The Trouble with History

See, the trouble with history is that it is all done and in the past.  Its value today is immeasurable – all those lessons we should have learned, all those people whose thoughts and lives have left messages for us to try to comprehend, all those events that were indispensible to our very existence today, all those innovations without which life would be very different.  All of it is gone but for the evidence.

We can touch the evidence but that isn’t the same as living the past.  That’s the trouble with history. So when Lucy wrote about Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Barratt she wanted more than to trot out the dates and the great happenings of history; or to bash out lines of great prose and poetry.  These things are only important contextually – she wanted to know the person – the personality, the hurt and the pain – and their joys.  Their lives are as much about the details and the difficulties as about their legacy.  When she wrote about John Keats, and the profound effect of his love life, or the death of his brother, or even simply the people he met in hotels, or in stage coaches, she delved into the real feeling being.

Their feelings are the fuel that propels history into the future – they were not actors, these people.  They were like you or me.  They wrote telling letters to their friends, loved ones, to their enemies; to governments, fathers, their teachers, not knowing that one day their words would be a window into souls that might otherwise have died along with their bodies. We can know something of their minds and their thinking through their writing .

Lucy’s books deal neatly with the problem of history and bring the characters back into the real world.  She raises them from the forgotten into the memorable – so history ceases to be a problem – it becomes the ambience that cushions human life today and into the future.


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