This article addresses the relationship between fiction and the archive, between the historical novel and the historical sources that authors use to research, imagine, and write the scenes, characters, and setting making up the worlds of historical fiction. On the most basic level, you can think of an archive as a repository of primary sources, which begs another question, of course, what is a primary source? Let’s look at a definition of primary sources that comes from a particular authority on the matter, the Library of Congress. According to their definition, primary sources are the raw materials of history, original documents and objects which were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without first hand experience.That phrase raw materials is a particularly helpful one for the purposes of this class How do fiction writers employ the raw materials of history in creating fiction? What sorts of raw materials do they use, and where do they find them? How do they adapt them to the medium of prose fiction, and how might these primary sources become part of the reading experience for an author’s audience. And finally how can we use these primary sources as an interpretive lens under the text of historical fiction. In other words, what can reading these primary sources tell us about the texts that employ them in various ways.Historical novelist draw on an infinity of primary sources in writing their narratives. Memoirs, diaries and letters, legal documents, like depositions or wills, art works, and buildings, parish registers, religious writings, old poetry, old cars, old news papers. Virtually anything you can think of is fair game for the archival work of the historical novelist.
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