Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Pellecanos (and Adams)

From: Kent Johnson (
Date: 03 Feb 2000

>> A book written in 1860 is not the same as a book written in 1960 and set in
>> 1860. The idealization (idealizing either hard times or good times) and
>> drama is what makes a historical a historical.

>You're saying a book set in the past that's not idealized isn't an
>historical? Let's say I write a novel set in 1945 and I do my best to
>make it an accurate representation of the times, without any
>idealization or distortion -- what have I written if not an historical?

I think the point is that a writer is a product of his/her times and consciously or unconsciously projects the beliefs and values of those times onto the past. Since the writer's audience is a product of the same times, this projection doesn't bother them and in fact may be necessary for the story to be appreciated. For instance, a novel set during the time of slavery in the deep south with the author and characters espousing the beliefs of the time would be pretty hard for a modern reader to take -- the reader needs to have a character *somewhere* in the story who to some degree shares modern beliefs, no matter how unrealistic that is. I remember one reviewer who used to complain about the projection of modern sexual mores onto tales set in the first half of the century (before the sexual revolution of the 1960s), when in reality no-sex-before-marriage was a rather strict norm.


Kent Johnson San Francisco

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