What Are Examples of Historical Fiction?

Some examples of historical fiction include Thomas Pynchon’s “Mason & Dixon” and Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall.” Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the story is set in the past.

Though definitions vary, historical fiction typically takes place a number of decades removed from the year in which it is published. The Historical Novel Society defines historical fiction as any work that takes place 50 or more years in the past, or any time when the author was not yet alive. While historical fiction takes the past as its setting, it is not required to be historically accurate. Many historical novels take liberties with history, depicting genuine historical figures in fictionalized situations.

One example of a fictionalized history is Thomas Pynchon’s novel “Mason & Dixon.” The book depicts the exploits of early American land surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, responsible for the creation of the Mason-Dixon Line. Throughout the novel, the two protagonists encounter pre-Revolutionary figures such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, but the interactions are completely fabricated, rooted more in the author’s imagination than in historical fact.

Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” is an example of historical fiction that hews closer to actual history. Narrated from the perspective of British statesman Thomas Cromwell, the book relates the reign of Henry VIII, including his relationship with Anne Boleyn. The book draws on historical fact, but Mantel fictionalizes significant aspects of the story.