Truth is No Stranger to Fiction

Historical novelist Linda Proud explains why she thinks fiction can be as truthful as ‘fact’.

It seems a simple enough distinction: historians deal in fact and novelists deal in fiction, one in truth, the other in lies. One poet in her late eighties told me that she was too old to read fiction: ‘At this age I have to be concerned about my soul.’ Does ‘fiction’, however, mean untruth? The word has its roots in the Latin fingere, meaning to make in clay, and is thus similar in meaning to the Greek poien, ‘to make’. Fiction, therefore, like poetry, is making something. Out of what? Usually it is facts mixed together with observation bonded together by invention. In general or literary fiction the facts may be those of the society in which the story is set, as well as those of human nature known to the author through experience. In historical fiction they have to be researched from the history books (although observation of human nature still plays its part). Playwrights, of course, use the same ingredients, but where poetry and plays are noble, fiction is still considered ignoble – make-believe for adults. History, of course, dealing in facts, deals with the truth. But does it?


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