Perspective in historical fiction by British writers
The thesis is that the best historical novels in Britain today make a lively and varied body of literature united by a concern for perspective. This is defined as a present point of view which respects the integrity of the past. The first chapter discusses the nature of their achieveient. Historical fiction has seen many ambitious failures in perspective, where the past has been distorted for the sake of modern causes. In recent decades, the value of realistic narrative and the possibility of historical objectivity have been widely questioned. The success of even a few writers in this genre shows a discrepancy: betteen the most challenging critical theories and the most original creative practice. The argument is continued in a series of critical studies. Two chapters examine Mary Renault's use of contemporary realism to follow the 'sightlines' of ancient cultures. The next two chapters discuss a different, Joycean or 'ludic' stand in fiction, in the vork of Anthony Burgess (Nothing Like the Sun and Napoleon Symphony) and Robert Nye (falstaff); it is argued that they share Mary Renault's sense of a real past vhich is not to be distorted. Chapter 6 shows that J.G. Farrell's trilogy about the British Empire is equally original and intelligent in perspective, while following different methods again. Chapter 7 contrasts John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman and William Golding's Rites of Passage - one novel which exhibits fashionable doubts about the hiscorical imagination, and one which effectively dispels them. These are impressive, if minor, works in a species of fiction which has always been difficult. Their quality shows that much recent talk about the death of the past and the death of the novel has been unduly pessimistic.