A Question for You Historical Fiction Addicts Out There

As I was writing this post on my Jean Plaidy blog, a thought occurred to me. I’ve read a number of historical novels where a female character, usually an ill-fated one–Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Marie Antoinette, for instance–looks back at her life as she awaits death. Usually, she’s either awaiting the executioner’s ax or in the throes of mortal illness.

So my question is, are there historical novels where a man looks back over his past in this fashion? I’m sure there must be, but I can’t for the life of me think of one. The closest I can come is The King’s Touch by Jude Morgan, but the hero as he narrates that one isn’t aware of his impending doom, only that he is about to take a fateful step.

Assuming there aren’t that many novels featuring doomed first-person male narrators, my question is, why not? Perhaps this sort of introspection is considered insufficiently masculine? It would certainly be interesting to have, say, Roger Mortimer’s last thoughts in the Tower, or Anthony Woodville’s ruminations at Pontefract, or Louis XVI’s in the Temple, for instance.

Awaiting your thoughts.

7 thoughts on “A Question for You Historical Fiction Addicts Out There”

  1. I can’t think of any books that feature the male character looking back in that way. Oh….maybe Thirteen Moons qualifies.

  2. Interesting question. Some of Bernard Cornwell’s military adventure novels (the King Arthur series, the Uhtred series) are narrated by a fictional male character in extreme old age looking back on his eventful life. So is Tim Severin’s Viking series. It’s not quite the same thing because the characters aren’t doomed in the sense that they’re about to die an untimely death, as with Anne Boleyn etc, but it may be sort of related in that they are aware that death will be approaching some time soon. Oh, and I suppose Fay Sampson’s Flight of the Sparrow is narrated in first person by King Edwin and goes right up to his final thoughts as he is killed in battle. Mind you, although I knew his fate, having read Bede, I don’t suppose many readers would know he was doomed, and it isn’t stated on the first page (“Tomorrow I shall die” sort of thing), so again it doesn’t quite count. That’s the best I can think of.

  3. Thought of another one, perhaps: Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire. I think the reader knows from the beginning that he’s doomed.

    Still can’t think of others in terms of male royalty/nobility though. No Confessions of the Earl of Essex, for instance.

  4. dorothy davies

    I have written one … still waiting to find the right publisher to take it on, but I have written the life of George Duke of Clarence, from two perspectives, his reminiscences in the Tower as he awaits his execution order from his brother the King, and the story of his life from childhood until that moment, the two threads finally meeting at the last moment, when the men arrive.
    I’ve moved on and am writing one about Charles I, same thing, reminiscing. Antony Woodville, I am writing his biography and later, much later, will write a fictional account of his life, too, including those thoughts at Pontefract. I don’t for one moment believe the words of his ballad, ‘willing to die’ – I think that was a chivalrous last shout.
    Interesting thoughts! You turned up due to my Google alert for Antony, he being the subject of much of my thoughts these days as I research his biography. Getting there …

  5. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, folks! Dorothy, I certainly hope you find a publisher soon, because those sound like novels and bios I’d love to read!

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