Friday, April 13, 2012

Envy of the Novelist

The chapter on which I am working right now has a lot of holes dealing, as it does, with the lives of enslaved women. As I write around the holes, offering educated suggestions for what might fill them, I feel the tug of fiction. Imagining these options, their lives, I want to flesh out scenes for which I do have documentation, enter into a voice for the women, allow them to express some emotion or opinion on the circumstances of the scene.Those are places that, as a historian, I have no right to venture. As a novelist, I could.

Alas, that is not this book; and perhaps this book will inspire someone to write that novel (as long as they write it well).

Still, I see a woman adjust her headwrap and call to a small boy to take a long walk. I see her lift him on the road, angry that he asks, angry that she must take him on this walk, angry that she must make this walk over and over and over. I see her lift that boy because this is the last time she will hold him, the last kindness she can give him, the last time he may ever know a touch that assumes he is human. I see her hide what she knows as she pushes him toward the other children. I hear her lie to him that she will be right back. I see her peek through a window to make sure he is distracted, then slip back along the road, steeled between memory and forgetting.

8 comments:

Janice said...

I understand your imagining. Even if we can't write it down for scholarly consumption, the insights from reconstructing people's lives are never wasted!

Susan said...

I think the imagining, even if not written down, makes for better history writing. The characters can come to life...

Clio Bluestocking said...

I absolutely agree with you both. For me, imagining their lives as a novelist leads me to practical questions such as, "how, exactly, did this go down?" or "is that feasible in the time-space continuum?" or "given that it is feasible, why did that not happen?" Even the flight of fancy in this post led me to consider the older woman's role and the children on the other end who had made the same journey only a few years before -- and their lack of sympathy for this child. I just had to get some of the novelists' art out her so that the historian's analysis could take over in the chapter.

So, yeah, insight and life for all of them in my history writing.

Still, there are those gaps about which I am jealous of novelists and their freedom to venture.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Now that I think about it, too, imagining helps me to separate what I know from what I don't know -- that is, what has evidence and what does not and, when I hit on a new insight, what evidence I should try to find.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

That image breaks my heart.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Me, too. It always has. He tells it from his point of view, so I wondered about hers.

Cynala said...

That image breaks my heart, too.

I wonder if, after you finish the scholarly book, it might be time for you to start a novel?

Clio Bluestocking said...

Well, Cynala, you never know. I am the Queen of Productive Procrastination! At least a collection of flash fiction stories might be in order.

 

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