The Corner

Through Fiction’s Prism

Rick: I am forever hindered from any real appreciation of Bismarck by having encountered his personality drawn not by a biographer or historian, but by a novelist.

Addicts of historical fiction are stuck with vivid images of famous people that were not reconstructed from surviving documentary evidence in hopes of giving a true portrait, but worked up by the imaginative powers of novelists to fit into plots. It’s a shame. My Alexander is from Mary Renault; my Julius Caesar from Colleen McCullough; my Claudius of course from Robert Graves; my Thomas More from Robert Bolt… I’d like to be able to say that my image of the Plantagenets is from Shakespeare, but in truth it’s much more Alfred Duggan. My entire knowledge of William Rufus is from his walk-on part in one of Cecilia Holland’s novels.

I think this particular intellectual disability is very common among solitary & bookish but lazy-minded people. There ought to be a name for it.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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