How Historical Fiction Became a Source of Comfort These Last Few Weeks


Gentleman Jack (HBO)

Happy Wednesday everyone! I hope you’re all doing well and keeping relatively sane! I kind of pulled a disappearing act again, but March was uh…yeah. I had to go through some adjustments.

The past couple of weeks has been interesting. I’m forgetting what day it is, I’ve been crying non stop to The Weeknd’s new album, I’m in danger of overwatering my succulents, and I’ve been binging on….historical fiction.


I mean, I love historical fiction and I always have, but it’s become this weird fixation since the quarantine began. Weird because contemporary romance is usually my go-to comfort genre; they’re the books I reach for when I’m stressed and need an immediate escape. So why historical fiction? Why now?

My tentative answer? Because I know how those stories end.

Well, okay, not entirely. I may not know how each and every storyline ends, or how a writer will re-interpret something that’s already written in stone. Historical fiction is still fiction, even ones that are based heavily on true events, and there’s at least some degree of surprise and unpredictability to them.

But I know the general picture of the world that serves as an endnote to these stories. And I know the world which will follow that ending. I’m living in it right now.

And that’s become an emotional anchor of sorts. A reassuring embrace of certainty when tomorrows come with looping anxieties and new fears pitching tent above old ones. Not so much in the way of “Look how terrible things were back then and see how rosy this looks in comparison,” but rather in the sense of recognizing that there were hurdles people faced in every era, in every corners of the world, and then looking at today and saying, “Despite everything, we’re still here.”

So I’m taking it day by day, moment to moment, but also keeping the past close in hand because they serve as reminders of hope and resilience. And “past” doesn’t have to mean 100-200 years ago. I can rewind 10 hours and remember that this morning I woke up, got out of bed, and pulled myself through the rest of the day.

So yes, I’m on a bit of a historical fic binge. I caught up on the last two seasons of Outlander, reread a few Mary Renault books, and rewatched The Handmaiden.

I’m also a couple of episodes into Gentleman Jack and Harlots and enjoying both. The former has been called the Lesbian Downton Abbey, if you’re into that (I’m very much into that). The latter is an 18th century drama set in a London brothel. So kind of like Game of Thrones–the sex and intrigue part, at least–but actually written and produced by women, and told from the perspective of the sex workers (also something I’m super into).


To Watch: Portrait of a Lady on Fire


Okay, how many souls do I have to steal and sell to be able to watch this movie? I’m asking for a friend. Quite literally.

The film was released in North America on February, and I was chomping at the bits to run to the nearest theater. I’d heard things about it for months. Exquisite pining, unapologetic sapphic beauty, gazes that say everything words can’t. I was ready to throw myself onto my imaginary fainting couch and sob into a handkerchief. But I had also promised a friend we would watch it together in March when they’re in town. Fast forward a few weeks: the news of the virus became loud and worrying, so we waffled back and forth about the schedule and the possible risks, and then bam, the theaters closed, cities went into lockdown, and the decision was pretty much made for us. 

So no romantic movie and dinner, sadly. But good news! The film will be made released  exclusively for streaming on March 28th! Sweet, sweet joy! And it’s on…on Hulu. Which isn’t available in Canada. Oh.

I mean, I guess it’s fitting that I’ve been gazing longingly at a movie that’s centered around looking. (It’s coming out in VOD form sometime this month, though, and I’m super excited)



Have you been reaching for any specific genres lately?  Have you watched Portrait of the Lady on Fire? And if so, should I have an embroidered hankerchief ready to sob in??

18 thoughts on “How Historical Fiction Became a Source of Comfort These Last Few Weeks

  1. Ola G says:

    Hang in there, Kathy! The pandemic will pass eventually, as have all before it 🙂 But we do love in interesting times, no question about it!

    I’ve been actually watching a bit of historical fiction, too – finally got around to watch The Crown, and I’m surprised how much I enjoy it 😉


    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Ahhhh I hope we both love it!!! I still have NO idea when exactly in April it’ll be coming out, but I’ve been checking every day for updates. I might be a tad obsessed 😂 And there are so many amazing historical shows out there right now!! I might be able to get to everything on my to-watch list by the time this craziness is over 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Susy's Cozy World says:

    I am dying to start watching Gentlemen Jack, I have heard a ton of interesting things about it and the scenes I have seen on the internet made me even more curious! But at the moment I’m keeping busy rewatching The Big Bang Theory and reading fantasy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Gentleman Jack’s been sitting on my watch list since it first aired, but I just never got around to watching it, and I’m SO glad that I’m trying it now. The main character is just a delight to watch. 😊 And ahhh Big Bang Theory!!! That and the Office used to be my comfort TV shows when I was in high school! Hope your reading went well this week, Susy!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery says:

    I know what you mean in seeking comfort in stories that can offer certainty and optimism!
    These days I tend to re-watch old TNG episodes because – as one of my friends is fond of saying – Starfleet’s uniforms give off a sense of security 😀
    Still, historical fiction sounds like a good alternative, and I might start a Downton Abbey rewatch: nothing like the Dowager Countess acerbic repartees to lift one’s spirits!


  4. acquadimore says:

    March was… we don’t talk about March.
    Hulu doesn’t seem to be available here either so… while friends of various sites keep gushing about Portrait of a Lady of Fire, I’m here wondering when (if?) I’ll get to see it, too – and I really want to! I’ve heard so many great things about it in the last few months. I hope we’ll both get to see it reasonably soon!


  5. Jess @ Jessticulates says:

    Love this! I think as well that right now we can really understand a lot of historical fiction more than we could previously. I saw something on Twitter that was meant as a joke but is also very true, and that’s that now more than ever we can understand every Jane Austen character so much. Stuck inside, taking turns about the room, embroidering and reading until we go blind and worrying every time someone coughs? Sounds exactly like what 2020’s been like so far!

    I LOVE Gentleman Jack, but Harlots is one I still need to get to – and I also really want to see Portait of a Lady on Fire!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Okay that’s a PERFECT comparison!!! Though I guess my Mr. Darcy is more likely to be fictional right now than anything else. 😂 They didn’t specify when in April POALOF would be released, so I’ve been glued to the screen every day looking for announcements. Hope we both love it!!


  6. waytoofantasy says:

    I used to read a LOT more historical fiction than I do now. I just got caught up in SFF the last several years. That being said I am loving that new show Gentleman Jack–it’s fantastic. Hope you’re doing well, Kathy! ❤


  7. Veronica says:

    Thank you for your article – it made me so happy! ✨
    Gentleman Jack is one of my favourite shows, along with Downton Abbey, so I loved the expression you coined!

    Without exaggeration, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is the best film I’ve ever seen… It certainly won’t disappoint if a masterful combination of historical fiction, sublime art & profound sapphic yearning appeals to your taste.
    I would love to know your opinion about it!
    Here’s my article in case you’d like to delve deeper into the artistic allusions upon watching this cinematic masterpiece:

    Liked by 2 people

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