Thursday, July 27, 2006

History and Mystery: Amy Belding Brown, Mr. Emerson's Wife

A question about Ralph Waldo Emerson's complicated and intellectual second wife Lydia Jackson Emerson turned ex-romance novelist Amy Belding Brown into a historical sleuth. Had Lidian (Emerson's nickname for his second wife) become entangled with Henry David Thoreau? Who were the other mysterious figures among the Transcendentalists?

As she investigated, built theories, and began writing a historical novel, MR. EMERSON'S WIFE, based on the evidence she found, Brown made some painful discoveries, chief among them that "my primary obligation as a writer of historical fiction was not to history -- sorry! -- but to character."

Although the "facts" within the fiction are drenched in research, Brown feels it's the sense of life's truths, and the struggles of her characters (especially struggling with the difficulties of any long-term marriage), that matter most. "I'd like to advance the premise that what we know as facts represent the most superficial aspects of our life, and I am convinced that the real characters [Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Lidian, Bronson Alcott] in my book would agree with me."

Now she's in the research phase of her next work, also historical fiction, this time based in the lives of the Puritans and the "praying Indians" of Massachusetts. She's carrying with her the question she posed this evening" "Is historical fiction better, the closer we stay to the facts?"

Although her novels aren't likely to be called mysteries (in spite of her sleuthing), I think the question is worth considering in terms of, say, Alan Furst's espionage suspense, Laurie King's Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, even (or especially) The DaVinci Code.


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