June 16, 8 pm Eastern, Postmambo Movie Night presents:
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Monday, June 13, 2022
. . . . The 19th C French novelists are a primary resource for thinking about writing/composing both fiction and history. Balzac and Dumas are both particularly useful. But Dumas was nearly entirely concerned with the history of France provided in the pages of overt fiction. Balzac, however, thought constantly of the relationship of not just historical fiction to history, but the necessity of historical facts and verisimilitude to other fictional forms, particularly those forms we in the US, in this time, loosely call the realist novel, the novel of manners, and, the fiction of the fantastic.
Balzac came up a ‘system’ novel for the literature of realism – which term didn’t yet exist in his time – but was called by the 1820’s French Romantic painters, la couleur locale, and Balzac expanded to la couleur historique.
In describing that attempt, Balzac speaks of local color; in relation to the fiction of the period, his la couleur historique — is indeed more precise. For Balzac as for his contemporaries, truth could most easily be found in the history and expressed in literature with an historical setting:
"Lit le roman historiques sont l'expression de la France et de la lit au XIXe siecle" (review of H. de Latouche, Fragoletta, 1829). He was to foreshadow Augustin Thierry's opinion, that history would impact nineteenth century fiction, as the young Romantics had experienced a violent reintegration into history, as a result of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The example of Sir Walter Scott merely gave a specifically literary dimension to an already intense fascination with history and historical change; and Scott would of course be Balzac's ideal for the whole of his mature literary career. His early aim was that of Scott and of Scott's other disciples, to reconstruct "l'esprit d'une epoque et d'un fait," to make popular the study of history through a form less boring perhaps than the scholarly essays inspired by la Clio classique.
Even at this early stage, however, Balzac seems to call for a greater degree of truth than do many of his contemporaries. For him, historical fact was to serve as more than a mere springboard for the poetic imagination. He could say that the historical novel should not aspire to the rigorous veracity of scholarly history, that historical figures should have a peripheral role in what is after all a work of fiction. He criticized Vigny for having used history to his own ends:
avait vu quelques scenes poetiques, et il les avait Verite, pour nous convaincre que les artistes viven qu'il s'agit bien moins de mettre le vrai dans le fau le vrai" (review of M. James, Richelieu, 1830).
Balzac, as he expressed it ten years later, was the exact opposite of literary truth which Vigny developed in his preface to Reflexions sur la verite dans l'art: "L'art du roman vrai dans tous les details, quand son personnage es la litterature, I, 1840).
Even Balzac's excursions into fantastique practiced by Ε. T. A. Hoffmann are dose of reality. The authenticity of details is a point many times in the articles and prefaces he wrote. A realist may deal in fiction, but he must never relinquish fact, "l'immense verite des details." Balzac's rapid abandonment of the historical and fantastique may well be explained by his judgment of Indiana (1832)*:
"Ce livre-la est une reaction de la verite contre le fantastique, du temps present contre le moyen-äge, du drame intime contre la bizarrerie des incidents ä la mode, de l'actualite simple contre l'exageration du genre historique."
What had originally been a quest for truth, an imitation of nature, had rapidly become the vehicle for the greatest excesses of the literary imagination. The public had grown tired, Balzac wrote in the preface to La Peau de chagrin (1831), his first important work with a contemporary setting, of "l'histoire de France." Les Chouans appeared in 1829, which also saw the publication of Merimee's Chronique du regne de Charles IX; only two years later Balzac followed his elder, Stendhal, in writing a chronique du XIXe siecle. ....
... the matter might change; the method had not. The recreation of the past which is the task of the historian would always remain for Balzac the most adequate analogy to the novelist's undertaking. He intended to write "l'histoire oubliee par tant toriens, celle des moeurs." Charles Nodier had defined the novelist as historien de moeurs as early as 1817; for Balzac the term became a constant point of reference. He repeatedly proclaimed himself an historian of manners and morals, "plus historien que romancier"; he referrs to his work as "cette longue histoire des moeurs modernes mises en act. He claimed merely to be an humble copyist, the secretary of his society as he said novelists had always been. The gift he prized above addition to the ability to give artistic form to what one had to say, was the accurate observation of reality, which made the roman de mores a more difficult genre than the historical novel. The Balzacian notion of contemporary mores demands "des connaissances presque techniq tandis qu'un roman historique ne veut que la science, des recher et de la lecture". ....
