Novela histórica

[Respuesta al mensaje nº 39]

I think the historical novel, well done (of course) has much to add to historical studies insofar as it can create full and palpable situations where the extant archival documents are often fuill of gaps, vaguely worded (with official jargons of one sort or another), and necessarily leave out the kind of motivations no one was really thinking of in the Middle Ages or Renaissance.  Controlled by a strong sense of relativity and historical accuracy, the historical novel offers students—and the rest of us—new insights, which we can play around with in our minds—and in seminar discussions.

This struggle to achieve a sense of deep probability is admirable.  It means we are not going to have a superficial and distortive romance or costume drama that merely plays out contemporary issues in a more or less historical period setting.

This is certainly what constituted historiography as a branch of rhetoric until the eighteenth century, for the most part, and it can be done again, provided that there are some controls to keep within the range of the probable for the period in question.  The novel does not substitute for serious academic study, but it can supplement it with speculation and imaginative concreteness.

Why not?  Fiction is fiction.  Again this is a rhetorical posture, a situation set up not so much to reproduce what actually happened, but to expose from a new angle what we wish we knew was going on in the past.

Exactly.  This is another form of “philosophical myth” or “parable”—or even a midrash (to use a rabbinical term), to allow the modern writer to strip away the layers of difference between our concerns about reality from those which were expressed—and expressable—in the past.  As long as readers do not confuse the fiction with the reality, the romance with the history, there is nothing wrong—and a lot to be gained from an epistemological perspective.

This is a different matter, although it might be considered also to be involved with the modern genre of novel and the use of the language of the conquerors; yet on the other hand, it is a way of forcing the genre to embrace the conceptual frames and the loinguistic peculiarities of the “native” or “indigenous” conquered people, who in this way regain possession of a historical voice and express themselves in the created terms of their own restored position in the imagination.

Does one have to distribute praise and blame at all?  Surely, the novel allows for—if not demands—aa sense of objectivity, to the extent that each side in the earlier conflict are allowed the integrity of their own minds and hearts, and in this way the modern versions are recreated for both, so that a new transcendent reality is created.  The Spanish conquistadores cease being demonized and the Indians are no longer infantilized or made primitive avatars.  Both peoples confront one another in the fullness of their humanity, with winners and losers in the struggle seen as products of military, political and material conditions, not aspects of their worth as people.

The writer does not necessarily falsify history any more than the historian who takes the dynamic of real events and analyses them into categories for discussion.  I would like to see a dialectic cooperation between the writer of fiction and the author of scholarly history, whether they are the same person or distinct individuals.

Norman Simms  
University of Waikato