Historical fiction writers have made a significant contribution to literature and our understanding of the world we live in. Their work brings to life the past in a way that textbooks and history classes cannot, and it helps us to understand the events and people that have shaped our world.
Historical fiction writers do this by blending historical accuracy with creative imagination. They research the time period they are writing about in great detail, and they use this research to create realistic and believable characters and settings. However, they also take creative liberties, adding their own insights and interpretations to the historical record.
This blend of historical accuracy and creative imagination is what makes historical fiction so engaging. It allows readers to step back in time and experience history for themselves. It also helps us to understand the past in a new way, and it can even help us to see parallels between the past and the present.
In addition to their contribution to literature, historical fiction writers also play an important role in our understanding of the world we live in. By bringing to life the past, they help us to understand the events and people that have shaped our world. This understanding can help us to make better decisions in the present, and it can also help us to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
Some of the most famous historical fiction writers include the following twenty:
Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was a Scottish novelist, poet, and historian who is frequently cited as the inventor of the historical novel. His novels, such as Ivanhoe (1819) and Rob Roy (1817), brought to life the past in a way that had never been done before. Scott’s novels were not just historical romances, however. They were also works of social commentary, and they helped to shape the way that people understood the past. Scott’s work had a profound influence on the development of the historical novel, and it continues to be read and enjoyed by people all over the world.
James Fenimore Cooper (1789 – 1851)
Sure, here is a 100-word biography of James Fenimore Cooper as an historical novelist:
James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) was an American novelist who is best known for his historical novels set on the American frontier. His most famous works include The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Pioneers (1823), and The Pathfinder (1840). Cooper’s novels were praised for their realistic portrayal of Native American culture and their accurate depiction of the American frontier. He was also a prolific writer of sea stories, and his works on the U.S. Navy have been well-received among naval historians.
Cooper was born in Burlington, New Jersey, and grew up in Cooperstown, New York. He attended Yale University for three years, but he did not graduate. After leaving Yale, Cooper worked as a sailor and a surveyor. He began writing novels in the early 1820s, and his first novel, The Spy, was a critical and commercial success. Cooper went on to write over 30 novels, and he is considered one of the most important American novelists of the 19th century.
Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was a master of historical fiction. His two most famous historical novels, A Tale of Two Cities (1859) and David Copperfield (1850), are set in the early 19th century and offer vivid and detailed portraits of life in that era. Dickens’s historical novels are not just entertaining stories; they are also powerful social commentaries that explore the themes of poverty, inequality, and social injustice.
Dickens’s historical novels were influenced by the work of other historical novelists, such as Sir Walter Scott and Edward Bulwer-Lytton. However, Dickens’s novels are unique in their ability to combine historical accuracy with Dickens’s own distinctive brand of humour, pathos, and social commentary.
Dickens’s historical novels continue to be read and enjoyed by readers today. They are a testament to Dickens’s genius as a novelist and his ability to capture the human experience in all its complexity.
Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910)
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) is best known for his two epic historical novels, War and Peace (1865-69) and Anna Karenina (1875-77). These novels are considered masterpieces of historical fiction, and they offer a sweeping and panoramic view of Russian society in the 19th century.
Tolstoy’s historical novels are notable for their attention to detail and their realistic portrayal of historical events. He spent years researching the events that he depicted in his novels, and he even interviewed some of the people who had lived through them. This attention to detail gives his novels a sense of authenticity that is rare in historical fiction.
In addition to their historical accuracy, Tolstoy’s novels also explore complex philosophical themes, such as the nature of free will, the meaning of life, and the relationship between the individual and society. These themes have made his novels enduring classics of world literature.
Pearl S. Buck (1892 – 1973)
Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) was an American novelist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938. She is best known for her novels about China, which she wrote based on her own experiences growing up in the country. Buck’s historical novels are notable for their accurate depiction of Chinese culture and history. They also offer insights into the lives of women and children in China, and they often explore themes of social justice and equality.
Some of Buck’s most famous historical novels include The Good Earth (1931), Sons (1932), and A House Divided (1935). These novels tell the story of the Wang family, a peasant family in China, over the course of several decades. They offer a vivid portrait of Chinese life during the early 20th century, and they have been translated into over 30 languages.
Buck’s historical novels have been praised for their realism, their insights into Chinese culture, and their powerful storytelling. They have helped to introduce Chinese culture to a wider audience, and they have made a lasting contribution to the field of historical fiction.
Robert Graves (1895 – 1985)
Robert Graves (1895-1985) is best known for his historical novels, including I, Claudius (1934) and Claudius the God (1934). Graves’ historical novels are noted for their blend of historical accuracy and literary imagination. He was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for both I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Graves’ historical novels are characterized by their vivid descriptions of Roman life, their complex characters, and their insights into the human condition.
