According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is
- "a novel that has as its setting a usually significant period of history. [It] attempts to convey the spirit, manners, and social conditions of a past age with realistic details and fidelity (which is in some cases only apparent fidelity) to historical fact. The work may deal with actual historical characters... or it may contain a mixture of fictional and historical characters".
Many regard Sir Walter Scott as the first to write historical novels. György Lukács, in his The Historical Novel, argues that Scott is the first fiction writer who saw history not just as a convenient frame in which to stage a contemporary narrative, but rather as a distinct social and cultural setting.15-29 His novels of Scottish history such as Waverley (1814) and Rob Roy (1817) focus upon a middling character who sits at the intersection of various social groups in order to explore the development of society through conflict.31-38 His Ivanhoe (1820) gains credit for renewing interest in the Middle Ages.
Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) furnishes another 19th-century example of the romantic-historical novel as does Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. In the United States, James Fenimore Cooper was a prominent author of historical novels.69-72 In French literature, the most prominent inheritor of Scott's style of the historical novel was Balzac.92-96