Hard times: 20th century conflict dominates historical fiction

Research into 650 novels submitted to the Walter Scott prize finds the second world war is the favourite setting for historical novels, while the shifting Victorian and Georgian eras eclipse ‘just a smattering’ of ancient settings.

 

The 20th century is the most fertile ground for today’s historical novelists, according to new research, seeing off stiff upper-lipped competition from the Victorian age.

 

The Walter Scott prize for historical fiction, which has been won by names from Hilary Mantel to Robert Harris – and this year, Sebastian Barry, for the second time – has analysed all 650 novels submitted during its eight years of operation. Splitting submissions into centuries, and then into eras, the prize found that 38% of its submissions were set in the 20th century, while 19% were set in the Victorian era, between 1837 and 1901.

 

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