Something More than an Art

Both history and historical fiction depend on a combination of imagination and rigorous research. The difference is found in the balance of these ingredients. 

Hilary Mantel, in her formidably brilliant Reith Lectures, has set out to remind us of the unknowability of the past: unknowable because of the partiality of the surviving evidence, that all we have is that which has happened to remain, ‘what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have fallen through it’.

It is into this lacuna that, she suggests, the historical novelist speaks: she can practise her trade ‘at the point where the satisfactions of the official story break down’. 

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