I Married a Communist
The novel I Married A Communist by Philip Roth provides an example of a historical novel set in a period within living memory that bridges the gap between the formalism of historical studies and the conjecture that lies at the heart of the novelist’s craft. To be effective, the historical novel cannot fully abandon a reasonably accurate historical framework in favor of the artistic demands of plot and character. Instead, it uses actual occurrences and prominent historical figures to act as a background on the stage where the characters live out their lives. Drama grows as the protagonists become enmeshed in a tide of historical events and social currents over which they have little control that were set in motion and influenced by the actual historical figures of the era. As a result, the properly developed historical novel can be both informative and entertaining, giving the reader a specific historical perspective of an era while using the storyteller’s technique to make events of the past seem more personal and immediate.
I Married A Communist demonstrates the means by which informative aspects of the historical novel can function to enhance the fictionalized aspects. The setting, background characters that influence the protagonists, and issues of the era operate to create a ready made plot structure and basis for dramatic tension among the main fictional characters. At the same time, they paint a lifelike and believable picture of a past era that helps the reader understand people and events from a human perspective. The reader is being informed about history, but it is accomplished in such a way that the process is engaging and entertaining. At the same time, the novelist’s craft enables the fictionalized aspects of the story to be seamlessly interwoven with the reasonable accuracy of the historical aspects. It remains a delicate balance, however, between accuracy and fiction, with the skill of the author in the very specific genre of the historical novel as the primary ingredient for success.