Historical Fiction? Or just HISTORY?
Somewhere or t’other, I found a great post on the controversy of memoirs playing loosely with the facts and I learned about the term: Creative Nonfiction. Isn’t a memoir a personal attempt to describe a time that they were PERSONALLY involved with? Isn’t a memoir by necessity, a perception? And, don’t we argue all the time that reality IS only a perception?
I really don’t think Roberts’ Battle of Cowpens was anything but an author’s attempt to interpret scarce facts into what he thinks happened. But I wouldn’t call it fiction and I don’t think creative nonfiction works, either.
So, what IS fiction?! Gosh, I am out of school SO long and I know for certain that I did not take any classes in college that would have argued this question. (I would have wanted to… Maybe I should start again…)
Using the quick research methods I am famous for (open Google, enter the search words, hit enter), I find this gem of a website: The Historical Novel Society. And, all I can say, is that I’m blowing air over barely-glowing embers of an idea to GO BACK TO SCHOOL.
The first two definitions presented from my ‘define fiction’ search in Google:
Definitions of fiction on the Web:
- a literary work based on the imagination and not necessarily on fact
- fabrication: a deliberately false or improbable account
- Fiction (from the Latin fingere, “to form, create”) is storytelling of imagined events and stands in contrast to non-fiction, which makes factual claims that can be substantiated with evidence.
So, Roberts doesn’t have the facts to substantiate his sequence of events. OK. But this book is NOT a deliberately false improbably account. Not even close.
I am not a passionate student of history. Certainly not the Revolutionary War, although most American students can name (maybe not!?) some key players: Washington, Jefferson, Benedict Arnold, etc.
All of these names pop up in this book but assume a close familiarity. The key characters in this book are the colonels on the American side (Daniel Morgan) and the opposing British side (Banastre Tarleton). I had never heard of them before! I had never heard of this battle either. Or, if I did, I was in grade school.
The book reads like a what-happened-when and then… Roberts cites the recollections of these 2 men, he does provide background and how they lived full lives into old age, and he gives perceptions of motivations.
But it still doesn’t feel like fiction.
Roberts, himself, becomes a character in a way. He mentions that other historians have interpreted the battle and its consequences, in his opinion, INCORRECTLY.
Here’s the recap: Tarleton with his British soldiers AND a few converts from the area who have switched from the American side to the ‘Loyalist’ side chases Morgan and his varied collection of men to grassy rolling fields called the Cowpens in northwest South Carolina. It is debated whether or not this was a wise spot for Morgan to choose – he had enough time to set up on this spot and attempt a trap. It was a cold dawn in January, 1781, and the PATRIOTS won. A much more thorough description of the setup and battle can be found on the National Park Service site.
Granted, this book is Volume IV of a 4-volume edition, KENNETH ROBERTS READER OF AMERICAN REVOLUTION. Book 1 is Northwest Passage (have I heard of that? Golly, I can’t even remember that I already read Atonement only 5 or so years ago!) Sure enough, googling gives me evidence that this has been made into a movie; so maybe I have heard of it!
And, this link tells me that Roberts is “…one of America’s finest writers of historical fiction- mainly because he actually really knew the history into which he placed his fictional characters.”
OK – Rambling enough. Scattered, isn’t it? You may ask: Care? Would you RECOMMEND this book? Yes, it has a few things going for it. One, I would LOVE to debate the question of what constitutes historical FICTION and does this book qualify? It’s a short book. If you enjoy reading about battles and this specific time in the birth of our nation, absolutely! But the REAL test for me, does it inspire me to learn more? To read MORE of Roberts work? YES. And… will I rush out to do so? or will it fade away and get buried by other Must-Read suggestions? probably, probably.
But it HAS inspired me to give further thought to going back to school or taking classes in writing and fiction. I’m at such a crossroads – What DO I Want to BE When I Grow Up?
and that is a fascinating feeling…
The photo above is mine. I couldn’t find this cover in google images and I do love the swirly colors, so I thought it best to add my pic of it to give to the internet.