Continuing the discussion about Historical Fiction
Hilary Mantel thinks the novelist should serve history, and is rigid in her approach. She never makes anything up if she can find a fact and looks at each fact warily. Whose fact is it, how do we look at it, remembering how the past changes behind us, how we look at it from our perspective.
She never changes a fact in order to make a better story. Real life is an awkward shape, and the challenge for the novelist is to produce a good novel from awkward, lumpy and truthful facts. She offers her readers a guarantee that it could possibly have happened the way she portrays it.
Many popular authors tend to simplify and therefore falsify history. Antony Beevor coined the words Factocreep and histotainment to cover this.
Tristram Hunt is wary of going beyond what’s written in letters/memoirs and stating what a monarch is thinking at a certain time.
Asked if having kings thinking and feeling runs the risk of turning a guess into a yes, Phillippa Gregory said non-fiction authors have luxury of showing in their work all the theories about a known fact such as the death of the Princes in the Tower. Novelists don’t have that luxury; they must pick which theory to follow and then tell one version on the page.
Some authors are cavalier with the facts and others feel they control the borders between history and fact. Some are happy to inhabit the bodies of real historical people and think and speak inside them, but Sarah Dunant wonders “how the hell do you know what Henry VIII might have thought?” Hilary Mantel believes she signals the gap between what her books show and what she knows to be true, and adds that in a way we’re all unknowable to each other.
Bibliographies can point interested readers to the history and many follow things up.