One of my fondest college memories is hearing William Styron speak about his then-recent historical novel, Sophie’s Choice, and having my copy autographed later that same night. Anyway, while Googling tonight I ran into this post by blogger Erika Dreifus on a talk by Geraldine Brooks, which in turn led me to an interesting 1992 article by Styron in American Heritage in which he discusses the controversy that erupted around his early novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner.
Styron has several interesting observations to make, especially this one: “While it may be satisfying and advantageous for historians to feast on rich archival material, the writer of historical fiction is better off when past events have left him with short rations.” He goes on to point out that even historians have had a difficult time arriving at the historical truth about Nat Turner, whom he terms “a fascinating subject for speculation.” One could parallel his case with those figures so often speculated about by historical novelists: Richard III and Anne Boleyn–with the difference being that Styron wrote his novel about Nat Turner during the racially tense days of the 1960’s, whereas the author who chooses a medieval monarch for his subject generally risks little more than the possibility of a few snide Amazon reviews.
Anyway, Stryon’s article is well worth a read. I’ll shut up for the night and let you get on with it.