Historical Fiction

Our most popular practitioner of the art speaks of the challenges and rewards of writing

Georg Brandes, Denmark’s leading literary critic, had a low opinion of historical novels. To read one, he said, “was like drinking real substitute coffee.” He was referring, of course, to the standard historical romance featuring real figures of importance intermingled with heroic imaginary ones. The classic example would be Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers , an exceptionally interesting work; shoddy examples have proliferated in all times.Read more »

From Camelot To Abilene

To Owen Wister, the unlikely inventor of the cowboy myth, the trail rider was “the last cavalier,” the savior of the Anglo-Saxon race

We think of the cowboy and of the open range as part and parcel of the American legend that spread eastward from the West during the nineteenth century. Yet the legend had not become national until the early twentieth century, and its principal literary architect was an Easterner to the core. The crucial event in its popular dissemination was The Virginian , a novel written by Owen Wister and published in 1902. Its success was instantaneous, large-scale, and enduring.Read more »

148 Charles Street

The Literary Lights Were Always Bright at

Everyone wanted to be invited to 148 Charles Street, where Charles Dickens mixed the punch and taught the guests parlor games, John Greenleaf Whittier and Harriet Beecher Stowe vied in telling ghost stories, and Nathaniel Hawthorne paced the bedroom floor one unhappy night in the final miserable year of his life.Read more »

Americans Abroad

To Henry James, as to his fellow expatriates Whistler and Sargent, the culture of the Old World was “vast, vague and dazzling,” yet they could never quite forget or abandon the New

Worn out by the excitement of his first day in one of the cities of his dreams, a young American managed to find time that evening to dash off a letter from Rome to his younger brother in the States. “At last—” he wrote, “for the first time—I live! … I went reeling and moaning thro’ the streets, in a fever of enjoyment.” The newly born and ecstatic consciousness belonged to Henry James, who at twenty-six—the year was 1869—was well launched on a promising literary career; the brother, who was to become equally eminent, was William James.

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