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From Scott to Rispart, from Ivanhoe to The York Massacre of the Jews Rewriting and translating historical “fact” into fiction in the historical novel
Palimpsestes, 24 (2011)
Historical “data” concerns not only facts, as we all know, but memory (individual as well as collective), language, cultural heritage (“real” or invented). In his 1975 History Remembered, Recovered, Invented1, Bernard Lewis encompassed the multiplicity of functions historiography offered in the birth of national feelings. In the 19th century, para-historical popular writing was also used to prop up a national consciousness, often in the form of the historical novel. It is of course no wonder that this genre flourished in the 19th century, the most important period for the novel, for historiography and for nationalism.
What interests us here is to find out 1) how narrating / rewriting / updating historical data works, in other words how historical “facts” are translated into fiction, 2) how this process can serve various ideological purposes, be it hidden agendas or quite open political / cultural goals, and 3) how translations of this historical rendition work for a different public, at a different time and place, for different ideological purposes. Using the word translation in the more general Jakobsonian sense (Jakobson, 1959: 232-239), I would like to suggest that this process in fact involves a triple translation: that of history into historiography, that of historiography into fiction, and that of fiction in one language / culture / period into fiction in another.