Winston Churchill on Historical Fiction

In an article from April 12, 1902, reprinted in Popular Culture by David Manning White (found on Google Books), American novelist Winston Churchill comments on representing historical figures. The reporter asked him if he would present Daniel Webster, should he choose to, as he truly was, warts and all. Churchill replied, “I should consider it wrong to expose the weaknesses of a man like Webster because he is a historical ideal that should not be shattered. The same is true in regard to Hamilton; whereas, with a man like Aaron Burr, I should not hesitate to portray him exactly as he was as that would mean no loss to the historical ideal.” The editor who reprinted these comments was appalled and went on criticize public education.

What do you think of this view? Is there a historical ideal to maintain?

3 thoughts on “Winston Churchill on Historical Fiction”

  1. I understand what he’s saying, I think, but I couldn’t do it that way. On the other hand, concentrating on the warts is also unbalanced. In any case, society has changed so much since Churchill’s time that you couldn’t get away with it anymore, except possibly in a children’s book.

  2. Do you think so? They sort of did the opposite with Reagan on HBO, didn’t they? Not that they got away with it, as you say. I didn’t say it in the post, but I think part of the criticism from Popular Culture came from offense at Churchill’s opinion of Aaron Burr. Someone was indirectly quoted as saying he was kicking the man while he was down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.