The Historical Novel


The term "historical novel" might seem straightforward, but its origin adds a fascinating layer to its meaning. Coined in the early 19th century, this genre emerged as a response to a growing interest in both history and fiction. Sir Walter Scott, a Scottish novelist, is often credited with popularizing the term through his works, such as Waverley and Ivanhoe. Scott's innovative blend of real historical events with fictional narratives laid the foundation for what we now recognize as the historical novel.


A historical novel is a literary genre that transports readers to different periods of history, offering a vivid and imaginative retelling of events through the lens of fictional characters. Unlike traditional historical accounts, these novels weave a compelling narrative around real historical events, bringing history to life in a captivating and accessible manner. Through the artful fusion of fact and fiction, historical novels provide readers with a unique opportunity to explore bygone eras and cultures.


The hallmark of a historical novel lies in its ability to seamlessly integrate accurate historical details with a captivating story. Authors in this genre meticulously research the time periods they explore, ensuring authenticity in setting, dialogue, and cultural nuances. The characters, while fictional, often interact with real historical figures, adding depth and complexity to the narrative. Additionally, historical novels strive to capture the essence of the past, allowing readers to not only learn about historical events but also to emotionally connect with the characters experiencing them.


Historical novels encompass a wide array of themes, reflecting the diversity of human experiences across different time periods. Themes may include love and betrayal, political intrigue, social upheaval, and personal growth. These universal themes intertwined with historical contexts resonate with readers on both an emotional and intellectual level. The genre allows us to explore not only the grand sweep of historical events but also the intimate stories of individuals living through them.


To truly grasp the essence of the historical novel, exploring exemplary works is essential. Some notable examples include:

- Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (1819): One of the early classics of the historical novel genre, Ivanhoe is set in 12th-century England and explores themes of chivalry, honor, and the clash between Saxons and Normans.

- North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (1855): Offering a glimpse into the industrial landscape of 19th-century England, Gaskell's novel delves into the social and economic tensions of the time.

- The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett: Set in 12th-century England, this novel intricately weaves together the lives of various characters against the backdrop of the construction of a cathedral.

Vocabulary List

Tabella delle parole
Word Definition
Origin The beginning or source of something.
Fascinating Extremely interesting or captivating.
Coined Invented or created (a new word or phrase).
Emerged Came into existence; appeared.
Response A reaction to something.
Popularizing Making something well-known or widely accepted.
Blend A mixture or combination of different elements.
Narratives Stories or accounts of events.
Laid the foundation Established the basis or groundwork for something.
Literary genre A category of literature characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter.
Transports Carries or takes someone to another place or time.
Vivid Lively and intense; producing clear and strong mental images.
Retelling A narrative that tells again or recounts events.
Weave To blend or combine different elements into a unified whole.
Captivating Attracting and holding interest; fascinating.
Accessible Easy to understand or approach.
Artful Skillful; done with artistic or creative talent.
Authenticity The quality of being genuine or real.
Nuances Subtle or slight differences in meaning, expression, or tone.
Interact To communicate or engage with others.
Depth Complexity; intellectual or emotional profundity.
Essence The fundamental nature or quality of something.
Encompass To include or contain something as part of a whole.
Universal themes Ideas or concepts that are relevant and meaningful across different cultures and time periods.
Resonates Evokes a strong feeling of familiarity or connection.
Sweep The extent or range of something.
Exemplary Serving as a desirable model or example; outstanding.
Glimpse A brief or partial view or look.
Intricately In a detailed or complex manner.
Backdrop The background or setting against which something is viewed or depicted.


Rodwell, Grant. "Defining the Historical Novel." *Whose History?: Engaging History Students through Historical Fiction*, University of Adelaide Press, 2013.

Rodwell, Grant. "Understanding the Past through Historical Fiction." *Whose History?: Engaging History Students through Historical Fiction*, University of Adelaide Press, 2013.

Shaw, Harry E. "An Approach to the Historical Novel." *The Forms of Historical Fiction: Sir Walter Scott and His Successors*, Cornell University Press, 1983.

Foley, Barbara. "The Historical Novel." *Telling the Truth: The Theory and Practice of Documentary Fiction*, Cornell University Press, 1986.