Graham Greene (1904 – 1991)
Graham Greene was a prolific British novelist who was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature twice. His work often explored political issues of the modern world, often through a historic lens. His Catholic faith also heavily influenced his work, such as the novel The Power and the Glory, which was named by Time magazine as one of the hundred best English-language novels written since 1923. It has been praised for its complex characters, its suspenseful plot, and its exploration of the themes of faith, guilt, and redemption.
The Power and the Glory is set in Mexico in the 1930s, a time when the government was attacking Catholicism . The novel follows a man known only as the “whisky priest” as he travels around the country as a fugitive. Haunted by his sinful past, the priest is forced to choose between the safety of silence and doing the right thing.
Mary Renault (1905 – 1983)
Mary Renault (1905-1983) was an English historical novelist best known for her works set in ancient Greece and Egypt. Her novels were praised for their historical accuracy, their sensitive portrayals of homosexual relationships, and their vivid recreations of the ancient world. Renault’s most famous works include “The Last of the Wine” (1956), The King Must Die (1958), The Bull from the Sea (1962), Fire from Heaven (1970), The Persian Boy (1972), and Funeral Games (1981).
Renault’s novels were groundbreaking for their time, as they depicted homosexual relationships in a positive light. Her work was also praised for its historical accuracy, as she did extensive research on the ancient world before writing her novels. Renault’s novels have been translated into many languages and have been adapted into films and television shows. She is considered one of the most important historical novelists of the 20th century.
Rumer Godden (1907 – 1998)
Rumer Godden (1907-1998) was an English author who wrote over 60 novels, many of which are set in India, where she spent much of her childhood. Her historical novels, such as Black Narcissus (1939) and The River (1946), are known for their rich descriptions of time and place, as well as their sensitive portrayals of human relationships. Godden’s work has been translated into over 20 languages and has been adapted into films, television shows, and ballets. She was awarded the OBE in 1993 for her services to literature.
Howard Fast (1914 – 2003)
Howard Fast (1914-2003) was an American historical novelist who wrote over 60 novels, including Citizen Tom Paine (1943), Freedom Road (1944), and Spartacus (1951). His novels were known for their strong characterization, their attention to historical detail, and their focus on the themes of freedom and social justice. Fast was a controversial figure, and his work was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. However, he remained a popular author, and his novels have been translated into over 75 languages. His 1982 novel Max is set at the turn of the century during the early days of the film industry.
Madeleine L’Engle (1918 – 2007)
Madeleine L’Engle (1918-2007) was an American author who wrote extensively in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and children’s literature. She is best known for her Newbery Medal-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time (1962), but she also wrote several historical novels, including The Other Side of the Sun (1957) and A House Like a Lion (1968).
L’Engle’s historical novels are set in a variety of time periods, from ancient Egypt to the American Civil War. They often feature strong female characters and explore themes of courage, faith, and family. L’Engle’s historical novels have been praised for their vivid descriptions, their attention to historical detail, and their insights into the human condition.
Although L’Engle is not as well-known as an historical novelist as she is for her science fiction and fantasy work, her historical novels are still well-regarded by critics and readers alike. They offer a unique perspective on history and a glimpse into the mind of one of the most important children’s authors of the 20th century.
L. Doctorow (1931 – 2015)
L. Doctorow was an American novelist who is best known for his historical fiction. His novels often blend historical fact with fictional characters and events, creating a rich and complex tapestry of American history. Some of his most famous historical novels include Ragtime (1975), Billy Bathgate (1989), and The March (2005). Doctorow’s novels have been praised for their imaginative storytelling, their insights into American society, and their masterful use of language. He was a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Humanities Medal.
Toni Morrison (1931 – 2019)
Toni Morrison (1931-2019) was an American novelist who wrote extensively about the African-American experience. She is best known for her historical novels, which include Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987), and Jazz (1992). Morrison’s historical novels are characterized by their rich use of language, their complex characters, and their exploration of the themes of race, identity, and history.
Morrison’s historical novels are not strictly historical fiction in the traditional sense. They do not simply retell historical events, but rather use history as a starting point for exploring larger themes. For example, Song of Solomon tells the story of a young black man who travels from the South to the North in search of his identity. The novel’s historical setting is the Great Migration, but Morrison uses this setting to explore the larger themes of race, identity, and the American dream.
Morrison’s historical novels have been praised for their literary merit and their social commentary. They have won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Morrison’s work has had a profound impact on American literature, and she is considered one of the most important writers of the 20th century.
Isabel Allende (1942 -)
Isabel Allende is a Chilean-American author who has written over 20 novels, many of which are historical fiction. Her first historical novel, The House of the Spirits (1982), was a critical and commercial success and has been translated into over 35 languages. Allende’s other historical novels include Daughter of Fortune (1999), Inés of My Soul (2006), A Long Petal of the Sea (2019), and Violeta (2022).
