[ilds] Historical fiction

Ilyas Khan ilyas.khan at crosby.com
Wed Jul 11 15:29:23 PDT 2007

Bruce, thanks for the post, not least as it takes my mind off the fruitless
previous exchanges that I let myself get involved with !

On the question of historical fiction, I, like everyone else, am weighed
down with my own baggage here ! By way of example, I am quite involved with
Gore Vidal, in a variety of ways, and recently spent a weekend with him.
Part of the wonder of that meeting was being able to see the world from his
perspective when reading reviews of a number of his books, but in particular
the series on American history (Lincoln-Burr-Empire etc and even Hollywood
and Julius). I think of Vidal as a brilliant writer, both in novel and non
fiction form. What was it that Tina brown said the other day - "long form
narrative" in describing non fiction books ? Anyway, Vidal takes great pride
in scholarship, and is serious about historical accuracy, and therefore
reacts with a deal of sensitivity to criticism that questions his historical
integrity. But he is not a historian and will never try to pretend that his
book is history for the classroom (0r indeed biography).

The question you refer to - "is w+p historically accurate ?" is relevant in
part of my response here. Like you, I am in the camp that it is great
literature. However, as I have been able to gain more access to and
understanding of the perspective of historically minded reviewers and
readers (as opposed to professional historians) I can see why they might
focus more on questions such as "is the description of that major's uniform
accurate ?" instead of revelling in the sweep of the story and the way it is

There was a very good article on the w+p position as novel based on history
or history told through novel, and I will try to find it and then post or
send out a reference.


On 7/12/07 6:13 AM, "Bruce Redwine" <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net> wrote:

> Ilyas, I assume no irony here.  A literary critic.  I don't see a minefield.
> I've seen both approaches used on historical fiction, with both types of
> critics looking for different things, obviously.  E.g., Robert Harris's recent
> Imperium, which I haven't read, but have looked at reviews, largely positive,
> because the book is well done.  Seems to me here the objectives of the author
> have to be taken into account -- is he/she trying to be accurate?  To recreate
> a time?  Then the historian's views come into play, although not decisive by
> any means.  On the whole, however, I consider fiction fiction, and those
> standards should weigh most heavily.  Is War and Peace accurate historically?
> Who really cares?  It's great literature.  On the other hand, a critic like
> Pamela Francis might say that it makes no difference, since everything is
> fiction anyway.
> Bruce
> -----Original Message-----
>> From: Ilyas Khan <ilyas.khan at crosby.com>
>> Sent: Jul 11, 2007 1:55 PM
>> To: "Bruce Redwine , ilds at lists.uvic.ca" <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>,
>> ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>> Subject: Re: [ilds] Po-co/poco
>> Bruce - thanks for the reminder about literary criticism and history
>> requiring different approaches. Criticism of historical novels is a
>> particularly dangerous minefield. Is it better to be a historian or a
>> literary critic to review these works ?
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