Historical Novel: A fictional narrative that recreates historical events in an imaginative way. Historical and fictional characters are used to add interest and picturesqueness. Not only characters, settings, and events are borrowed from history, but historical events and issues are usually become essential to the central characters and narrative. A well developed historical novelist researches their chosen time period thoroughly in order to re-create historical drama and events accurately; striving for parallelism and similarities.
Example: Michael Ondaatje’s novel In the Skin of a Lion, uses a variety of different historical characters, settings, and events. His main character Patrick Lewis is a fictional character surrounded by various historical figures. Ambrose Small, a missing millionaire in the Toronto area is the most obvious example. Historically as well as fictionally Small had a wife as well as a mistress, and went missing in 1919; his body was never recovered. In the novel Patrick becomes a searcher for Small, and in doing so falls in love with Small’s mistress. Another character that has been borrowed is Caravaggio, a historical Italian painter. Although he was not alive during the time frame of this novel, two parallels can be seen between him and Ondaatje’s fictional version. The historical Caravaggio painted a variety of famous paintings, and became intertwined with the law after committing murder. The fictional Caravaggio is a thief whose first robbery consisted of stealing a painting. During his time in jail he was forced to paint the Water Purification Center; this mimics the historical Caravaggio. In the Skin of a Lion is set in Toronto. The Bloor Street Viaduct was constructed by the Dominion Bridge Company, and completed on October 18, 1918. This piece of history is extremely crucial for connections to be made within the novel. It serves to connect a bridge between characters in a figurative manor, but as well as literally; connecting the east and west. The Water Purification Center is a meticulously built building in Toronto that has tremendous detail. Patrick’s perception of this building is reflective of its actual characteristics. The tunnel built beneath Lake Ontario consisted of horrible working conditions for the men. “All morning they slip in the wet clay unable to stand properly, pissing where they work, eating where someone else left shit.” Patrick was forced to work in these conditions to survive. Unfortunately this is something very true of the men who originally worked on the tunnels. The fictional elements are connected by Ondaatje’s incorporation of historical characters, settings, and events. His refined research creates a well developed re-creation of historical drama and events, creating parallelism and similarities within this historical novel.
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