Historical fiction is considered to be one of the most notable genres of fiction because it connects real historical events with fiction. The current work provides the general description of this text genre, making an emphasis on its distinct characteristics. These characteristics and attributes of the historical fiction are shown and discussed on the example of one of the most notable novels of Victor Hugo called Les Misérables. This work combines several genres, namely historical fiction and epic novel, and is considered rather complicated. The additional attention should be paid to the fact that due to the complexity of the chosen novel, it is considered only as the historical fiction. The determination and analysis of the characteristics of the chosen gender provide the understanding of the overall purpose of this genre.
Historical fiction is the text genre that combines both fiction and facts (Barone et al. 4). This genre has several notable characteristics which allow differentiating it from other genres. One of the major characteristics of the historical fiction is the existence of the real and definable place and period of time where the plot of the fiction story develops. Hugo successfully incorporated the created story into the historical context in his Les Misérables. Indeed, the novel covers a rather broad historic period from 1815 to 1832. The story takes place in various locations in France, mainly in Paris. Consequently, the chosen work has one of the major characteristics of the chosen genre. It is notable that such an authentic setting establishes the particular mood of the whole story, as well as actions of main and secondary characters. They act in the context of political events which occurred during the above mentioned period, including revolutions and time between them. Some heroes support these revolutions while others stay in opposition.
Furthermore, one more crucial characteristic is that the author places fictional characters and events into real events and time periods with the description of these historic times, as well as “artifacts and beliefs about the world at that time” (Barone et al. 4). At the same time, the developed story is totally believable and harmonious with regard to the chosen time period in “thoughts, actions, beliefs, and language” (Bullock et al.). This statement is supported by the fact that main heroes are involved in the described revolutionary events both directly and indirectly. For example, Marius takes an active part in one of the revolutionary societies and in the confrontations on the streets of Paris (Hugo). At the same time, he faces the sharp misunderstanding from the side of his relatives, for example, Monsieur Gillenormand, who do not support the revolution and the attempts of the society to topple the existing governing regime (Hugo). These two heroes and their interrelationships reflect the conflict that existed between different social groups and even generations.
The additional attention should be paid to the accurate depiction of the notable historic events that are usually presented in the historical fiction. Hugo precisely showed the Battle of Waterloo, analyzed the actions of the aggrieved parties, and depicted the causations and reasons for their success and failure. Moreover, he even placed his secondary characters in this notable historic event. The author incepted the meeting of Marius’ father with the Monsieur Thénardiers (Hugo). These heroes and their actions in this particular situation reflect the behavior that would be rather common for real people who were in the same place. In Les Misérables, Monsieur Thénardiers is the person who visits the battlefields and collects valuables like jewels from the bodies of the killed soldiers. During his travel to the battlefield of Waterloo, he intends to depredate the body of Marius’ father and, unwillingly, saves his life by drawing him from under the other killed soldiers. In this particular situation, Hugo depicted the existence and the actions of the individuals from the lower social classes who capitalized from the dead people on the war. The behavior of Monsieur Thénardiers was quite common for such people. It is also notable that to make the novel more accurate and believable, Hugo depicted thoughts, behaviors, and language of main and secondary characters, representatives of various social classes, ranging from ex-convict Jean Valjean to representatives of the bourgeoisie, for instance, Monsieur Gillenormand (Hugo). The example of the language used by the urchins of that time can be given by the quotation of Gavroche: “Don’t be afraid. They can’t get in. And besides, I’m here! Here, catch hold of my hand. Hold your tongue and shut your peepers!” (Hugo 1628).
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Moreover, Hugo provided the precise description of the life and behavior of his major and secondary heroes, which makes them unlike, interesting, and easy to identify even without the notification of their names. The combination of destinies of these characters creates the intriguing plot and some sort of suspense. The developments, the conclusion of this story, and even the major events described there can be hardly predicted by the reader. The example of such an event is the salvage of Marius by Jean Valjean. The young man is beloved of Valjean’s daughter and takes all her attention and thoughts. Jean Valjean can hardly accept this fact. He suffers because his daughter Cosette is the only close person in his life. Hugo created the atmosphere in which the reader assumes that Jean Valjean would kill Marius for stealing the attention and love of Cosette. However, he saves this young man during the battle on the streets of Paris by escaping from the police by using the tunnels under the city.
Finally, the plot of the works of this genre makes sense and has some definite solution. The actions of main and secondary characters are logical in the majority of cases. For example, Javer, being a police officer who respects and strictly follows the laws, performs the persecution of ex-convict Jean Valjean, who hides from the law, and finally catches him. These are quite sensible and rational actions which have a logical end. However, these characteristics possess some limits for the authors. According to White, “there are limits to how much you can include of the spectrum of the life in history, a spectrum stretching from individual interiority to the largest historical forces and movements” (150).
Concerning personal understanding, all above mentioned characteristics of the historical fiction are necessary for revealing “history and true character of historic figures” for bringing history to life (E. Groce and R. Groce 100). The histories of this genre pose interest to readers as they unfurl some particular moral and mental developments of the characters which flourish during particular historic events. The authors pay attention not to the simple enumeration of facts, but to showing cause-and-effect relationships which help to analyze and recognize human characters within some specific circumstances and events. Hence, readers may experience either the motives of separate individuals or the groups of individuals which form the background to some particular actions and behaviors. The example is the formation, the existence, and active participation in the street riots of the representatives of the revolutionary student club Friends of the ABC.
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The development of the factious story and its putting into real historical context provides the interconnection of the reader with the described events and characters. Tracing the path of the changes of personal characters, as well as historical and political events, enables to contemplate these changes and determine their causations and consequences. Historical fiction is some kind of the education about the past. It provides the ability to create some unusual version of history that incorporates characters created by authors. At the same time, it helps the reader to understand current events and behaviors of people. In any case, the context of this genre provides the better understanding of the internal walls people build to compartmentalize their time, attention, and lives (Bullock et al.).
In summary, the current essay provides the short description and analysis of the historical fiction and its most notable characteristics. This genre incepts the stories and characters created by the author or authors into the historical events. It is characterized by the precise description of real notable events and the heroes, as well as their actions and visions. The behaviors and language of the main and secondary heroes are consistent with the behavior of people who lived in the depicted time period. Moreover, they are logical and sensible. Hence, unlike the authors of other types of fiction novels, the authors of the historic fictions are to some extent limited by the frames of the real historic events. However, these limitations did not form the barriers to understanding and analyzing the causes and consequences of these events of the depicted time periods and occurrences and behaviors of people which surround the reader in the current moment.