelists. Some of them are both. But we hope that our collected contributions add to your enjoyment of your books and the eighteenth century.

This Collection is curated by Martha Bowden.  Click Get Involved if you would like to contribute to this Collection.

Humanities Viewpoints: Hamilton

<em>Humanities Viewpoints:</em> Hamilton

Humanities Viewpoints is a monthly podcast from the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute. It features short conversations between host Aimee Mepham, Humanities Institute Assistant Director, and a WFU faculty member working in the humanities. The September episode, the first of the 2016-2017 academic year, features a conversation between Mepham and Jake Ruddiman, Associate Professor of History at Wake Forest University, on Hamilton, the man and the musical. Ruddiman, a scholar of the American Revolution, received his PhD from Yale and joined the WFU faculty in 2010. His first book, Becoming Men of Some Consequence, presents the experiences of young men fighting in the Revolutionary War. His next projects explore the Revolution in the Southeast.

Appropriating the Restoration: Fictional Place and Time in Rose Tremain’s Restoration: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century England

Appropriating the Restoration: Fictional Place and Time in Rose Tremain’s <em>Restoration: A Novel of Seventeenth-Century England</em>

It was the sixties—albeit the 1660s—a time for tricksters, rakes, subversive women and sexual energy on the stage. It was a time of fun for those with the means to partake of it. The “good old days” are, of course, always better from a distance, but writers on through the twentieth century found the Restoration an apt setting for their fictions about prostitution, political intrigue, and tragic or comic historical events, especially for the cinema.

Waverley, Scotland’s Referendum, and Scottish Identity

<em>Waverley</em>, Scotland’s Referendum, and Scottish Identity

Now that Scots have voted to remain with the United Kingdom, perhaps it is more appropriate to recognize that the vote was also held during the bicentennial of Walter Scott’s Waverley—a novel that at once celebrates a distinctively Scottish identity and defends the established Union as a valuable political arrangement. This complex statement of Scotland’s union with England has echoes in the referendum itself.

Blurred Lines: When Fiction Tells the Truth

Blurred Lines: When Fiction Tells the Truth

Olaudah Equiano was most certainly a key figure in the abolition movement of the eighteenth century.  His narrative, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African (1789), is one of the best known of the ere and […]

The Eighteenth-Century Settings of Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels

The Eighteenth-Century Settings of Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels

I don’t expect Walter Scott’s novels to be re-imagined to include kilt-wearing vampires any time soon. But I am confident that readers interested in the eighteenth century would be drawn to Scott’s representations and interpretations of what he recognized as a tumultuous and exuberant age.

British Historical Fiction Before Scott

British Historical Fiction Before Scott

The eighteenth century has served as the backdrop for some of the greatest historical novels, from William Makepeace Thackeray’s The Luck of Barry Lyndon (1844) to Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety (1992) and Thomas Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon (1997). But the century also produced a large number of historical novels, many of which are less well known. My book British Historical Fiction before Scott (2010) examines the popular historical novels of this era. I look at 85 novels published between 1762 and 1813 to explore how the conventions of the historical novel took shape during this period, how the genre grew out of but eventually branched off from the Gothic tradition, and how it was received by readers and reviewers.

350 Years of Dangerous Women

350 Years of Dangerous Women

Kathleen Winsor’s historical romance Forever Amber (1944) and Laura Linker’s Dangerous Women, Libertine Epicures, and the Rise of Sensibility, 1670-1730 (Ashgate 2011).

Life Mask by Emma Donoghue: The Lawrence Portrait of Eliza Farren

Life Mask by Emma Donoghue: The Lawrence Portrait of Eliza Farren

Emma Donoghue’s historical novel Life Mask (2004) represents the lives of the 18th-century sculptor Anne Damer, actress Eliza Farren, and painter Thomas Lawrence. In a novel filled with artists and their subjects, a famous portrait plays a critical part in illuminating friendship and its rupture. Donoghue enhances the historical background of the creation and presentation of Lawrence’s portrait of Farren to reveal the conflicts that class and sexuality cause.