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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

E.L. Doctorow: Historical Novel? No Such Thing


E.L. Doctorow is another novelist I had the pleasure of meeting at a book festival.

Doctorow is often pegged a historical novelist. His Ragtime visits the intertwining lives of immigrants in the early twentieth century. The Waterworks is set in the dark corners of 1871 New York City. Billy Bathgate takes place in the New York of the 1930s. And The March, follows General Sherman and his army of 60,000 troops as they march through Georgia, destroying homes, demolishing entire towns and displacing former slaves and slave owners alike who attach themselves to the serpentine march of 1864.

But, according to Doctorow, there's no such thing as a historical novel. There are just novels set in history. "I don't consider myself a historical novelist. I write novels that are sometimes set in other times."

Doctorow uses Nathaniel Hawthorne as an example. "His novels were set in times 50 years before he lived, but they are not remembered as historical novels. Just novels."

Doctorow holds his copy of The March in hand. "When the book is written, the history falls away and there's really only the book."

E.L. Doctorow (Author of Ragtime) (goodreads.com)

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