“Dear Hilda R., I`m sorry but I just can`t stand biographical novels. For the historian, they are a pollution, plain and simple. So I do not see I can be of any help to you. Sincerely, ----”
I received the above email from a Freud expert when I approached him for help with my research for Guises of Desire, a biographical novel about Bertha Pappenheim (‘Anna O’ of Studies on Hysteria, Breuer and Freud, 1895). The response highlights an area in which science and literature can lock horns. But how valid is the objection? Can we ever get to the truth of any matter? Surely all reporting is filtered through the world view of the reporter? The narrative of the biographical novelist is that person’s interpretation of events just as much as the historian’s is his. And if the novelist’s interpretation is based on a knowledge of medical advances made long after after the original events, is it not just as deserving of consideration as a case study written at the time from a state of medical ignorance? Added to this is the fact that the process of narrative research can focus attention on areas not otherwise examined, raising fresh questions to be addressed.
I discuss these issues at greater length on my blog at http://www.hildareilly.com/writing-blog.html. Guises of Desire is available on Amazon.