I've been really fascinated by, and a lot of historians of the book have written about the gendering of genres. Fiction is decidedly a woman's genre today. Women readers tend ot get a lot of their knowledge of history, or cultural knowledge of the world from reading fiction. Rather than read a travel narrative, they'll read genre fiction. That's always been interesting to me as a scholar. It would be fun if my colleagues happen to read this book, but that's really not what we were up to. We were writing for a different kind of reader. Hopefully, ideally, this book will reach readers who might not read these books as history books.
History with a spoonful of sugar?
Lepore: It's a different audience, not necessarily wider, because I think scholarship has a life of its own and has such a deep meaning in the culture, but I think it's a different audience.
Because this is genre fiction - it's a romance its a mystery its historical fiction - I'm wondering if there's any sense of your peers looking down on it.
Kamensky: I don't think it's genre fiction. I think it's a play on genre fiction. It's literary fiction, it does a piece of highbrow-lowbrow work and that's very self-conscious and postmodern, and some readers will want to think about that and some won't , and where our colleagues fall on that spectrum ... we'll find out. If they care to read it. I think we'd both passionately maintain that there's nothing in Blindspot about the 18th century that we wouldn't defend in our scholarly work on the 18th century. It does span the skew of what we know and how we know it. It does a piece of intellectual work and I think we'd both defend it as intellectual work. It's not scholarly work, but that doesn't mean it's not thought work. I don't see it as arrayed on a hierarchy. In part, what folks in the 18th century were about that we've lost in the professionalization of our discipline is playing in and living outside of those hierarchies, or else the American revolution wouldn't have happened.
Lepore: It's a send up of genre fiction, it tells a story about how genres came into being. But it really is playing with them, in an affectionate way, but in a scholarly way.
But it will be read simply for the romance and the mystery.
Lepore: That's fine!
Kamensky: I think one of the challenging things for us is that a novel like this is going to be a much more retail experience of reading. We're used to writing in a set of conventions where there are footnotes, we carry our university titles to build up a lovely classical brick structure around us. None of that applies here, it's an encounter between a reader and a book. Some readers, like you who have studied these things, will have one experience of what the novel is doing. Others will have others. One of the loveliest experiences we had was with a friend of Jill's who read a manuscript draft in the summer of 2007 and it was very, very hot. She read a scene in which there was an early and wet snow, and she got caught up short, coming off the train, and being in a different season. and this encounter with a past world is what we want with the reader. It's a chance to engage heart as well as head. I guess our nonfiction can and should do that too, but this freed us to think about that.