Male historical fiction takes a very different form than that intended for a female audience: adventure, warfare, murder mysteries. For the most part this form of historical fiction repeatedly tests the protagonist (usually male) before he is awarded with some form of marital or political success. Unlike women’s historical fiction which desires to bring out of the darkness strong female characters from history, male fiction has no such need – generally re-enforcing and articulating male self-expression, masculinity, and power structures. A good example is Alexandre Dumas’ Musketeer novels and Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series. The key to these novels is companionship and team adventure as virtuous soldiers faced with highly politicised and dangerous situations work together to save themselves and those otherwise unable to protect themselves.
The Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom offers a good example of murder mystery again during the reign of Henry VIII. Matthew Shardlake, a hunchback lawyer who continually ends up involved in the high politics of his day much against his own desires, provides an intelligent but handicapped hero that allows Sansom to explore an alternative element of male masculinity. Although Shardlake does get involved in scrapes he is, for the most part, reliant on his servant to act as the self-expression of masculinity found in other novels. In this way Sansom has created a character much like Sherlock Holmes who thinks his way through situations and thus by doing so examines male intelligence over brute force as a way of understanding the multiplicity of malehood.
What seems interesting about the division between male and female historical fiction is how it is transferred to television screens. For the most part, female fiction remains largely for a female only audience, whilst male fiction often crosses between the sexes. The Musketeers and Sharpe are enjoyed by a mixed audience whilst Pride and Prejudice and adaptations about Anne Boleyn are by a much greater degree read and watched only by women.
Jerome de Groot, The Historical Novel (Routledge: Oxon, 2010).
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