When we read a work of historical fiction, are we encountering the real truth about the past—or are we working through a series of lies designed to deceive us in new ways? According to the writer Hilary Mantel, “you don’t become a novelist to become a spinner of entertaining lies: you become a novelist so you can tell the truth.” But what is “truth” in a historical novel—and what are “facts”? How do writers, readers, scholars, and critics understand the suspension of disbelief required if we are to immerse ourselves in a past world, even as our own world challenges us to separate fact from fiction, truth from lies, in ever more demanding and creative ways?
Drawing on his dual experiences as a historical novelist and a scholar of medieval literature, University of Virginia professor Bruce Holsinger will explore the changing nature of historical fiction in an era of alternative facts and political mendacity.
Bruce Holsinger, Linden Kent Memorial Professor of English, University of Virginia
Bruce Holsinger is the author of five books, including A Burnable Book, which received the John Hurt Fisher Prize; and The Invention of Fire, which imagined the beginnings of gun violence in the Western world. His academic books have received major prizes from the Modern Language Association, the Medieval Academy of America, and the American Musicological Society. He has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
SERIES: MEDIEVAL MATTERS
Medieval Matters is a series of public lectures co-sponsored by Stanford Continuing Studies, the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies, and the community group The Sarum Seminar. It explores the relevance of medieval history and culture to understanding the modern world.