Living History Through Fiction ~ by Gillian Pollack

Bringing history to life is one of the most exciting activities you can think of. And one of the easiest ways to access that exciting past is through historical fiction. Authors such as Elizabeth Chadwick, Sharon Kay Penman, Sharan Newman, Wendy J. Dunn and Brian Wainwright interpret their particular views of history into tales of derring-do, politics, love or war.

Wendy J. Dunn’s fascination with Anne Boleyn and her use of Wyatt’s poetry acts as a bridge to the Tudor court for modern readers. In Dear Heart, How Like You This, she uses the language of Tudor poetry and the fascination of some quite extraordinary people as a bridge to tell her story. She focuses on the personal and the individual and brings a fresh approach to the very difficult tale that is Anne’s life.

Handwriting of Anne Boleyn

Handwriting of Anne Boleyn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brian Wainwright’s novel Within the Fetterlock uses the political and a careful build up of what life felt like during the period to tell personal, private stories. It is a very different approach to Dunn, but equally effective. Both bring history home to the reader, and bring history to life in a vivid way. In Wainwright’s book the build up of events is compelling. You can see how the early part of the Wars of the Roses hurt people and tore families apart when you read the sad saga. He focuses on Constance of York and the difficulty of her path through the mire. Constance’s life and her family and her troubles are riveting and exciting.

Each book is extraordinarily different – and each book is attracting devoted followers. Both use one character as the major bridge between the readers and the period about which they write: in Dunn’s novel it is Thomas Wyatt, loyal and loving but powerless, and in Wainwright’s it is Constance of York, from a great family but caught up in decisions made for her by her menfolk and by political circumstance. It is this knife-edge between power and helplessness that catches the reader and draws the mind’s eye into the past, because it is something that we all experience in our lives. They explore matters that are very foreign to us through using the bridge of the personal and of universal feelings.

Both Dunn and Wainwright have investigated the past and made one segment of it their own – this segment is what they have transformed into a novel and given to us, as readers. History on a platter. Not one history – but many. Each history according to the writer- not only the views the writer takes, but the language the writer uses and the focus the writer prefers. These differences add up. Fictionalized history can be extraordinarily varied, with quite different views being equally valid. This is because there is no one true path to the past – these authors lead us into their views of English history with rare passion and devotion.


Dr. Gillian Polack has a background in writing and Medieval Studies. Her writing covers a wide range, from academic to popular, non-fiction to fiction. Her first novel, Illuminations,
illuminationscoverwas published by Trivium Publishing in December 2002 and her second novel (The Art of Effective Dreaming) was released 2004. She has had over twenty short pieces published (including a story for which she won an Australia Day Award), and has completed several major works, including one play and a cookbook. Her booklet on cooking for the Jewish New Year in the Middle Ages was published by the Kosher Consumers Association. In addition to her writing, Gillian currently teaches at the Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University and for the ACT Jewish Community. She is on the editorial board of H-France and is a member of the ACT Ministerial Advisory Council on Women.