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Monday, March 17, 2008 1:28 pm
The Novel: A History
Posted by: Keir Graff

It takes the New Yorker a little longer to catch up with a story, of course, but when they do, the results are usually worth reading. Referencing Margaret Seltzer, Jill Lepore (“Just the Facts, Ma’am“)¬†examines the lies of history, the truth of fiction,¬†and men’s and women’s preferences for each. She asks “What makes a book a history?” and “is ‘historical truth’ truer than fictional truth?”

Historians and novelists are kin, in other words, but they’re more like brothers who throw food at each other than like sisters who borrow each other’s clothes. The literary genre that became known as "the novel" was born in the eighteenth century. History, the empirical sort based on archival research and practiced in universities, anyway, was born at much the same time. Its novelty is not as often remembered, though, not least because it wasn’t called "novel." In a way, history is the anti-novel, the novel’s twin, though which is Cain and which is Abel depends on your point of view.

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