Just the other day, I read this line in a review by Charles Moore: “In studying history, you must imagine yourself into the truly difficult choices people had to make in the past…”
And I thought, Whoa! That is exactly it. Nothing can say it better.
And that is the whole job of the historical fiction writer. For us, it is not enough to live in another person’s skin within the contemporary world, but (possibly we have a strain of masochism?) we have to complicate matters still further by adding the past senses of smells, sights and sounds that are long gone or diminishing. And then add to that, imagining ourselves into those unequivocally awful decisions and their aftermaths.
But when we get it right, how great is the result. How much it deepens the experience of the reader. And how it transforms our view of our current world by understanding our birth, the nascency of the ideas with which we live, the consequences of actions long since taken.
I say all this as I am trying to answer a question posed the other day, “What caused Napoleon’s downfall?” So bear with me…I shall have an answer, of sorts, before too long.
But first there is evidence to be weighed, an hundred different points of view to be considered, and a Christmas tree to be decorated. And in all of it, the imagining of myself into the heads of those who made the choices and lived it.