historical fiction

Useful Fictions, Part V - "Historical Fiction," Proper

Frederick J. Chiaventone, commenting on his own novel Moon of Bitter Cold:

One of the great delights of the historical novelist is the license to hang flesh on the bones of the actors and set the blood pumping through their veins. While the purist may decry this practice, others will find it useful and perhaps informative. There is a sense in which fiction can reveal more to us more of the truth than history in that historians are frequently constrained by their reliance on relics, some written, which are in themselves the products of imperfect and differently motivated human beings.

So while the historian can at best provide an objective account of the facts (however incomplete or imperfect), it is the province of the novelist to address not only the objective facts of a period and a people but their passions as well. To paraphrase Macaulay, it can be the difference between a topographical map and a painted landscape.

I like this, but Chiaventone does seem to lean towards a truth more at home in Kate Chopin than Doris Kearns Goodwin. He seems to promote moving past the factual in order to capture more important truths - which wistorical fiction can, and often does. But in my mind that’s not the most important or purest sort of historical fiction. Let’s try another…

Useful Fictions, Part IV - What's Your Story?

Perhaps you or someone you love are familiar with popular inner narratives such as…

“The Legend of the Frustrating Spouse Who’s Probably Never Going to Change So I Just Have To Bear My Cross and Deal With Him/Her.”
“Snow White Intentions and the Little Lies That Never Hurt Anyone.”
“The Story of the Woman Who Got Fatter and Older No Matter What She Did.”
“One More Step: How Real Happiness is Just a Few More Accomplishments Away.”

Oh be careful little mind what you think – words have power, and stories have lots of words.

Useful Fictions, Part III - Historical Fiction... Sort Of

I wrote recently about the 'urban legends' of American History – the colorful stories which tend to root in significant events. Even factually flawed, these myths proffer illumination beyond the events themselves through their framing – or even their distortion – of the mere facts of a happening.

Sometimes history is reshaped to reflect cultural priorities, other times to give a little extra ‘oomph’ to an important moment. Sometimes the distortion is malicious, or self-serving. Sometimes we just get it wrong.

"Historical Fiction" is a different creature...

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