Women in History: Two Slightly Different Kinds of Historical Novels

Chris Schluep on January 22, 2019

hooper.jpgThere’s a trend in historical fiction that some refer to as domestic historical fiction—novels like Loving Frank, The Paris Wife, Becoming Mrs. Lewis, and The Aviator’s Wife. These books are about famous couples living extraordinary lives, but the narrative focus is on the less famous partner rather than on--by order of the titles above--Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, C.S. Lewis, or Charles Lindbergh. However you refer to these novels, which create drama out of famous historical relationships (maybe historical friction?), they are great book club reads, and fun reads in general. These are novels filled with art, fame, and ambition, and they do a good job of examining love and the dynamics of relationships during a particular moment in history.


But there are other historical novels, equally domestic, where the woman is both the main subject and famous in her own right--books like Isadora (about the famed dancer Isadora Duncan), The Girls in the Picture (about the Hollywood friendship between screenwriter Frances Marion and superstar Mary Pickford), White Houses (about the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and "first friend" Lorena Hickok), and--just out this week--Learning to See (about Dorothea Lange, the photographer who captured some of the most famous images of the Great Depression). In these titles, the husband casts no shadow for the woman to emerge from--she casts her own. While this second group of novels is different from the ones cited above, they are equally rewarding reads. They too are filled with art, fame, and ambition, and they also examine love and the dynamics of relationships, albeit from a slightly different angle.

These books represent two ways of telling a story. But the story itself feels universal. It's about women creating their own light, their own future, often having to push against the expectations and conventions of their time.

Learning to See: A Novel of Dorothea Lange, the Woman Who Revealed the Real America
White Houses
The Girls in the Picture
The Aviator's Wife
Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis
The Paris Wife
Loving Frank

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