Historical Novel: “A novel in which fictional characters take part in, influence, or witness real historical events and interact with historical figures from the past. . . . The work may deal with actual historical personages, or it may contain a mixture of fictional and historical characters. More often it attempts to portray a broader view of a past society in which great events are reflected by their impact on the private lives of fictional individuals.”
In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje bases his novel around romance, struggle and conflict while capturing the historical events of building the Bloor Street Viaduct as well as the R.C Harris Water Treatment Plant. While most characters are fictional, R.C Harris and Nicholas Temelcoff take part in the series of stories of the men and women who dedicated their lives to building these beautiful structures.
There are many references to factual events such as the nun who fell of the bridge, Ambrosse Small who later became known as the “ Jackal of Toronto’s business world”, and the Bertillon Record. One of the many examples of Ondaatje’s historical referencing of the Bloor Street Viaduct is when he explains that “The bridge goes up in a dream. It will link east end with the centre of the city. It will carry traffic, water and electricity across the Don Valley” (Ondaatje 26). Throughout the novel, Ondaatje beautifully captures the realism and visualization of the characters making the whole story seem real while still paying attention to the actual events that happened between 1918 and 1930.
Another example of the history behind Ondaatje’s novel is the falling of the nun as he writes “there was no longer any fear on the bridge. The worst, the incredible had happened. A nun had fallen of the Prince Edward Viaduct before it was even finished” (Ondaatje 31). This is referring back to when supposedly a nun had fallen off the bridge and her body never to be found. To this day the Bloor Street Viaduct is said to be one of the most suicidal destinations in the world.
“Historical Novel.” Dictionary.com. Web. 01 Feb 2011.
Kuitenbrouwer, Peter. Kuitenbrouwer: Ondaatje breathes life into city landmark. Peter Kuitenbrouwer. 2009. Web. 01 Feb. 2011
Ondaatje, Michael. In the Skin of a Lion. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1996. Print.