Hercules, Sex and Romance in Twenty-first-century Historical Fiction
This chapter will examine Hercules as a romantic hero in two distinctly different examples of the historical novel, which can be classified as chick lit.: Kate Mosse’s serious historical fiction Citadel, which is set in the Languedoc during the Second World War, and Stephanie Laurens’ romantic historical fiction The Truth About Love, set in Cornwall during the Regency period. Both these novels invoke Hercules by name and the hero provides contextualisation for the events and relationships therein. For example, in Mosse the myth of Hercules’ relationship with Pyrene underpins the whole landscape (it is an origin myth for the Pyrenees) and in Laurens the Garden of Hercules forms a frequently referenced part of the landscape which is of significance for events in the plot. In both novels the presentation of Herculean myth as a background prompts the reader to extrapolate from the legend of Hercules to the characters depicted and their struggles. The similarities of and differences between the two authors’ uses of Hercules demonstrates not only that twenty-first-century chick lit. is open to exploring facets of the ancient hero’s character which go beyond monster-slaying and into the realm of the romantic/erotic but also that the genre of chick lit. can exhibit qualities more commonly associated with ‘serious’ literary fiction.