Historical fiction is a dual concept. On the one hand, the adjective “historical” presupposes that a work of literature depicts some historical events or figures, or, in other words, the true facts of history. On the other hand, the word “fiction” means that the author deals more with the phantoms of the imagination that with the historical truth. However, many readers perceive works of historical fiction as a source of information about the historical past; therefore, the authors are responsible for their works just like the teachers are responsible for what they teach. At the same time, it is practically impossible to avoid distortions and inclusion of racial, ethnic or gender stereotypes in the works of historical fiction because of the fictitious nature of such works and of the fact that the authors as everybody else have their subjective points of view and, in addition, are not bound to be objective unlike scientists do.
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As Richard Hofstadter wrote about the popularity of historical fiction as early as in 1948, “this quest for the American past is carried on in a spirit of sentimental appreciation rather than of critical analysis” (Hofstadter 1948, v). Indeed, the readers often seek for a feeling of national pride than for the historical truth. The readers’ desire forms the authors’ response – they write what they are expected to write. Besides, the authors have their own judgment about the historical events, and, as Cai rightfully argues, “history has always been interpreted and reinterpreted from the author’s point of view” (2006, p. 78). It is often true for the scientific works about history and the more so it is true for fiction – if a scientist can be preoccupied with the subjective point of view though he is obliged to be objective, then a fiction writer can hardly be required to abide by the historical truth. In addition, art often “reflects the morality and prejudices of the dominant culture”, as Alex Good (2002) argues, and it would be unjust to accuse the authors in belonging to the “dominant culture”. However, remembering about the educating role of literature, they should be more cautious about what they write and prevent stereotypes from invading their works. Yet, the possibility to preach subjective viewpoints instead of fighting for objectivity is, perhaps, the main distinction of arts from sciences, and the requirement to be objective can only exist in the form of advice rather than of an obligation. If the authors write only truth, they would be historical researchers and not writers of fiction.
Thus, the works of historical fiction might include racial, ethnic and gender stereotypes because the authors usually belong to the specific culture (or to the specific racial, ethnic or gender group) and embody the views of that culture due both to their own subjectivism and to the readers’ demand.
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