Okay. This is the first in a series of dialogues on historical fiction that I'll be posting over the course of our class. Plagues, witches, and war. These are very informal conversations, chats really, with a number of scholars and authors of historical fiction about various aspects of the genre. Now these are very informal very rough and ready videos, I recorded them for the most part on Skype. I'm sitting in my living room right now with my dog behind me. so, you'll, you'll want to think about these dialogs in a different way than you do about the formal lectures and seminars that we've presented as a core part of the class. I'm not associating any assigned reading with these dialogues, so think about them in that spirit. I have linked to books by all of the scholars and authors that I'll be talking to in these dialogues. But again, that's just a supplemental part of the course I'm not assigning any readings to go along with these dialogues. My first guest for these, is Michael McKeon. He is professor of literature at Rutgers University He's one of the world's leading experts on the history and theory of the novel. He's the author of a number of very, very influential and well regarded works on this subject, including The Origins of the English Novel. he's also the editor of an influential anthology called Theory of the Novel. In this conversation we talk about what it meant to be historical in the 18th and 19th Centuries. During this age, when historical fiction really came of age in the historical novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. we talk a little bit about the categories of history and fiction and what those meant to the earliest readerships of historical fiction in the English language. and we also talk a little bit about an influential theorist of the historical novel, who wrote a lot about Sir Walter Scott. Named Lukács, and I've linked to Lukács's work on the historical novel in the readings tab under unit one. so I give you Michael McKeon. Hello MIchael and thanks so much for joining our conversation in this class. >> Oh, you're quite welcome. >> so you know, this is a class on historical fiction. The historical novel, we're beginning in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And one thing that, authors of that period seem self conscious about, is, is what exactly it means to be historical. To be writing historical fiction. What, what did that mean in the eighteenth century, and how did that, that notion change. That, that idea of being historical. Yes. Well, it's it's intimately connected with the emergence of the novel as a genre in the eighteenth century and, to answer that I really have to talk about two different stages in people's thinking about what the novel has to do with history. there's a kind of a, a pre-realist fate is which begins in the early eighteenth century and is exemplified most obviously by people like Daniel Defoe and Samuel Richardson. the claims that the major characters in their novels are actual people. That is to say have historical existence, have actuality. And this could be seen as a kind of naive approach to the effort to become historical. this is very popular for about 20 years. both of them write in 1719, 1740. But the real breakthrough into realism as we know it comes with Henry Fielding Joseph Andrews in 1742. in which his claim is not that what he's writing about is actually historical, but that it's history-like. That is to say, it has all of the particularity and concreteness of histor, historical narrative. But there's no claim that it actually happened. Simply, it reminds you of your own every day life. And what Chilton does by this, is to, is to break down the dichotomous opposition that had been established up to this point, between doing the novel, or actually, because the name, the novel is not really in place yet, doing true history, on the one hand, and on the other hand, writing romances. And romances are simply false. there obviously fantastic narratives that never could happen in real life. Not only because there supernatural or very often so, it's simply because they don't correspond. To the daily lives of the sorts of people that one, one knows. So what Fielding does is to say not that his novel is romance because it does seek to convey everyday life, but that it's fictional and that the novel to be truly historical can also be fictional. >> Hm. >> So it's a kind of an overcoming of that opposition. And it's really the first time that the idea of fiction in the modern sense of the term is formulated. And it really takes over. I think, every novel and the, and the term itself starts to become more and more canonical. Every novel after about 1750, is in some way or another, realist. So, it's an understanding of history that can be reconciled with fiction rather than, than always must stand in opposition to it. >> So does that then change once we get novels that call themselves historical novels? Like is there a, I guess there's a particular way that realism changes? That being historical changes once we have someone like Sophia Lee in The Recess, or Walter Scott in Waverly. What then happens to that notion? >> In a historical novel, I don't really know whether the term is contemporary, or whether Lukács invents it, or somebody else, but In the latter part of the eighteenth century, there's a proliferation of what one might call sub-genres of the novel. And the historical novel is one of those. Others are the, the domestic novel, the novel of manners, novel of sensibility. all of these are realist. In the sense that on the one hand they try to talk as concretely as possible about what's going on in real life. But on the other hand they acknowledge their fictionality. So all of these are realist in that double sense of the term. and I think the historical novel is different from them only in so far as it, as it's name suggests, tries most explicitly to explore what it means to be historical when you're writing historical novel. >> You mentioned Lukács a few moments ago. and can you explicate his theory of the historical novel for us? I know that he gives a really important foundational place to Sir Walter Scott. >> He does. >> Wh-, what is the historical novel for him? And what, what is its significance? >> The Historical Novel, the book by Lukács, is preceded many years earlier by The Theory of the Novel. Which, in