how much of history is fiction, is fiction simply history that might have been

Fiction: History that might have been

I have just listened to When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin D. Yalom and was intrigued by the thought that fiction, perhaps more so historical fiction about real characters, tells a story that might have been, of situations that are equally as plausible as the real events. The only difference is, they didn’t happen. The author explains how the events he wrote about, a fictional meeting between the doctor Josef Breuer and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, could almost have happened, were but a hair’s breadth away from happening.

(Note: The book was a recommendation by author Anne Goodwin. Read her review here.)

I often wonder about coincidences, those chance events and meetings that influence our futures, those things that may not have occurred had we been even one second earlier or one second later. It can be fun to contemplate the possibilities of our current situation had an alternate major decision been made. But what of the little events that slip by us every moment. How could a difference in any one fraction of time change our lives?

Memoirist Irene Waters asked a related question in her article Life is a Memoir: What is Fiction? shared at the Carrot Ranch a few weeks ago. Irene begins by saying that Truth is considered fundamental in writing memoir” but then tells us that memory is not exact, and that it is “a construct and will vary at different times and places”. She asks, As our remembering creates our identity, then, is our self a fiction?”

Knowing that each witness or participant may tell a different version of an event adds layers to that question. Which versions are fact and which are fiction? Are all enhanced with the fiction of our own perspectives?

Any teacher of young children, or perhaps anyone involved in jury duty, or any viewer of news stories knows, there can be many alternate histories of an event. Deciding where most truth lies can be the difficult part.

“He did it.”

“She started it.”

“It’s mine.”

“He punched me first.”

Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge Fannie Hooe

When Charli Mills of the Carrot Ranch challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Fannie Hooe. Although she is a legend in the Kewenaw, feel free to go where the prompt leads, I wondered what I could possibly write. I know nothing of the Keweenaw or of Fannie Hooe.

However, in her post, Charli explains that much of what is known about Fannie Hooe is from snippets of things “They say”, alternate histories perhaps, with either some or little resemblance to the “truth”.

Charli wrote, “legend has it, Fannie was a little girl, perhaps the daughter of an officer, who went missing. As they circled the lake they called, “Fannie…! Fannie, hooe! They say, they never found her body.”

Further in her article, Charli goes on to say, “Two historians … knew a great deal about the real Fannie. She was from Virginia and came as a single woman to Fort Wilkins to help her pregnant sister. She was not a girl, but a young lady. They say she went missing, mauled by a bear or murdered by a spurned lover.

Truth is, she returned to Virginia, married and lived a long life.”

This disparity between truth and fiction reminded me of a television program from years ago. As I recall it: three contestants professed to be the person described by the host. Each presented information about “themselves” to panellists whose role it was to judge who was telling the truth. The real person had to be truthful but the imposters could lie. After votes had been cast the ‘real’ person was asked to stand up.

This is my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.

Truth or Fiction: Will the Real Fannie Hooe Please Stand Up

Contestant 1: I am Fannie Hooe. My pregnant sister was an excuse to escape my abusive husband. After the baby’s birth, I ‘disappeared’, started a new life in Canada, and never remarried.

Contestant 2: I am Fannie Hooe. While visiting my sister, I was abducted by miners and forced to be their slave. When I escaped, I was so disfigured, I wanted no one to see.

Contestant 3: I am Fannie Hooe. I was pregnant, unmarried, and begged my sister to hide me. She refused and banished me. I started a new life in Virginia as a widowed mother.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

42 thoughts on “Fiction: History that might have been

  1. Patricia Tilton

    Wow, really great post. I really enjoyed Irene Waters explanation. Made me think about the state of our world and the comments flying everywhere. What we hear isn’t always the truth and many times we may never know. In order to keep my sanity, I focus on what I know.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      I’m pleased you enjoyed the post and that it got you thinking, Patricia. Sometimes I’m not sure what I know and what I don’t. I think there’s much more for me to know than I already do. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Charli Mills

    Norah, we’ve really been delving into memory, truth and identity lately haven’t we? Between Irene and Anne’s discussions and my jump into history (not a lake!) for exploration of what stories we create from it, you’ve knit together the discussions and offered your own points on perspective, especially when it comes to teachers or juries who attempt to understand which one contains the most truth. Truth is (ha, ha) they each tend to contain a portion and together tell a more complete truth. Thus why philosophers have pondered, what is true.

