The Fine Line Between Historical And Fiction

The modern-day Bethnal Green tube station. i i

hide captionThe modern-day Bethnal Green tube station.

Steve Collins/Flickr
The modern-day Bethnal Green tube station.

The modern-day Bethnal Green tube station.

Steve Collins/Flickr

Jessica Francis Kane studied the Bethnal Green tube station disaster, then spent years writing a novel centered around the day's horrific events. Briefly,

On March 3, 1943, on a night when England expected a horrific retaliatory bombing from Germany, 173 people died in London's East End. Not a single bomb fell that night, however. Instead, the victims, the vast majority of whom were women and children, died on the stairwell leading to an air-raid shelter inside a tube station in Bethnal Green.

Since the release of her novel, The Report, Kane has thought a lot about the line between historical and fiction, and who values each aspect in the re-telling of a tragedy.

To start with, she doesn't like the term "historical fiction," as she feels it cheapens a novel. She prefers "historically imagined." That distinction seems to point at the word "fiction" as the offensive bit, a deduction further bolstered by what is perhaps her essay's strongest conclusion:

It seems fiction is fine unless a subject is raw — then we think nonfiction is required. We want facts.

That rawness, however, isn't simply a matter of how much time has passed since the tragedy.

But that's not to say fiction is cheaper than non, to her mind. Rather, Kane sees a difference between those of us who turn to novels to understand tragedy and those of us who prefer a (perhaps) more straightforward account. Which are you? Dig in deeper here.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: