One Purpose of Historical Fiction

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by Mary Ellis

Soon after I began researching my stories, I realized many historians take a dim view of fiction, and the idea of historical romance makes their left eyes twitch. When historians sit down to read about their favorite period, they choose scholarly works such as biographies or firsthand battlefield accounts complied from soldiers’ diaries and letters home. I respect that choice and harbor no secret hope of swaying purists into falling in love with historical romance. But as a fellow lover of history, I see us at a crossroads as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws to a close this year. I contend that if those who prefer history to remain unsullied and unchanged by whim and plot twists don’t relax a tad and stop bad-mouthing fiction, along with television and movie adaptions, the general public’s grasp of history will only continue to decline. I hope I’m wrong about this. But polls indicate many college students don’t have a clue as to who Thomas Jefferson was or the role he played in founding our country. Some college students polled thought Ben Franklin invented electricity when he flew a kite and got electrocuted.

I’ve been away from the classroom for many years but I’ve heard from friends that American History is now an elective instead of a requirement in some public high schools, and that the study of the Civil War in particular is being avoided because it touches on the politically incorrect topic of slavery.

It appalls me that the study of our great nation would be relegated to the ranks of woodworking and home economics. It also makes me scratch my head at the same time. If the youth of today don’t learn from mistakes made in the past, aren’t we as a culture destined to repeat similar mistakes? In general, the thinking of young adults is forward and technology driven. If we don’t actively seek to recruit replacements for history lovers among the young, the scholarly works will one day collect dust in archive rooms with no one opening them. My premise is that historical fiction, television, and the movies, expose the masses to the past and can stimulate genuine interest. Once someone hears about the Underground Railroad, espionage by women, the development of weaponry, or the mindset of men like Robert E. Lee, he or she will then delve into the real story. From students getting a taste of history and finding they enjoy it are born the historians and scholarly writers of tomorrow. And for the rest of general population? Hopefully, they will at least come away knowing the Underground Railroad wasn’t an actual subway between Georgia and New York. And that Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t just some old guy on the fifty dollar bill.

The Last HeiressMary Ellis has written twelve bestselling novels set in the Amish community. Before “retiring” to write full-time, Mary taught middle school and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate. She has enjoyed a lifelong passion for American history and is an active member of the local historical society. She has recently finished several romances set during the Civil War and is currently working on a series of mysteries, Secrets of the South. The Last Heiress, set in Wilmington, North Carolina, during the final days of the war is her latest release.

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