ABSTRACT

How one defines the historical novel has important consequences in terms of gender. It is a common practice, following Georg Lukács, to consider Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) as the point of origin for the historical novel. Richard Maxwell has recently contested this, moving the invention of the historical novel to seventeenth-century France (Maxwell 2009). 1 This search for origins is, as usual, also a grab for status. We see the first of anything as special and remarkable. In giving Waverley the status of being the point of origin, one has simultaneously endorsed a certain definition of the historical novel. Avrom Fleishman, who belongs in this camp, offered the following defining attributes: “the presence of a realistic background for the action,” “the presence of a specific link to history,” meaning there must be at least one “real” historical character, and “the feeling of how it was to be alive in another age” (1971, 3–4). Fleishman describes the expectations of the general reader of historical novels, though the pronoun used hints he may not be speaking of all readers: “Even if the reader uses fiction for escapist fantasy, he expects historical novels to be ‘true-to-life,’ i.e., accurate in the light of the historical evidence” (1971, x).