I love historical fiction.
For one of a number of reasons it is my favourite medium
For starters – it makes me feel intelligent. Like an educational Desperate Housewives – I can engage in a gossipy medium that actually teaches me stuff. Yeah!
Two (2): It’s a good form of escapism. Fuck watching Modern Family or like, some other pretentious shit that pretends to understand our times, historical fiction is all like – “hey, I’m old, I dunno you and you dunno me, so let’s just go about it and see what happens.” For reals I’m not intimidated…I think. It’s a safe genre – everything it talks about has already happened. It’s not scary, like futuristic novels. It’s not paranoid or dangerous, like contemporary work. It’s old news, it’s already happened. Play on!
Three (III/IIV/IIIIIIIX/ETC): It’s essentially an extension of what we already think (or know, or think we know). As much as avid readers of the genre would protest, essentially this medium is an exaggeration of what we believe the past to have already…been. Basically, it’s an egotistical adventure in proving to the recorded word that you knew best (yes, I fucking KNEW that Caesar would die!) and even in the events that you didn’t quite knew, they still fit the norms. Costume/location/characters etc. Which leads into point 4 (or is still part of point 3, I’m not sure).
Four (kind of like 1). Historical fiction likes to prove the reader intelligent. This genre will relegate itself to suffocating the reader with detail that their imagination had created beforehand. The vast majority of these texts are fantastically written, but in reality cannot escape the paradox that they are, nonetheless, written by people who reside in the same time as the meagre reader who is subjected to the role as the Neanderthal consumer who should be amazed by every generic landscape created by the bored faux-historian. Often, the result is a bewildered reader left to muse to his/her friends that “it was like I was there” when they really wanted to say “It was a great story.” The language/dialogue/setting makes you feel you have gone back in time whilst you sit on your sofa scoffing ice magic from the bottle. The reality is that the writer is probably doing the same.
Essentially, we are the product of our time – we cannot change that and, well, we should certainly not try and change it. I would simply prefer a greater level of introspection when dealing with the matter of the past (regardless of the wank this would invoke). There is much to learn from the past – it will shape our future.