Reading Wolf Hall and thinking about Paul Lakelands post on Ron Hansens latest novel has got me wondering: why does it seem as if every literary novelistI hate to use that term, but it will have to sufficeis writing historical fiction these days? Hansen, Tom McCarthy, Peter Carey, David Mitchellthese are some of the most original, inventive writers of contemporary fiction, and each has found recourse to that well-worn genre, historical fiction, within the last year or so....I have a few ideas about why these writers are finding bygone eras to be of such fertile fictional ground. First, they may be reacting against the legacy of high modernism, the great works of which (Joyces Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, Woolfs To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway) deemphasized plot and content, finding interest instead in subjectivity and pure form. Writing a historical novel almost necessarily means that youre going to be interested in things like setting and objective narrationits hard to imagine a stream-of-consciousness novel set in the Tudor courtand so, in reclaiming the joys of setting and plot, perhaps writers like Mitchell are trying to distance themselves from a particular formalist tradition.
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