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Title: 'American Scoundrel: Murder, Love and Politics in Civil War America.' By Thomas Keneally: Random House, Sydney, 2002, pp. iii + 397, $39.95 (hardback).
Contributor(s): Harris, Stephen  (author)
Publication Date: 2002
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Abstract: The historical novelist's terrain lies between the dramatic allure of the 'vivid character' and the counterbalancing 'limits of evidence' – phrases which Thomas Keneally uses at the close of his latest book in commenting upon his choice of subject matter (pp. 354, 356). We can see these as constraints that determine form and style, as the writer's imaginative exuberance, the literary need for engaging 'characters', is kept in cantilevered check by the documentary facts. Arguably, it is the tension between the 'realism' of the historical record and the aesthetic reworking of facts that affords the historical novel – in many ways the prototype of theflourishing contemporary genre of 'narrative non-fiction' writing – its current appeal. Insofar as the historical novelist's choice of character conditions the perspective on history which the reader is given, Keneally's book raises a couple of interesting questions concerning the current vogue for literary reimaginings of history. Which individual or group of individuals, real or imagined, will act as the best lens through which we might view – ideally with some enhanced understanding – the larger, more impersonal movements of a given period or event in history? And at what point does an author's literary style begin to distort what we think of and accept as historical fact?
Publication Type: Review
Source of Publication: Australasian Journal of American Studies, 21(2), p. 123-126
Publisher: Australian and New Zealand American Studies Association
Place of Publication: Australia
ISSN: 0705-7113
Field of Research (FOR): 200506 North American Literature
HERDC Category Description: C1 Refereed Article in a Scholarly Journal
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