Six Reasons Why ‘Golden Hill’ is a Superior Historical Fiction


‘Golden Hill – a Novel of Old New York’ by Francis Spufford     (2017)  –  299 pages

‘Golden Hill’ is the most delightful historical fiction that I have read for a long, long time.  Here is my attempt to enumerate reasons as to why this novel is such a pleasure.

l.  It takes place in New York City in 1746, a time and place little dealt with in historical fiction or even in history books.  England still ruled their North American colonies, and New York City had only 7000 residents but was growing fast.  At that point New York City was still a small town.  We see this small town through the eyes of young Englishman Richard Smith who is quite familiar with the real metropolis London.

2.  ‘Golden Hill’ is written in the English language of its time instead of in modern English.  This makes the characters and scenes seem more authentic.

3.  None of its characters is famous or renowned, so the characterizations aren’t stilted by impersonating a famous stick figure.  Nothing brings a novel down faster than a wooden historical personage.  All the characters in ‘Golden Hill’ can and do act as outrageously as real people.

4.  The romance in ‘Golden Hill’ is not your typical lovey-dovey affair.  Perhaps the best romances both in fiction and in real life are those where the contestants – the man and the woman – are a match in their weapons and firepower.  The romance between Richard Smith and Tabitha Lovell is that of the best of enemies on the order of Beatrice and Benedick in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.   As Richard says to Tabitha of Shakespeare:

“I think you like him because his comedies are full of quick-tempered women with razor tongues.  I think you like to hear Beatrice and Benedick insulting upon each other.”

“Maybe,” she said, laughing.  “But you, sir, are not Benedick.”

“And you, madam, are not Beatrice.”


5.  The guiding light for ‘Golden Hill’ is William Shakespeare.  After more than four centuries, Shakespeare is still the best model we have for comedy and drama.  I would classify ‘Golden Hill with its wicked humor as more of a comedy than a tragedy.   As in Shakespeare, there is a staged play within ‘Golden Hill’ which is great fun as it is rehearsed and performed.

6.  In ‘Golden Hill’, the reader can always expect the unexpected to occur.  Fortunes can change from hero to zero and back to hero in a matter of a few pages.   While the author keeps his story and characters true to their time, there are no other limits to what he imagines for his protagonists.  The vivid scenes range from the Popes Day bonfires to a card game of piquet.

If you are at all interested in historical fiction, ‘Golden Hill’ is one you will not want to miss.



Grade :   A+   


8 responses to this post.

  1. Oh, I really want to read this now!



  2. this would indeed be a fascinating period of history yet the city setting is one we dont often see used in fiction



  3. You make it sound so appealing that I’m very glad I have a copy lurking on the shelves!

    Liked by 1 person


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