- - - - Balzac's Theory of the Novel / Maurice Z. Shroder / L'Esprit Créateur / Vol. 7, No. 1, Honoré de Balzac (Spring 1967), pp. 3-10 (8 pages) / Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press / https://www-jstor-org.i.ezproxy.nypl.org/stable/26277449?
To see why Balzac believed it was more difficult to give artistic form to novels which are histoire des moeurs modernes mises en act -- the novels of contemporary manners -- one of his own works will provide an example. The subject of Illusians perdues (Lost Illusions) is a young man who burns to write literature, who has a decent gift, and the business of writing and publishing.
For those of us in the US, thinking of our own history and fiction that is inspired by our history, our own locale couleur and locale historique, our National Archives (much available via online portal) is and excellent resource.
When I'm asked what are the most important tools for writing good historical fiction, I always respond there are five.
1) voracious reading of the respected historians and fiction writers too -- and particularly those who wrote contemporary history of the period in which one's tale and characters are made;
2) Read the newspapers of the period -- that is, if your period had newspapers, but it will have some source of news, if only the local gossips. Indeed, George Eliot made brilliant use of these in Middlemarch, set several decades before she wrote it, though newspapers not only proliferated in that period already, and, indeed, a fictional newspaper is part of the fiction too; [Indeed, Laidislaw goes from his ambition to be a fine artist to working in newspapers and politics -- another case of literature's Illusions perdues!]
3) Look at the arts created in the period -- this includes listening to the music of the time, even though recording wasn't yet invented, probably, one may still learn something important, since making music played a role in so many lives, that speaks to class, and even to politics of those alive at the time;
4) Spend a lot of time with and the National Archives, and with JSTOR, generally now, since pandemic, available to you at home instead of needing to be at your local library, haunt the historical societies and museums of the place;
5) Go to the places one's characters go (which, as we see above, George Sand had not done).
A novel by George Sand, published in 1832:
Indiana is a novel about love and marriage written by Amantine Aurore Dupin; it was the first work she published under her pseudonym George Sand. Published in April 1832, the novel blends the conventions of romanticism, realism and idealism. As the novel is set partly in France and partly in the French colony of Réunion, Sand had to base her descriptions of the colony, where she had never been, on the travel writing of her friend Jules Néraud.
If one has slogged through Indiana, as I have, one sees indeed how Balzac came to the conclusion that it was far more difficult to write fiction as convincing art for a novel of manners than for historical fiction
In the meantime, things continue to roll along. So much to do, so many places to go in the service of the doing -- please, please, please let neither of us contract covid.
The Heat Storm is reaching us today. My concern goes out to our family and friends in West and the Southwest, and now the Middle West too.
Thursday, June 9, 2022
. . . . Since covid, two Thursdays of every month are Postmambo events via Zoom. The first monthly event is discussion and interaction led by a special guest with expertise and achievement in some area of Afro-latin, African. African American, etc. history, culture, music, spirituality. The second Thursday is Postmambo Movie Night*, with a film connected to these matters as well, in some way or other. Our most recent film was the recently remastered, remixed, etc.
This week we canceled the First Thursday, because, at 8 PM there will be live television coverage of the first January 6th Investigation Committee's hearings. This first one begins at our usual start time of 8 PM eastern time USA, the others will be daytime events. Knowing the people are who attend Postmambo Zoom Thursdays, we know that like us, they want to tune in to the hearings. You all probably are the sort who want to tune into the hearings as well.
The hearings can be watched on most major TV news stations, at least this Thursday’s, on ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC and CNN. I suppose C-Span too? The usual suspect will not be covering the hearings at all, much less broadcasting them, it says.
* Postmambo Movie Night will e back next week, on June 16, 8 PM,
with Elder's Corner, directed by Siji Awoyinka, who will join us on Zoom for conversation afterward.
** Bob was in many ways el V's inadvertent mentor into ethnomusicology. We drove over Cuba in a Lada together, twice, in the summer of 1990, el V and Bob never stopping their dialogue which covered everything from Bob's early life to 1950's horror films, and music, music, music. Bob also introduced el V into infinite variety of worlds that are New Orleans.
Later, when Bob's daughter made a documentary about her father, The Hand of Fatima (2009), she cast el V to be the voice-over, to be the Voice of Bob, speaking words Bob had written.
Ooooo, lovely el V -- he just returned bringing me sausage, eggplant, squash and egg pappardelle for dinner, and! --
Tom Holland's Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West (2005). I have been wanting to read this for a long time. Now having Herodotus's say regarding the Persians, and working on getting Xenophon's account of the March, so recently into my sieve mind, I should be well prepared for Holland's take.