WEIGHING HISTORICAL FICTION. It has occurred to me in writing the last few posts that I may be assuming that dramatizing historical changes in societies gives a novel weight. (My assumption may be an explanation of why I seem to rank GONE WITH THE WIND higher than most critics seem to.) It may be that Jerome Loving’s grouping of TOM SAWYER with “Rip Van Winkle” led me to the thought that I overvalue historical fiction. Loving thinks neither work has much of a literary theme. He allows that “Rip Van Winkle”: “contains something of a literary theme—the idea that while things change, they also stay the same. When Rip wakes up, he is no longer a subject under George the Third but a citizen under George Washington. He merely exchanges a termagant wife for a termagant daughter.” I am especially conscious of the historical impact of “Rip Van Winkle” because I realized only recently that I had completely missed an important point.

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  1. Elmer says:

    AS I recall, Sam Spade reminisces, while holding a gun on some of the suspects and waiting for further news about the falcon, about a case in which Spade was to look for a runaway husband. Spade finally found the runaway miles away in Seattle, married to a woman just like the wife he had deserted.

  2. phil schaefer says:

    I suppose you could think of the Hammett character exercising a choice while Rip made the women in his life into termagants.

  3. Mary Jane Schaefer says:

    So, let’s get back to historical fiction. Can anyone doubt that Steven Saylor’s reconstruction of Ancient Rome enriches his interesting plots? Is Mary Renault considered an historical novelist, or sui generis? Her imaginative reconstruction of the ancient world is breath-taking, I think. There’s good historical fiction, great historical fiction, and then there’s Bulwer-Lytton.

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