'You'll be told lies about me, or perhaps even nothing at all.' Suzannah Dunn's Tudor Queens and the Problem of Historical Romance

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines a telling and contradictory aspect of contemporary women's writing, the popular historical novel, taking as a case study two novels by Suzannah Dunn: The Queen of Subtleties (2004) and The Confession of Katherine Howard (2010). The ill-fated Tudor queens at these texts' respective centres are recurring figures in Tudor historical romances and bio-fiction – categories of fiction that have, until recently, been largely ignored in scholarship. Meanwhile, the novels inspire simultaneous fascination and derision from readers and reviewers, owing to Dunn's deliberate use of anachronistic, 'defiantly modern' dialogue and mindsets (Hughes 2004) in her portrayal of well-known historical figures alongside minor, parallel protagonist-narrators. I use Dunn's work to review these paradoxical attitudes to the women's historical novel. Readers and critics appreciate the experiments with historical 'fantasy' possible when imagining people and events about which there is little factual evidence (Wallace 2005), while accusing the same works of concocting silly, tasteless, and even unethical lies about 'real' people (de Groot 2010, p. 9). I argue that Dunn's use of modern voices in early-modern settings is indicative of possible directions in history-based art. This author pursues irretrievably lost historical narratives in challenging ways, achieving strikingly realist interrogations of historical knowledge about women's lives – the births, sexual relationships, and often horrible deaths that certainly took place. These novels are innovative signposts in current ways of thinking about contemporary historical fiction.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLegacies and Lifespans in Contemporary Women's Writing
EditorsGina Wisker, Heidi Yeandle, Leanne Bibby
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan Ltd.
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


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