‘Where History says little, Fiction may say much’ (Anna Barbauld): the historical novel in women’s hands in the mid-twentieth century

Publication year

Summary from the introduction:

Kathryn Sutherland sets the scene in her account of women writers of historical novels in the early to mid-twentieth century, revealing how the historical novel became a space for women writers and readers to challenge orthodox historical records. (10)


To be taken seriously, writers of historical fiction still seek to align their contributions with ‘novel’ rather than ‘romance’. (22)


Eileen Power, who read history at Girton College, Cambridge from 1907 to 1910 and later studied at the London School of Economics, was one of the great pioneering social historians. [...] Power understood that combining the perspectives of history and literature was a route to reclaiming a past yet unwritten – a past unacknowledged because under-imagined. (23)


Finding history in Austen rather than her contemporary Scott, Heyer – like the social historians George and Power and the economic historians Pinchbeck and Clark – finds history where it is supposed not to be. One reason Austen was recommended as wartime reading, given to soldiers in the trenches in 1914–18 and to those returning home suffering from what we would now identify as post-traumatic stress disorders, is because it was widely assumed that nothing happens in her novels. Austen was safe to read because she would not excite or over-stimulate the reader; above all, she was disengaged from public events. (27)