effect, states the, the very long trans, transition that I was just describing, and goes back into antiquity in order to talk about a fundamental break that occurs at the end of the middle ages. In which it becomes necessary to to acknowledge that fiction, is fictional in the sense that it cannot get at the reality of life in an unmediated way. It has to, self-consciously, draw upon fictionalizing devices to do that. So, Lukács comes along a good deal after that and in effect creates the category of historical fiction. And he explains it I would say in, in two different necessary ways. First of all he asks. Why the novel, and not say drama? In other words, he asks a formal question. Why is it that narrative becomes the genre around 1800 that is most concerned to talk about history, to represent history? And he says that it's because a narrative is concerned with what he calls a totality of, of objects, rather than a totality of movement. Drama, in particular tra-, in particular tragedy, is concerned with a, a single cataclysmic collision of essential personages. Whereas what happens in narrative is a concatenation of mul, multiple personalities involved in most complex and what he calls capillary action, you can imagine capillaries as opposed to veins or arteries, as being multiple in crisscrossing each other in ways that go far beyond any sort of single cataclysmic collision. This is what narrative deals in. And actually, he, he acknowledges, in fact, points out that the historical novel may deal with single important personages who are historically true, but they're marginal. So the story. They don't carry the, the main action. as far as not formal, but contextual questions are concerned. That is, why at this time, why around 1800, do we get this outbreak of a certain kind of historical novel. simply because this is a time at which, despite the French Revolution, historical change is most given to that particular sort of form. That is to say, change occurs, social change in particular, occurs over long periods of times. So many different actions engaged in by many different people, and therefore, it's the time that's suited to the, the particular genre. >> Okay, so does this then, you know, now we think of being accurate or being being historically rigorous in historical fiction has a very particular kind of implication, you have to get all of your facts absolutely right. >> [INAUDIBLE] >> And, how did that, were, were people as much sticklers for that in the early nineteenth century when Waverley came out? >> Mm-hm, no, I don't think so. They were in a way, Scott, most of all, was happy enough to include what we might call romance elements. Where they in his his, his history, in part because he's trying to recreate in a self-consciously fictional way What, what it was like then. He almost always goes back to the past. in some of his novels only to the mid or early eighteenth century. Some of them much farther back. And that's true of historical novels in particular. but their concern is less to be stic, sticklers about particular facts than true to the nature of historical resistance at a certain time. >> So it's much more a broader sense of what historical existence means. What realism is. Then a kind of factual [CROSSTALK] kind of narrative. >> Exactly. I think that the main difference to go back to what I was saying before. The difference about realism is that you know, the ism is very important. It doesn't claim to be real in the factual sense. It claims to be, a way of getting at an empirical picture of what life is like without without the fiction that this is actual life. >> Okay. That's, that's a helpful distinction. It's, there's a distinction in early music studies between authenticity and authenticism. >> Uh-huh. >> It's a polemical distinction that, you, you can't recreate authentic performances. Well you, you can, you can try. But if you claim that yours are really historically authentic and, in an absolutely pristine way, you're being authenticist. That's a. >> Yes. >> Bowdlerization of the argument. But there might be a similar kind of a point to make about historical fiction. >> Maybe so. And I think people who call themselves realists. don't indulge in the fiction that they're being real. I was going to mention another ism that is useful to think about here. With respect to the movement from the beginning to the end of the eighteenth century that I was describing. At the beginning, people see romance as being the very anthithesis of getting the truth of history. At the end, when the historical novel is coming into being, we also have the period of romaticism. And the difference between, the attitude toward history. The beginning and the end of the century can be summarized by thinking about the difference between attitudes toward romance and attitudes toward being romance-like; that is to say, romanticist. >> That's another helpful one because it's, because right now one of the, the largest selling genres of historical fiction is historical romance. So it, seems likes [CROSSTALK] two notions have precisely blended now. >> That's right. [CROSSTALK] I think all, all of the crucial terms that persist really to today are created at this time. And then are used in different combinations. Very often, in order to make the claim. Which is a, a, a truly modern claim. That what's going on right now is different from what happened before. from my point of view, realism, once it's established in that basic form that I was talking about, never really goes away. The great 19th century realist novels are seeking. And many of them are historical novels, as well. Are seeking to elaborate. The basic combination of truth to the experience of history, with the acknowledgement that this is a fiction. and there are all sorts of ways that we can understand that they have, as it were sophisticated, that representation of history. Modernism, post-modernism. in my book, they're the same thing, but make even more strident claims to be doing. Something very different. But, you know, that's in the nature of modernity. that every, every stage in it claims to be totally innovative. >> This is a really helpful perspective I think on, on the subject of the course. so Michael McKeon thank you so much for, for joining us for this conversation. >> Well, you're very welcome. I'm very glad to take part in it. >> Great.