The idea of writing about what we can never know – the interior lives of people other than ourselves – was born within the fertile hybrid culture of 12th-century England.
Fiction was invented in England in the 12th century; we might pinpoint a few years around the 1150s as the crucial moment. At the middle of the century England had a multilingual literary culture, three languages in constant, fruitful contact and a hybrid national culture in the making. It had just emerged from a long and bitter civil war; the Conqueror’s son, Henry I, had died in 1135 leaving a daughter, Matilda, as his only legitimate heir and her cousin, Stephen of Blois, had seized the throne. When in 1153 King Stephen finally made peace with Matilda’s son, Henry of Anjou, who came to the throne as Henry II the following year, he was accompanied by Eleanor of Aquitaine. She brought with her one further addition: the culture of the troubadours, the celebratory lyric poetry and music of courtly life and love, which originated in southern France. This was the world into which fiction would make its entrance.