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Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Improper Use of Historical Figures in Fiction

No historical character in a novel should do or say anything that you don't know he said and did. You can't displace him in time, and you can't move him geographically. And you've got to be true to him. If I wrote a novel that included Billy The Kid, I wouldn't put him in any part of New Mexico that he wasn't in on that date. I believe you owe that to historical characters. Nothing distressed me more than to see a historical character in one of those historical, romance novels, take the hero aside and give him a little advice on his love life or something. I don't think you have a right to do that with historical characters. [Philip Roth, in his novel Plot Against America, has Charles Lindbergh, a fascist, elected president of the United States. This corrupt novel is an inexcusable distortion of history and Charles Lindbergh. How would Mr. Roth's relatives like it if after his death some novelist portrayed him as a drug addicted hack writer who beat his wife?]

Shelby Foote (1916-2005), Conversations with Shelby Foote, 1989

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