The best historical novels inspired by the lives of famous writers

Who am I?

I grew up exploring the worlds of the Brontës, Dickens, Braddon, Hardy, and more. So, for my Master’s in literature from the University of Oxford, it was the 1800-1914 period I focused on. When I started writing fiction, I chose the nineteenth century as my setting and a scandal that rocked the lives of the Bronte siblings as my topic. I hold myself to a high standard of historical accuracy when writing about real people (e.g. I cut moonlight from a scene in Brontë’s Mistress when I realized it would have been a new moon that night!). And I love discovering and sharing other novelists who take the same approach. 

I wrote...

Bronte's Mistress

By Finola Austin,

Book cover of Bronte's Mistress

What is my book about?

This dazzling debut novel explores the scandalous historical love affair between Branwell Brontë and Lydia Robinson, giving voice to the woman who allegedly corrupted her son’s innocent tutor and brought down the entire Brontë family.

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The books I picked & why

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

By Therese Anne Fowler,

Book cover of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Why did I love this book?

Zelda Fitzgerald was one half of literature’s power couple in 1920s America. She finally gets the artistic credit she deserves in Fowler’s examination of her complex marriage with F. Scott Fitzgerald. I especially enjoyed that this novel doesn’t shy away from representing Zelda’s flaws, even as it seeks to reject the two-dimensional stereotype of the ultimate flapper that many readers will be familiar with. Here’s to seeing more nuanced, and at times unlikeable, women protagonists in historical fiction!

By Therese Anne Fowler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Z as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'If ever a couple ... became an era, it was F Scott Fitzgerald and his glamorous "flapper" wife, Zelda. They were the Jazz Age' Independent

When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen and he is a young army lieutenant. Before long, Zelda has fallen for him, even though Scott isn't wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune…

Book cover of Miss Austen: A Novel of the Austen Sisters

Why did I love this book?

Jane Austen seems never to have experienced the kind of sweeping romance the heroines in her novels enjoy, but what if she did have secrets, which have been hidden to us until now? In Miss Austen, Gill Hornby brings to life Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister, as she seeks to protect her famous sibling’s reputation. Writing Austenian dialogue and letters is no mean feat, but Hornby more than pulls it off in this quiet, but compelling read.

By Gill Hornby,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Miss Austen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Sunday Times bestselling novel, set to be a major TV drama
'You can't help feeling that Jane would have approved.' OBSERVER

'So good, so intelligent, so clever, so entertaining - I adored it.' CLAIRE TOMALIN
Throughout her lifetime, Jane Austen wrote countless letters to her sister. But why did Cassandra burn them all?

1840: twenty three years after the death of her famous sister Jane, Cassandra Austen returns to the village of Kintbury, and the home of her family's friends, the Fowles.

She knows that, in some dusty corner of the sprawling vicarage, there is a cache…


By Maggie O'Farrell,

Book cover of Hamnet

Why did I love this book?

William Shakespeare came to London and took the theater world by storm, but what of the wife and children he left behind? His son Hamnet may be the title character of O’Farrell’s lauded historical read, but it’s Shakespeare’s wife Agnes—the eccentric girl, skilled healer, and grieving mother—who drives this novel forward. The prose is sparkling, the relationships feel real, and the conclusion is heartbreaking. 

By Maggie O'Farrell,

Why should I read it?

27 authors picked Hamnet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Richly sensuous... something special' The Sunday Times
'A thing of shimmering wonder' David Mitchell


On a summer's day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a sudden fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London.


Mrs. Poe

By Lynn Cullen,

Book cover of Mrs. Poe

Why did I love this book?

I didn’t know much about the life of American Gothic writer Edgar Allen Poe before reading this novel about his mistress, Frances Osgood, who was also an author. The parallels with my debut book are obvious. Cullen and I share interests in adultery, the muse/artist dynamic, and the stultifying inequality of nineteenth-century marriages.

By Lynn Cullen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Mrs. Poe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by literature's most haunting love triangle, award-winning author Lynn Cullen delivers a pitch-perfect rendering of Edgar Allan Poe, his mistress's tantalizing confession, and his wife's frightening obsession in this new masterpiece of historical fiction to which Sara Gruen says, "Mrs. Poe had my heart racing...Don't miss it!"

And make sure to check out the captivating new novel from Lynn Cullen-Twain's End-where the acclaimed author tells a fictionalized imagining of the relationship between iconic author Mark Twain and his personal secretary, Isabel Lyon.

1845: New York City is a sprawling warren of gaslit streets and crowded avenues, bustling with new…

Book cover of Hotel de Dream: A New York Novel

Why did I love this book?

Stephen Crane is most famous for his 1893 novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, but it is his lost companion novel, about a male sex worker in late nineteenth-century New York, which is the focus of Edmund White’s Hotel de Dream. White moves between a frame story about Crane’s last days with his “wife” Cora and the story of Elliott, the supposed inspiration for the manuscript. I’m a New Yorker by choice so love reading books set in the city and I very much enjoyed this gritty portrayal of love and sex between men in the past. Crane isn’t the only writer who makes an appearance here—there’s a cameo from Henry James too!

By Edmund White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hotel de Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stephen Crane is writing a new story, and it may be his last. The year is 1900. The famous author of The Red Badge of Courage is travelling to a Black Forest clinic in search of a cure for the tuberculosis that threatens his life. He dictates to his wife, Cora, the story of 'The Painted Boy', inspired by a real-life encounter with a fifteen-year-old newsboy, Elliott, one wintry day in the Bowery. In the story Elliott is both impressionable and elusive. He finds himself the object of the hopeless affections of Theodore, the staid middle-aged banker who sets him…

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