    I love your clever take on Fannie Hooe. I remember that game show and the fun of trying to piece together who was the real person.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Truth or lie? It’s certainly an interesting question and one to which it may be difficult to get a definitive answer.
      I’ve been musing on your (truthful) point that ‘each tend to contain a portion and together tell a more complete truth’. I’m uncertain. Wouldn’t it be a bigger lie?

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  3. dgkaye

    In the world of the constant denials of donald tRump and his fake news in America, is a perfect example of what’s real and claiming it fiction. A very dangerous line. Well done Norah, I enjoyed the post and the clever Flash. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Debby. Not surprisingly I was thinking of Trump and fake news as I wrote, alluding to news stories. But I do try to avoid being political in that sense of the word. I’m pleased you enjoyed the flash. It was a challenge I enjoyed.

      Liked by 4 people

      Reply
    2. Charli Mills

      Debby, and Norah, what you have both made me realize is that the current GOP administration manipulates this human propensity to create fictions. Not only do they create fake news, but they sow doubt in people’s ability to know the truth.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Jacqui. I enjoyed thinking about the alternate histories. Of course, they had to be brief to fit them all to the word limit. At first each was over 99 words! It was tough stripping them back to the bare bones. I didn’t think I could leave out the contestant number or their introduction, although it took up valuable word count.

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  4. Annecdotist

    Can’t do much more than echo everyone’s plaudits for this wonderful post, Norah. A great way of weaving the different points and you’ve ended up with an excellent flash. I wouldn’t fancy being Contestant 2 but 3 seems highly probable, regardless of whether 1 is closer to the “truth”. And thanks for the honourable mention.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your kind words, Anne. I enjoyed writing the post. I was pleased that so many things seemed to tie in nicely, particularly the book which I thoroughly enjoyed, thanks to your recommendation.
      I had fun figuring out the three alternate histories and appreciate your taking the time to adjudicate on them.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Beth. Actually I got to think about it quite a bit last night when I stepped into the path of an oncoming car. Fortunately, the driver saw me and braked and I continued across the road, seemingly (but not really) oblivious, like Mr Magoo. I’m very thankful today that my trajectory was not altered.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  5. TanGental

    What an great way to start way to start the day. Much to contemplate there. History will be kind to me because I will write it – Churchill. And the flash is nicely unique which I love

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      What a lovely compliment. Coming from you, Geoff, I appreciate it all the more. It’s made my day.
      Until you added Churchill’s name after the quote, I thought it was your sentiment. It makes me think that perhaps we should all write own own histories. But knowing how reluctant many writers are to promote themselves, the histories might be much shorter than their fictions. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. TanGental

        Hmm now there’s a notion… ‘much underrated…’ no, too self deprecating ‘universally underrated…’ close ‘pan galactically misunderstood’ ah, that’s me then…

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  6. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    What a great furthering of the discussions from Irene and Charli’s posts. If fact is stranger than fiction, maybe fiction is truer than fact, or might as well be.
    You again impress me with all your thoughtful tie-ins and background leading to your flash. (Cleverly done, by the way)

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your kind words, D. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. Now, I’m going to be rather impertinent and say that perhaps the logic of your statement is a little rocky. If fact is stranger than fiction, wouldn’t it follow that fiction is less strange than fact, rather than truer? Apologies. I do like to tease at times. 🙂

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  7. thecontentedcrafter

    Ha – you have come up with a clever way of presenting the conundrum of history. I have never forgotten two things my professor/mentor said to me when I was studying history. One was ‘you must always remember history is written from one point of view – there are any others’ which fits your point exactly and pertains to world history as a whole I feel. The other was ‘if it didn’t happen that way, it probably should have’ which was a tongue in cheek reference to romanticising and heroing (is that a word?) historical persons 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Those are two interesting points, Pauline. Thank you for adding them to the conversation. They are valid reflections. 🙂 My personal history was a hair’s breadth away from an alternate course last night when I made a gross error of judgement and stepped into the path of an oncoming car I didn’t see. Lucky for me his brakes worked. The alternate history doesn’t bear thinking about.

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      1. thecontentedcrafter

        Oh my goodness Norah! Was it one of those moments when your life flashed before your eyes and time slowed down? I’m very glad to hear your personal history did not come to an abrupt end in that moment! There are times in our lives when we have to wonder what happened there – what saved me? My history is littered with them 🙂 Take care, slow down xo

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          All that flashed before my eyes was how stupid I was, Pauline. It could have been disastrous. Fortunately, I live to regret my actions. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words.

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply

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