Posted by: alinesoules | July 26, 2014

Fiction in Truth, Truth in Fiction

I’ve just come back from a “literature” tour in the UK.  Our group combined touring places of literary renown with meeting living authors.  One of the most interesting experiences was comparing biography and biographical fiction.  At the Ways with Words ways_with_words_dartington_hallfestival at Dartington Hall, Claire Tomalin spoke about writing biography, specifically her two works on Dickens and on Dickens and his mistress, Nelly Ternan.  At one point, she considered fictionalizing the latter work because there is less information about Ternan than about Dickens; however, in the end, she chose to stay with biography.  I then thought of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, both of which present Thomas Cromwell through fiction while resorting to Mantel’s extensive research into the details of his life.  This raises the age-old question:  how do we get at “truth” or, at least, “truth” as each of us sees it?  What makes one writer write biography, choosing what to include and not include about a subject?  What makes another decide to fictionalize a subject?  Which path offers the closest “truth” of a subject, particularly one who can no longer refute what is said?  The answer is probably both routes, depending on the author and on the subject, but the subject is endlessly fascinating.


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