Cozy, satisfying historical fiction for Fall
October 4, 2019 4:58 PM   Subscribe

As Fall begins in the Northern Hemisphere, I am hoping to curl up with some historical fiction that could be described as cozy. For example, scenes in firelit rooms while it rains outside; passing long, chilly nights; comfy interiors; hearty meals.

Or just an overall contemplative, autumnal vibe.

I’ve only read a few historical fiction books, mostly Follett’s Kingsbridge trilogy, so most recommendations will be new to me. Pre-industrial settings are most interesting to me, but any historical time is great!

Thank you!
posted by delight to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sci fi and fantasy work too if they have that historical vibe.
posted by delight at 5:04 PM on October 4, 2019

I used to pull out the Complete Sherlock Holmes on the first rainy fall day. This was before the modern explosion of small and big screen versions so I'm not sure how free one's imagination will be today but late Victorian/Edwardian London and environs just made me glad to be indoors.
posted by Botanizer at 5:20 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
posted by Melismata at 5:20 PM on October 4, 2019 [12 favorites]

Brother Cadfael
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:49 PM on October 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

The Charles Lenox mysteries open with the protagonist enjoying a cup of tea in his study and they are enjoyably thoughtful and cozyish.

T.E. Kinsley’s Lady Hardcastle series also has an appreciation for warmth and food.
posted by annathea at 7:50 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding Brother Cadfael, also the v. popular Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny.
posted by msamye at 7:58 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

It’s not historical fiction exactly but it is old — Persuasion by Jane Austen is my favorite fall book.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 8:18 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

wait another couple months, then in December read Mr Dickens and his Carol. Just what you want.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:30 PM on October 4, 2019

Try Van Reid's Moosepath League books.
posted by gudrun at 8:48 PM on October 4, 2019

I think of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (historical fiction with a bit of fantasy) and both the Sharing Knife series and Penric series by Lois McMaster Bujold (fantasy that feels historical) as cozy and good for fall. All three series have a lot of adventure (maybe more than you’re looking for?) but also an emphasis on the natural world and the weather (not always fall-like), food and firelight, and domesticity (farm chores, harvesting crops, collecting herbs for medicine, etc.) that I find cozy.

You might also consider some of the Beauty and the Beast retellings - especially Beauty by Robin McKinley or Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher - for emphasizing weather, and food, and cozy (magical) interiors.
posted by bananacabana at 8:52 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Wolf Hall
posted by caek at 9:01 PM on October 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

Ray Bradbury, while often decidedly uncozy, is literary autumn incarnate. Melancholy and meditative, though, yes.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:11 PM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ami McKay’s The Witches of New York.
posted by ferret branca at 9:17 PM on October 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Check out the works of Geraldine Brooks, a journalist and novelist. She does in-depth research for her historical fiction, and while her stories are filled with much tragedy, they’re mostly inspired by real events.
- Case in point: Year of Wonders is based on the real village of Eyam which quarantined itself in 1666 to keep the bubonic plague from spreading.
- Caleb’s Crossing is set in 1665 New England – here’s a great review from the NYT.
- March, is a retelling of Little Women but from Mr. March’s perspective and it was awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction (full disclosure, I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on hold for me at the library).
- People of the Book was my first experience with Geraldine Brooks. This 2008 novel follows the history of the Sarajevo Haggadah through the centuries. After listening to the audiobook, I invested in a hard cover copy because there were so many stories in this book that I wanted to learn more about.

In re-reading your question, you asked for cozy and I'm afraid I can't describe these books as cozy; but they are great examples of historical fiction (IMO), and I seem to remember many scenes that include a fireplace and fall weather.
posted by kbar1 at 11:29 PM on October 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

As already mentioned above, Brother Cadfael series might be what you are looking for.
posted by avysk at 12:55 AM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

A tree grows in Brooklyn. Not always cozy, but very family orientated and historical! The Little House on the Prairie books. Jenny of the Tetons.
posted by LaBellaStella at 4:10 AM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

A Night In The Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny. Coziest Victorian apocalypse I've ever read.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 6:11 AM on October 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Kbar thanks for those.

