January 2, 2002
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Fine Historical Fiction

Adrian Miles has a lovely, long piece on Patrick O'Brian's 20 wonderful Aubrey/Maturin novels. (I just finished The Commodore). Of O'Brian's devotion to the mysterious but lovely languages of 19th century naval and medical practice, Miles writes

I find this detail fascinating, exotic, exhiliarating, and somewhere or somehow expressing a fidelity to a vision (of manners as a mode of appropriate and reasonable conduct) that is mirrored by the novels themselves.

One obstacle to enjoying these wonderful books is the challenge of taking them seriously -- seriously enough not to dismiss them as juvenile because they're historical and sometimes dramatic. This ties, I think, to Jill Walker's frustration with "pompous twits" who are unable to enjoy Tolkien because they think they oughtn't.

Shippey, in Author of The Century, asks an interesting question: why, precisely, is Tolkien's reputation so difference from James Joyce's?

Paul Fussell (in a review of Herman Wouk) speculated that the 20th century would be remembered for its historical fiction, not for the modern novel.