- Historic Sites
Our most popular practitioner of the art speaks of the challenges and rewards of writing
April/may 1982 | Volume 33, Issue 3
Because I have been required to work over long time spans and keep many hereditary lines in order, I long ago adopted the convention that all my characters were born on the first of January of any given year. This means that love-making must have been rather hetic in the various Aprils, but I have placed no emphasis on this.
Finally, I do not think of myself as a historical novelist. In each of my books a major part of the narrative has always involved recent decades or years just passed. I try to use history the way it should be used, to elucidate the present and uncover the golden sheen that exists when it is viewed with a clear eye.
As to the length of my books, I have been much abused by certain critics, by book clubs that find them extremely difficult to publish profitably, and by some college professors. But almost every day of my life I receive letters from all over the world protesting that the books were too short: “When I approached your final chapters I felt a deep sense of loss, for I realized that I would soon be leaving the little world you had created, and I began to ration myself, only a few pages each day, because I did not want to quit that vibrant universe.”
Mary Renault can create such a universe. So can Zoe Oldenbourg. And when you recall that Marguerite Yourcenar is the master of us all, you begin to wonder if the historical novel has become the predilected art form of the gifted woman writer. If so, I would be proud to be affiliated with writers of such obvious talent.