American Experience
Murder at Harvard: History and Fiction

Question 5:
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In your book, Dead Certainties, you say history must be "a work of the imagination." If your writing includes fictional passages, can it still be called history?

I knew as soon as you make things up, you've crossed a crucial borderline between history and fiction. And that therefore, I -- as forthrightly as I possibly could -- I described these stories as novellas. This is a piece of fiction. I suppose I had in the back of my mind, pieces of miraculously seductive, intelligent, passionate historical fiction that nonetheless deliver a kind of truth in a way. Poetic truth, rather than documentary truth, about what the past was like. I'm thinking of some hero books of mine: Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard, for example, a wonderful account of the battle of Waterloo seen as unintelligible chaos, at the beginning of The Charterhouse of Parma. So I thought, well I'm going to try my hand at a fiction about the problems of writing history, and about an historical event.