How do you feel about famous figures in your historical fiction?
And no I don’t mean famous as in Scarlett O’Hara or Mr. Darcy, even though I can quote them and talk about them like they are real people.
I mean like King Charles II, or Abraham Lincoln, or the Duke of Wellington. What happens when they show up in your historical fiction and start interacting with the fictional characters?
In keeping with my post about my tolerance line for paranormal protagonists, I find that I am only comfortable with real-life famously prominent historical characters on stage in my novels up to a point.
Any regency romance novel will have Prinny in the background somewhere, being fat and making one or two debaucherous remarks to the Heroine. I am fine with that, because that’s just it, he is in the background.
But when the author writes a whole conversation between Abraham Lincoln and the fictional main character of the novel about how Lincoln thinks he’s the best, gives him a medal, gives him a tour of DC, rides with him on the train to Baltimore, etc. it is too much for me.
I see famous historical figures as part of the background, part of the scenery to set the stage of the novel, but they can’t be given too much characterization. It feels fake. I feel sort of affronted that that famous person isn’t being respected and is being “made” to do and say things they didn’t actually do and we KNOW they didn’t since it’s a matter of famous public historical record!!!
Does that make sense? Like I said it can be done right but sometimes it feels wrong to me. Examples ahoy!
1) On Secret Service,by John Jakes: although this book contained scenes with Lincoln, he followed my rule of being in the background with little or no interaction with the characters, just following high-level actions exactly how historical records portray him as doing.
BUT in the book Jakes does write a few scenes with Allan Pinkerton, head of the first US Detective Agency, and I was fine with that because I really didn’t know anything about Pinkerton, other than the name sounded familiar, so my suspension of disbelief wasn’t jarred at all by his actions or conversations.
2) Savannah, by John Jakes: In this Jakes novel the mainly story follows a little 12 year old girl named Hattie. As a true “rebel” when she meets General Sherman in the streets of Savannah she kicks him in the shin! Hard! Then he invites to dine with him and they have a HIGHLY PERSONAL conversation about his son who died and how it makes him feel and he gets sort of teary.
That was just too much speculation on his character, it didn’t work for me.
3) The Prince and Me: yes I mean the Disney film. I reeeeally didn’t like how they just MADE UP THE PRINCE. Guess what, there IS a frickin REAL prince of Denmark and he his name is NOT Eddie, it’s Frederik, and he did not marry an American girl, and his father is not dying.
I also get annoyed with authors make up these tiny kingdoms in the Alps/Pyrenees/Russia/Persia so their heroine can be a lost princess or the hero a sheik, because for a moment there I doubt myself and think, wait is there REALLY a princess of Montalusia?
And those of you who know me in real life might guess why I think this, but my heart will only belong to one royal family of a tiny, real country:
Especially Princess Charlotte:
4) The Other Boleyn Girl, by Phillipa Gregory: Even though this was CLEARLY a very fictional work for me, it still crossed my boundary line. Although Henry VIII was a background character, it personified Anne too much for my comfort level. Mary I didn’t really know much about, so like Pinkerton above, her scenes, thoughts, and actions didn’t affect me quite as much.
What books or movies marketed as FICTION haven’t portrayed a historical figure well for you?