I'll suggest BLACK FALCON AND THE GREY LAMB by Rebecca West - (Funny travel story in horrifying 1940's Europe) and DYING GRASS by R.T. Volllmann (US War on Native Indians).

The latter is dark with war but his attention to details and emotions can shake you.
On the other hand, I think he found out that "X number of bullets were shot ..." at such and such a battle and he wrote each bullet into the story of the battle . In audiobook there is considerable "PEW! PEW PEW!" going on.
posted by epjr at 6:32 AM on October 5, 2019

Maybe one of these links will appeal? Coal fires abound in all of them!

Contemporary Historical Literature: Mary Reilly. Ignore the terrible cover and the even worse movie; this is a great and very thoughtful, atmospheric retelling of the classic Jekyll and Hyde tale from an interesting perspective.

Regency Mystery: The Sebastian St Cyr series. he is joined in the 2nd book by Hero Jarvis, so you do get a female protagonist if that's important to you.

19th Century Steampunk/Fantasy: The Fall of the Gaslit Empire Series.

Contemporary Historical Lit: Rotherweird Series.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:43 AM on October 5, 2019

Posssibly some Thomas Hardy, like Far From the Madding Crowd (which is available at Project Gutenberg).
posted by Rash at 7:49 AM on October 5, 2019

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is alternative and fantastical history, but is one of the most enjoyably languorous and melancholy books I know. The style pastiches that of the (Regency) era it's set in, but it's a careful and loving pastiche, rather than a comic one. There are plenty of firelit rooms, lashing storms, polite conversations etc. The collection of other pieces set in the same world, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, has some preindustrial stories, too.

The Pickwick Papers has lots of cosy rooms, hearty meals, comic characters and tolerance of British weather. Most Dickens is worth consideration; although it's obviously not "historical fiction", it is a heightened reality, which may well give you the same vibe.

The Cadfael books are an excellent suggestion. I'd also second the Holmes stories; probably starting with The Hound of the Baskervilles, which has a very strong set of indoor/outdoor and urban/rural contrasts.

Would the Jean M Auel Clan of the Cave Bear series be worth a try? They are prehistorical, which might work, and are exceptional cosy in a lot of places. The firelit spaces are usually caves though, of course. Lots of detailed descriptions/imaginings of prehistorical technological solutions to things, with a very strong domestic bent, which might be one way to scratch the itch. I haven't read any of them for decades, but do have a feeling that the sex (which occurs a fair bit) is probably pretty cringey today*, so you may want to bear that in mind.

Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons is another fantasy historical pastiche, somewhere between Jane Austen and HG Wells. The first half, in particular, seems like it's potentially up your street, although I will note that the second half is comprised of a dragon research expedition, which, while still described in a fundamentally domestic way (primarily reflecting the Victorian patriarchy of the society the protagonist lives in, and the way she has to negotiate all situations as a result), take things away from the more drawing room and ball oriented side of the first half. Personally I preferred the beginning of the book, even though the shift was clearly a necessary part of the story.

*although not, if I recall right, habitually troubling in the way that e.g. George RR 'both Rs stand for "rape"' Martin's sex is.
posted by howfar at 7:53 AM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

A lot of L.M. Montgomery's work. I think Jane of Lantern Hill, The Blue Castle, The Story Girl, and The Golden Road best fit your requirements.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 9:02 AM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

louisa may alcott's kids books
posted by brujita at 10:11 AM on October 5, 2019

and the betsy tacy books
posted by brujita at 10:12 AM on October 5, 2019

Sarah Orne Jewett -- her stories are early enough that everyone prizes food and warmth in winter because it's rare. Also, female independence. A Country Doctor and Selected Stories and Sketches at Project Gutenberg, for instance.
posted by clew at 10:48 AM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I really enjoy Patrick Taylor's Irish Country Doctor series and I think it might scratch this itch.
posted by notjustthefish at 4:25 PM on October 5, 2019

Although it's interspersed with memories of WWII on German-occupied Guernsey, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society may appeal.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:30 PM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the fantastic answers. I have so much coziness to look forward to!
posted by delight at 12:22 AM on October 6, 2019

Another genuinely-old book, Babette's Feast

And definitely The Age of Innocence
posted by Mchelly at 7:43 AM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

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