I had a friend who read the bound galleys say, "I don't think women had sexual pleasure in the 18th century." I said, I won't defend it as a novelist, but I'll defend it as a historian We know that s true, many of the descriptions are lifted wholesale in pastiche style from 18th-century novels, so bringing that kind of material before a lay reader is what we wanted to do.
Are there things you would have wanted to say but couldn't say in straight nonfiction?
Lepore: There was a lot of stuff that we knew about in a scholarly way and that is rich and interesting and makes for great scholarship, but doesn't make for the most readable books. So a lot of the stuff about the history of the printing press or the life of tradesmen in Boston, even kind of goofy arcane philosophical stuff, like about Hume. I'm fascinated about Hume and it was really fun to put Hume in a novel, because not everybody is out there reading Hume's "Treatise on Human Nature." It would be great if they did but they're not gonna necessarily, or they're not going to necessarily going to read a wonderfully rich social history of the 18th-century Boston and the overseers of the poor. Or there's this great story from the American Revolution when the Manufactory House is besieged by British troops. We didn't even put it in our novel, because there was no room for it. But people don't know that story and it's hard to tell it in an animated way because all the characters are anonymous and it doesn't involved military valor on the part of the founding fathers. It's a more pedestrian story at some level. so it was fun to have all that stuff as backdrop and some of what is very woven into the plot and some of the motivation of the characters comes from what we know of social history or intellectual history of the period. But instead of the art of exposition, to instead of have the art of embodiment - it w as very different from what we usually do, and it was very fun for that reason.
Was it difficult?
Kamensky: On the contrary, it was really exhilarating for both of us. In part just because of its sheer difference from what we do, day to day. It was a very different type of labor, where it wasn't about being in an office that's crowded with books and paper, it was about being alone with stuff that we already knew that was in our heads. It felt very freeing in a way that it might feel freeing for a novelist to write a small piece of history. Just a different kind of craft, the amateurism of a first effort was really exhilirating. Also, the book's about liberty and about the taking of liberties. Not in the ways that you might think. Not in making up stuff that we thought was not true to the period to which we're both devoted our working lives as historians, but stuff where the kinds of actors who people the novel didn't leave records of their interior lives. In our teaching and in our writing, we've been dissatisfied with this kind of two-track story of the American Revolution, where you have these doorstop founders' biographies that compel millions of readers because the characters are so amazingly vivid, and they're vivid because they wrote so much and they wrote so much about the grandiosity of their enterprise, which they sensed very acutely. And then we have these wonderful social histories, which are full of structural trends in he lives of nameless actors. But you don't usually get both. You don't get materialist analysis of the way that John Adams was embedded in the class structure of his time, on the one hand, or the ability to recover the consciousness of the mob in the Boston massacre. By jumping the fence between history and fiction, we were able to merge those ways of thinking and ways of knowing in ways that would probably be hard in nonfiction.
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