Posted by: jeannineatkins | September 30, 2015

How Much History Should Go in a Historical Novel, and Other Questions

Anytime we put an adjective in front of a novel – such as women’s, Jewish, Irish, or historical – we can make it particular, but also risk it being seen as limiting what we expect of fictional elements such as tone, style, and structure. I want to blend my present concerns with those of people gone before, drawing from history to explore themes that engage me now, though I love the way that history may offer the gift of a plot. … For more of my thoughts about Finding Fiction’s Sweet Spot Between Past and Present, please click on A Writer of History.


A favorite historical novel for me this year was The Hawthorne House, which shows Sophia Hawthorne struggling to balance her roles as devoted wife to the novelist, Nathaniel, as the mother of three, and her creative life as a painter. So I am thrilled that the novel’s author Erika Robuck, who is not fond of Louisa May Alcott’s classic (and asks that we please don’t throw pencils) wrote: “Little Woman in Blue is the Little Women I have always wanted, and for those who enjoy literature of this time period, and complicated female protagonists, I highly recommend it.” You can read her whole review here. Disha at Franklenstein: Frank Book Reviews, was another who never felt charmed by the four nineteenth century girls, but writes: “If you loved ‘Little Women’ as a child, this is the book to read as a grown up.”

Are any others of you who weren’t such Little Women fans? Step up. I don’t believe a single pencil was thrown. You can love a book, as I did this novel about the moral lives of girls, yet have reservations. For me what rankles most in Little Women, besides an unflattering depiction of the youngest sister, was the way that anger held a moral quality, as if good people never got mad. Not so. The girls in the book had plenty to be angry about, and in life, Louisa and her mother had still more that silence and a warning pillow on a sofa couldn’t and shouldn’t quench. Not acknowledging the anger – well, I’m a novelist, not a psychiatrist, but I believe some of that made Louisa kind of judgmental about her youngest sister who had a conscience, but also generally a happier life.



On the other hand, I couldn’t be more pleased to have my novel praised by someone who describes herself as a bit of a Little Women fanatic and book nerd who visited the Alcott’s “home and special collections, submerged myself in their letters, scrapbooks and diaries.” Both fan girl and scholar (she can be in my club any day), Stephanie Burns (who took the above picture) is offering a giveaway of Little Woman in Blue at Book Perfume, along with her review. You just have to post your favorite Little Women character (though you might want to join the interesting discussion!) by Friday Oct. 2 at 6 p.m.

In other news, it’s fall and the air is delicious.



  1. Love the photo that Stephanie Burns took!

    I was enamored of LITTLE WOMEN as a kid and still love the book – of course I wanted to be Jo. It was actually funny to me to learn that Louisa wanted everyone to be in love with Beth, whom she thought represented something close to perfection. Her lovingkindness was always admirable, but she didn’t have the sort of fire to appeal to me, I’m afraid! And really, the character who I think got the shortest shrift in Little Women was probably Meg, who just wanted to go to a party and meet a nice young man and settle down. She never felt fully-realized, though Amy did (if not in a flattering light).

    • Yes, nothing like a book and a teapot to make you feel at home!

      As a girl I identified with all the different sisters at some point, latching onto scenes more than the characters. I liked Jo in the garret (except for the rat), Amy with her pencils and flirting with icons and a shrine at her aunt’s, Meg trying to keep house and burning supper, and as a shy girl, I was amazed that Beth would walk into the Laurence home to play the piano.

  2. Thank you for the shout out, Jeannine!! And so glad you love the photo, Kelly! I loved this book so much I could gush about it forever.

    The House of Hawthorne was another one of my favorite books this year! Erika is wonderful!

    • Far by it from me to curb book-gushing, but we can also gush about your and Erika’s generosity and ways with words. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: