Historical Fiction Downsized

There’s a piece in yesterday’s New York Times where various well-known authors were asked what novels they would like to see trimmed a bit. I was rather baffled at Joyce Carol Oates’ response that she would trim Jane Austen’s books because they contain “too many descriptions of furniture and balls and ballroom gowns.” Er? Frankly, I can think of very few occasions where Austen describes furniture or ballroom gowns, and the ballroom and other social gathering scenes always further the action of the novel or show something important about the characters involved.

On the other hand, I enjoyed Jonathan Franzen’s suggestions for new titles for shortened works (e.g., Shortmarch and The Pretty Good Gatsby). That got me to suggesting a few titles for shortened historical fiction:

Kathleen Winsor, For Now Amber
Sharon Penman, When Christ and His Saints Napped
Anya Seton, Kate
Margaret Mitchell, Displaced by the Breeze
Dorothy Dunnett, The Harmonious Knights
Philippa Gregory, The Boleyn Life Estate
Bernard Cornwell, The Archer’s Comment
Jean Plaidy, Just a Couple of Loves of Charles II
Tracy Chevalier, Girl With a Toe Ring
Me, The Traitor’s Bit on the Side

3 thoughts on “Historical Fiction Downsized”

  1. Um, that comment about Jane Austen doesn’t ring any bells with me, either. More recent regencies, now….

    I like Displaced by the Breeze.

    There used to be a list doing the rounds of Very Short Books, e.g. Tolkien’s Women, My Struggle by Martin Amis, Travel Guide to Swiss Beaches, and that old staple The Wit and Wisdom of [insert celebrity name of choice here].

  2. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, Carla! I love those Very Short Books you mentioned.

    The only description of a dress I can remember in Austen is Edmund’s telling Fanny Price that he likes the “glossy spots” on her dress, or something like that. Hardly the fashion show that Oates seems to think.

  3. Well, Oates’ books could do with some shortening. I never managed more than 10 pages before giving up. 🙂

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