Pride of Language in Historical Fiction



I’ve recently read several blog articles about language use in historical fiction. These writers take great pride in their efforts to use vocabulary, sayings and syntax to establish their story’s manners, mores and customs. They delve into novels, letters, news articles, chronicles, public records, anything they can find from the period in order to provide an aural immersion experience for the reader.

Roland Colton asserts in a recent interview post on M.K. Tod’s A Writer of History blog:

“The manuscript should not offer a single word, phrase, or description inconsistent with the era, or the illusion of time displacement will be compromised.” 


In his Royal Literary Fund article titled, “No Pastiche: Re-voicing the Past“, James Wilson explains that he goes as far as actually learning the (English) language of the time:

“I learn the (or an) English that’s appropriate to the world in which the novel is set, and then use it – exactly as I would my own present-day English – to describe the characters’ experience as vividly and authentically as I can.”


These are high goals. And, of course, few of us have the patience to read Old English. I haven’t read works by either Mr. Colton or Mr. Wilson but I trust they have learned to balance today’s reader expectations and pace with their immersion research.

My next post will address my own challenges in this area.

Meanwhile, what are your favorite examples of historical fiction that best reflect the language of the period without getting bogged down for today’s reader?

What are your favorite #Histfic reads that best reflect that period’s #language usage?

2 thoughts on “Pride of Language in Historical Fiction

  1. As I recall, any of Barbara Tuchman’s books were written in such a way. I haven’t read much fiction, none, actually for twenty years or so. I do look forward to yours however!

    • I look forward to mine too! (I promise, I’m making progress, if slowly)

      I read Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror while I was in Indonesia. I don’t remember the language usage per se, just her brilliant insight.

      I didn’t read much fiction for several decades. But James kept rereading TLOTR. I finally dove in. I think the next thing I read was Les Miserables – France again. Tolkien and Hugo reminded me of the power of storytelling.

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