Friday, February 7, 2020

OK,OK: It's not every day I quote Aristotle.

I came across the following quote in Proud Destiny, by Feuchtwanger. It is a historical novel about Beaumarchais, the playwright who wrote "The Marriage of Figaro," and who engineered the early French support of the American Revolution.

The artistic representation of history is a more scientific and serious pursuit than the exact writing of history. For the art of letters goes to the heart of things, whereas the factual report merely collocates details. Aristotle

I believe that this can be read as an explanation of the value of historical fiction. 

I love it.

Some might think that writing a fictional story set in the past is easier than just plain writing about the past.


We historical novelists must actually do BOTH.

And if you think it is easy to put words into the mouths of historical figures, think again. What you write must be plausible, historically accurate, and appropriate to the person speaking.

In the following excerpt, I had to pack in indications that Lafayette was 1) charming, 2) often joked about himself, 3) spoke slowly and deliberately in English when he visited America in his late 60s, 4) really did have a problem getting rid of the hundreds and hundreds of flowers given to him on his Farewell Tour.

The following is a description of what happens when my fictional heroine, Clara, meets the non-fictional personage, General Lafayette.

* * *

Just then, I saw a gentleman climb down from the carriage and walk towards me. 

He was a tall man, broad-shouldered, with short brown hair and large, expressive eyes. He was dressed simply in tan nankeen pants and a blue broadcloth coat with gilt buttons. As he walked towards me, he leaned upon a cane. Despite his beak of a nose, his was a most pleasing face. It was a face that was strangely familiar—and a tiny bit chubby.

“Sir?” I called, covered in confusion as much as I was in brook water. “Why are they throwing these roses away?”

He laughed. “It is a bit of a guilty secret, mademoiselle.” His words were slow and deliberate. “You see, everywhere I go, people keep giving me roses, roses, and more roses! Whatever I ride in— be it barouche, or curricle, or coach—it is filled to overflowing with them! Because of this, every once in a while I must tell the small lie—that I must make the stop that is necessary—and that I need my privacy. Then I find a secluded nook like this and we cast out all the pretty flowers. Please do not tell anyone. I beg of you.” 

Keeping my eyes pinned to the gentleman’s face, I picked up my pocket and pulled out the fan. Snapping it open, I looked closely at it to compare the portrait printed there with the features I saw before me. “Why, y-y-you are . . .” I stuttered.

The gentleman glanced at the fan in my hand. “Oui, I am the one whose picture you hold in your hand. These pictures! They are everywhere I go! I see almost as many of them as I do roses. And they are always of my poor self as I look today, not the slender and graceful youth I was then.” He shrugged. “Oh, well, one must accept these things.”    

A Buss from Lafayette © 2016 Dorothea Jensen

I'm not sure if this "goes to the heart of things," but I am quite sure it will grab the interest of reluctant readers much more effectively than a "collocation of details" in a history textbook!