16 February 2010

University of New Brunswick

Attached Files

Apprehending the Past: History versus the Historical Novel

Guy Vanderhaeghe, writer and professor, St-Thomas More College/University of Saskatchewan, 2008 Trudeau Fellow

Tuesday, February 16, 2010, 7 p.m. - 9 p.m., followed by a reception

The University of New Brunswick, Wu-Conference Centre, J. Harper Kent Auditorium, 6 Duffie Drive, Fredericton; www.wucentre.unb.ca

In the past twenty years, the historical novel has achieved popular success in English-speaking Canada and recognition by many prize-giving juries. Its prominence has sometimes caused consternation among academic historians who view it as "bad history," a distortion and vulgarization of our knowledge of the past, while in some literary circles it is dismissed as mere nostalgic whimsy, a refusal to engage with, or even recognize, the present reality of Canada today. As someone who once aspired to be a professional historian and who now writes historical novels, I have found myself confronting some of these issues and trying to resolve them as a practitioner of the form. If the historical novel is an awkward centaur (both fiction and history) on what terms ought it be judged? Does the "subjectivity" of the historian differ from that of the novelist? Do fundamental and important distinctions exist in the way historians and novelists construct narratives? Is the historical novel really an examination of the past, or an oblique look at the present? What practical strategies do historical novelists pursue in an attempt to resolves these quandaries? Finally, if the historical novel has a role in the apprehension of the past, what is it?