Monday, June 5, 2017

Academic Hostility

I have never understood why some college professors are so threatened by historical fiction writers. From The Guardian:
History is, of course, an interpretation of the past, and this is as true for nonfiction as it is for fiction. The difference lies in the addition of fabrication to mould a story. While the historian might posit a theory, the novelist can (often controversially) place that theory at the heart of a narrative without having to explain.

Yet it is precisely exactly these imaginative leaps that can bring the past so vibrantly to life, enabling a reader to enter the conscious (as the novelist imagines it) of people long gone. I will never forget the revulsion I felt at the description of cannibalism in Child 44; the thrill of reading Robert Graves’s I, Claudius for the first time; and the horror of the bomb crater in Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, “The machine guns found them, they rippled, like corn through which the wind is passing. Jack thought of meat, the smell of it.

Historical fiction also has a silent, soft power that is often unacknowledged. Writing about the influence of Pat Barker’s 1990s Regeneration trilogy, the historian Tracey Loughran claimed: “All major histories of shell shock published since the mid-1990s have made reference (favourable, critical, or simply thoughtful) to Barker’s novel.” Antony Beevor claims to have started “as a boy with Hornblower and Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Gerard stories”.

Simon Schama has cited The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa as being one of his favourite works of fiction. Margaret MacMillan cited the novel The Noise of Time as one of her favourite books of 2016 precisely because Julian Barnes “goes where we historians dare not go – into the innermost thoughts, fears and hopes of a real figure from the past”. (Read more.)

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