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: Kate Mosse’s Citadel, which is ‘serious’ historical fiction set in the Languedoc during the Second World War, and Stephanie Laurens’ The Truth About Love, which is a ‘popular’ historical romance 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 historical fiction 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 both ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture examples of the genre of historical fiction can exhibit qualities more commonly associated with literary fiction.
Provisional content for The Modern Hercules (Volume 1)