History Is No Straitjacket For The Romance Writer

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The authority with which the romance genre is invested by history, represented in Cassandra by characters such as Artaxerxes and Darius, is an important aspect of mid-century prose romances per se. With its authentic locations and recognizably historical figures, Cassandra is endowed with a measure of verisimilitude which both complements and counter-balances its escapism. It remains a book dealing in fantastic feats of virtue and nobility, but 'the heroes and heroines of the Cassandre seem to exist in a world only slightly beyond that of ordinary human beings'. This historical ballast is augmented by Cassandra's antecedent action, which is introduced through means of 'histories' related by Araxes, Cleone and Toxaris, including 'The History of Oroondates' 'The History of Statira', of Lysimachus, Berenice, Cassandra, Roxana, Hermione, Deidamia, Arsaces and Barsana. All of these are genuine figures, taken from La Calprenede's main sources: Plutarch, Appian and Flours, if often fused with fictional plot lines into an idiom more Links Of London Charms accurately described as pseudo-history. Revealingly, in another epistle to the reader, this time near the end of the book, La Calprenede, as translated by Cotterell, acknowledges, but is at pains to qualify, the deviations from and poetic license taken with established historical sources, employing other historians in his defense.

I have been bound up in many Passages of this Conclusion by the truth of History, though perhaps I have altered it in some places, where it is least known. If I make Statira and her Sister live again contrary to the report of Plutarch, who says she was killed by Roxana's cruelty; I have followed the Opinion of many Historians, and I make her pass the rest of her life in Countries very remote from Links London those where she spent her younger years. Romance translation, then, as evidenced by Cassandra, is not so much a distraction from history as a mode of access to its elevating, though paradoxically malleable, 'truth', a malleability also conceded in Gloria's preface. Such access gives romance a ring of authority, conflating it with another discipline (history) which in its own right is not only a subtle casuistry of political activism but also a manifestation of exilic solipsism. For exiles in this period habitually turn to the past, since it enables them 'to control its very terms within their created worlds, thus justifying and ordering the experience of exile both to themselves and to their audience'. As Cotterell demonstrates, however, history is no straitjacket for the romance writer; the diverting undercurrent to this ostensibly formulaic prefatory apology is an assertion of the contingency of past events: objective 'truth' soon collapses into subjective 'Opinion', with the wider, unsettling but also for the romance writer empowering implication that the allegorical basis of the work depends on the constructive abilities of the author and imaginative engagement of the reader, not on a neat set of predestined associations.

There are many other characters and scenes in Cassandra that would have resonated widely with many royalist supporters in the early 1650s. The words attributed to Darius are invariably of topical moment, notably in his defiant speech to the Persian army, which suggestively addresses the calamitous loss of a great empire to a successful, though not invincible, enemy commander: We have been Masters heretofore of all that the Ocean washes, and of all the Hellespont environs, but we have lost it all, and fight no longer now for the recovery of those Countreys, nor for glory which is more considerable then our estates, but for our Safety, and for our Liberty, which is dearer to us than our lives. This Alexander, whose name strikes such a terror in the fearful, is a man as well as the worst of you, happy rather by our cowardice, then his own valor. Though fortune has given successes to his temerity, her favors will not last for ever, whereas reason alone makes our felicity durable.
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History Is No Straitjacket For The Romance Writer

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This article was published on 2010/10/15