Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Historical Fiction...or...?

About 2 1/2 years ago, I started writing an historical fiction novel concerning the Underground Railroad and the Civil War. I had spent about a year on the research, including a barge trip down the Ohi0 and Mississippi Rivers to visit some of the sites of both the Civil War and the Underground Railroad. I sent what I had written, as well as the synopsis for the entire book, to my ICL instructor for my last assignment. But when I began the ICL advanced novel course, my new instructor wanted me to write a more contemporary novel, which is the one just completed. Consequently, the historical novel has been on the back burner until now.

In the meantime, I sent the first few chapters to my critique group. One of the women in the group refused to read it, and emailed me that she was leaving the group. Her reason? She felt that because the book concerns slaves and slavery in the South, that she could not read it because she resented the "implication" that plantation owners of that era mistreated their slaves. She also said that she believed that such things should not continue to be written; that if they were not, people would forget about slavery, and would accept the fact that Southerners were good, loving and gentle people.

Well, I won't go into any part of that. We all know how slaves were treated and the despicable fact that some human beings thought it perfectly all right to own other human beings.

My question is: should there even be a genre such as 'historical fiction?' What about history in general? Are there parts of our history, US and World, both, that should never again be written about? Should we never allow our children, grandchildren and succeeding generations learn about slavery, about the fearsome battles for the rights of women to vote, for Civil Rights, about the horrors of Hitler, the Nazi Regime, and the Holocaust?

How do we learn from our past mistakes? How can we assure that these same evils against the human spirit never arise again with future generations, if we don't write about them? What about teaching them in our schools? Should that be forbidden, too?

I never understood this woman's attitude, but I was glad that she chose to leave the group. Personally, I would never refuse to read someone's manuscript simply because I disagreed with the topic they were writing about. I probably would put in a few personal remarks about why I didn't like it, but at least I would read it. And I hope that I would be honest enough to critique it objectively, for the content and how it was written, rather than for the subject matter.

I love history, and I love writing historical fiction. I just wish it didn't take so long to do the research for the many topics I would like to write about. But is this something we should think seriously about? Do we really need to take a second look at the retelling of history, whether it be as fictionalized or as simply fact?

My opinion? I don't think so. Our history is an indelible part of our lives; it is as necessary to learn about it and to understand it as it is to keep current with our world today. Without yesterday, there is no today, and without today, there is no tomorrow. We need to teach our upcoming generations that all of our history is a vital part of who we, as a nation, are, and that they must know what happened yesterday in order not to repeat it tomorrow.

This is what I think. How do you feel?

1 comment:

  1. Each generation strives to better the next; intends to teach our kids to choose wiser paths than the ones we ourselves took. This cannot be done unless our history is taken into account. The people of today are a direct reflection of what we have learned from our pasts; the good AND the bad. Our children should be taught about what happened during the slave trade, and also about those people who helped them escape. I agree with you whole heartedly. To paint history with only the pretty scenes not only doscredits us a people, but invites the opportunity for repeated failures. **Do you ignore the scar on your arm from touching a hot pan, only to repeat touching hot surfaces many times over? Or do you see the scar, remembering the searing pain of that burn, and decide that avoiding hot surfaces is the wiset course of action?**