Allende’s historical novels are known for their strong female characters, their vivid descriptions of historical events, and their blend of realism and magical realism. Her work has been praised for its insights into the human condition and its celebration of the power of the human spirit.
Allende’s historical novels have been enjoyed by readers around the world. They have won numerous awards, including the National Book Award and the Gabriela Mistral Prize. Allende is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Margaret George (1943 -)
Margaret George is a historical fiction author who is known for her meticulously researched biographies of famous historical figures. Her first novel, The Autobiography of Henry VIII, was published in 1980 and is still considered one of the most popular fictional portrayals of the English king. George has also written novels about other notable women from history and myth, including Mary Magdalene, Queen Elizabeth I, and Helen of Troy.
In 1997, George published The Memoirs of Cleopatra, which tells the story of the life of Cleopatra VII, the last Pharaoh of Egypt. The book chronicles Cleopatra’s early life, her famous romances with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, and her death. The Memoirs of Cleopatra was critically acclaimed upon its release and was adapted into a miniseries in 1999.
George’s novels are known for their historical accuracy and their vivid portrayals of the characters. She has a gift for bringing historical figures to life, and her novels are both entertaining and informative.
Ken Follett (1949 -)
Ken Follett was born in Cardiff, Wales, in 1949, and he has sold over 160 million copies of his books worldwide. Follett’s novels are known for their epic scope, their complex plots, and their meticulous attention to historical detail.
Follett’s most famous novels include The Pillars of the Earth (1989), World Without End (2007), and Fall of Giants (2010). These novels all tell sweeping stories of love, war, and political intrigue set against the backdrop of major historical events.
Follett’s work has been praised by critics for its historical accuracy, its suspenseful plots, and its memorable characters. He is one of the most popular historical novelists in the world, and his books have been translated into over 30 languages.
Hilary Mantel (1952-2022)
Hilary Mantel was an acclaimed author who published from the 1980s. Her Thomas Cromwell series is her most famous work, and it follows the rise and fall of Cromwell, an advisor to King Henry VIII and architect of the English Reformation. The first book in the series, Wolf Hall, was published in 2009 and chronicles Cromwell’s rise to power in Henry’s court. Both Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, were awarded the Booker Prize, making Mantel the only woman to have won the award twice. The final book in the series, The Mirror & the Light, was released in 2020.
Mantel’s work has been praised for its characterization and its historical detail.
Philippa Gregory (1954 -)
Philippa Gregory is an English historical novelist who has been publishing since 1987. She is best known for her novels set in the Tudor period, such as The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen. Her novels have been translated into over 30 languages and have sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
Gregory is a graduate of the University of Sussex and holds a PhD in eighteenth-century literature from the University of Edinburgh. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has been awarded the Outstanding Contribution to Historical Fiction Award by the Historical Writers’ Association.
Gregory’s novels have been praised for their historical accuracy and their strong characterization. She has been criticized by some for her tendency to sensationalize historical events, but her novels remain popular with readers around the world.
Lindsey Davis (1959 -)
Lindsey Davis is an English historical novelist, best known for her Falco series of historical crime stories set in ancient Rome and its empire. She was born in Birmingham, England, in 1949, and studied English literature at Oxford University. After working as a civil servant for 13 years, she began writing historical fiction in 1985. Her first novel, The Silver Pigs, was published in 1989 and introduced the character of Marcus Didius Falco, a Roman informer and investigator. Davis has since written over 20 Falco novels, as well as a number of other historical novels set in ancient Rome. Her work has been praised for its historical accuracy, its humour, and its well-developed characters. She is a recipient of the Cartier Diamond Dagger award, the highest honour for historical crime fiction.
Sarah Waters (1966 -)
Sarah Waters is a Welsh novelist who was born in 1966. She is best known for her historical novels, which often feature lesbian protagonists. Her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, was published in 1998 and won the Betty Trask Award. Her other novels include Affinity, Fingersmith, The Night Watch, and The Little Stranger.
Waters’s novels are praised for their strong characterization, their atmospheric settings, and their exploration of lesbian identity. She has been compared to other historical novelists such as Hilary Mantel.
Waters’s work has been adapted for film and television. Tipping the Velvet was adapted into a BBC television miniseries in 2002, and Fingersmith was adapted into a film in 2005. The Night Watch was adapted into a BBC television miniseries in 2011.
Waters is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has won numerous awards for her work, including the South Bank Show Award for Literature, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the Stonewall Writer of the Year Award.
And that’s our list of the 20 best historical fiction writers. What’s your take on these – any surprises, or any historical fiction authors not on this list that you feel should make the top 20?