Sarah Johnson’s Twenty Classic Historical Novels

Defining historical fiction is extremely tricky, as Sarah Johnson knows well: readers, she writes, may be “forced to sort through tales of modern suburban angst, lurid contemporary thrillers, or generic bodice rippers to find the works that match a compelling story with an informed view of the past.”

She’s well qualified to talk about the subject as the author of Historical Fiction: A Guide to the Genre, as well as being the American editor for Historical Novels Review, one of two journals published by the Historical Novel Society.

A couple of years ago she produced a list of twenty influential historical novels written over the past 60 years or more, and between them spanning world history from prehistoric Europe to 20th-century New York.

Obviously, there are bound to be missing favourites – for me, Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard for a start – but it’s a fantastic roll call of la creme de la creme.

This month’s Bookmark magazine contains the second instalment, Great Historical Fiction, vol II – the only drawback being that you have to be a subscriber to see the article!  With luck, the editors won’t keep us waiting too long before posting it on the website …

Masters of the Past, Great Historical Fiction vol. II
Masters of the Past, Great Historical Fiction vol. II

2 Replies to “Sarah Johnson’s Twenty Classic Historical Novels”

  1. Hi Lucy,

    Thanks so much for posting about my Bookmarks articles!
    I expect they’ll put the second one online eventually too. And thanks for the recommendation of The Leopard, which I’ve heard about (and own a copy of) but haven’t yet read.

    all best,

  2. I’m glad you picked it up – I was going to write and tell you! I love your list and am curious to see the next instalment – about genres/trends, I think you said.
    The Leopard is a fairly obvious choice for me – as an Italian translator and having lived in Italy for years. Although, I have to say, having read the Italian version, I think Archibald Colquhoun has produced one of the most beautifully written translations I know. I keep meaning to find out more about the translator – let alone the author who was also fascinating! Could be the subject of a future blog!
    All best

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