Reading historical fiction

When I read historical fiction, I often do follow-up reading about “what really happened” when it’s an era, figure, or incident I’m not familiar with – but I always wait till I’m done with the book so I avoid plot spoilers.

Right now I’m re-reading I, Claudius (which I read 40 years ago when I was taking Latin), and enjoying it quite a bit – but it’s really making me antsy that I can’t check specific details as I go along given my “no-spoiler” policy. Way too much story to remember everything for later – maybe I should make notes? Because I’m definitely going to follow up with Claudius the God, and since I have a couple of other library books I need to get back in a timely manner, it could be a month before I finish the second book.

Does anyone else do background and follow-up reading in conjunction with historical fiction? Do you do it simultaneously, or after completing the novel?

I’m the same as you. I definitely want to know what really happened, but don’t want my book spoiled. Sometimes I’ll jot down questions and use the paper as my bookmark. It is nice when whatever I want to research isn’t a person or event, because then I can read about it now. For example, I read a totally fictional book about the Great Spanish-American Trail (I think that’s the correct name, they called it by a nickname). I didn’t know anything about this trail (Sante Fe to Los Angeles, early 19th century), and it was easy to look up whenever I wanted, because no one in the book was real. I mean the only spoilers would be things like California becomes a state! The book does end with the announcement that gold has been discovered in some town up north!

My husband hates historical fiction because it’s made up, but I like it because it gives me the impetus to go study something that, often, I’ve never even thought much about before.

After completing the novel; mostly it takes the form of reading relevant passages in the big encyclopedias at Mom’s. She’s got one that’s a “classical” encyclopedia, a universal history and an art encyclopedia, as well as smaller works.

I think there is a difference between “stories set in a past that doesn’t try to be real” and “novelized history”.

Historical novels with Sancho III, Doña Toda or the Princess of Eboli as the central character do point out which characters existed, which are invented, and may have a prologue or epilogue explaining things like “it is known that Sancho III was involved with Doña Sancha for a long time and it was suspected that, after her fall from grace, she was involved in at least one conspiracy against him, but her participation in that conspiracy was never formally investigated and it is not known why she fell from grace” (and the novel does have her take part in one conspiracy, angry at Sancho for having dropped her from his afections for a new mistress).

Novels set in the past may toss love philters that work, kings marrying maidens of great beauty and no other ability and lots of women with heaving bosoms around with merry abandon; “any similarity with actual fact or history is an oversight on the author’s part”.