Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Note: this is the article I mentioned on Kevin Levin's blog. It's much too long to include here in its entirety, but you can read it by going to the New Yorker website and searching for "A Critic at Large, Jill Lepore". It was in the March 24, 2008 issue. Here are some of the good bits:

"....Pulped days after it was published, the book, titled 'Love and Consequences,' is a fraud; 'Tom Jones' is not. Fielding was playing; Seltzer was just lying.
"But Fielding meant it when he said that 'Tom Jones' was true, and there's a sense in which he was right. History matters, but the best novels boast a kind of truth that even the best history books can never claim. And when history books are wrong, they can be miserably,  badly, ridiculously wrong...."
"....If a history book can be read as if it were a novel, and if a reader can find the same truth in a history book and a novel, what, finally, is the difference between them? This is a difficult question, Hume admitted. Maybe it just feels different--more profound--to read what we believe to be true (an idea assented to) than what a we believe to be false (a fancy)...."
"But there's more between them. A novel, as Defoe put it, is a 'private History,' a history of private life. 'I will tell you in three words what the book is,' Laurence Sterne wrote in 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy,' published beginning in 1759. He was talking about Locke's account of how the mind worked and, by extension, his own. 'It is a history.--a history! of who? what? where? when? Don't hurry yourself.--It is a history-book, Sir (which may possibly recommend it to the world) of what passes in a man's own mind.' Fielding went farther. He called his writing 'true history'."

There is much more, and readers should check out the whole article. I'll leave you with just one gem: "Maybe the topics that have seized professional historians' attention--family history, social history, women's history, cultural history, 'microhistory' [let's add military history--EPR] --constitute nothing more than an attempt to take back territory they forfeited to novelists in the eighteenth century."  
Please, when you see the copies of my new novel, HALLAM'S WAR, lurking  on your bookseller's shelf (or at Amazon), pick one up and rifle through. You will find much history, I hope--taken back into the territory of the novel.

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