I was visiting my local indie bookstore the other day, and standing before the rack of recently released paperback fiction, I noticed an inordinate number of titles related to historical personages. Here is a sampling of such–mind you, a sampling
Dreamlife of Sukhanov
Memoirs of Helen of Troy
Anxious Pleasures (A Life After Kafka)
The Mercuy Visions of Louis Daguerre
I, Mona Lisa
Secret Memoirs of Jackie Kennedy Onassis
Great Lady: The Notorious Gorgeous Life of Emma Lady Hamilton
Okay, I can accept some of this as a wave in the cyclic nature of publishing trends; after successes like The Other Boleyn Girl or The Dante Club, naturally publishers chase after more of the same and glut the market.
But why is the reading public hungering for fictional accounts of people who really lived? (Honestly, I don’t get it. To me, the facts are infinitely more interesting. How could any author improve on the story of Marie Antoinette, for example? Wouldn’t you rather know about the real Jackie O. versus some stranger’s made-up account of her? And why would readers buy into a contemporary writer’s interpretation of the memoirs of a famous historical personage?)
This is saying something about our society and culture, though I’m not quite sure what. I simply don’t have enough pieces of the puzzle. To me, there is some sort of intersecting between the fictionalized personage trend and the recent spat of “dramatized” memoirs. Real life crossing over with fiction, that sort of thing. For some reason, we are not prone to distinguishing between “fact” and “fiction,” “truth” and “theory”: We are willing, maybe even eager, to blur the lines. Why?
On another tangent, could the fictionalizing of historical person’s memoirs be a reaction to our own (recent) lack of tangible, permanent records of our days and thoughts and history? Think about it: We soon will have no more letters or lengthy correspondence and few written diaries to document the processes, personal musings, daily accounts of our great thinkers. No more Samuel Pepys or Viriginia Woolf diaries. No more letters between Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. (Yeah, I can just imagine how helpful Blackberry messages will be: RUwriting? 🙂 )
Just some random, rambling thoughts. Something about this nags at me, though: Somehow, it’s telling us something we must pay attention to. That’s the feeling I get.
I’d like to hear some of your thoughts on the subject.