Germaine Greer and the Historical Novel

You can probably cross feminist author Germaine Greer off your reading-invitation list for your next historical novel.

“Novels cannibalize historic truths, using the bits they like, throwing out the ones they don’t,’ Greer told The Wall Street Journal last year (April 5-6, 2008, W1) during an interview discussing her biography of Ann Hathaway, the young bride of William Shakespeare. “I don’t approve. I didn’t want to turn this into a soap opera.”

Greer’s blast against the genre seems ironic, given that she has come under fire in some circles for creating a new composite of Hathaway based on a dearth of primary sources.

As WSJ reporter Cynthia Crossen observed in the article, very little is known about Hathaway. Some Shakespeare biographers have deduced from the poet’s silence about his wife a coldness in the relationship, or even an estrangement.

In Shakespeare’s Wife, Greer created a starkly different Hathaway, one who is seductive, smart, and stubborn. Known for her best-seller, The Female Eunuch, Greer took  Shakespeare hagiographers to task for giving Hathaway no credit for the bard’s success.

Greer revealed her distaste for historical fiction when asked why, given the speculative nature of her biography of Hathaway, she simply didn’t write a novel instead.

“All biographies of Shakespeare are houses built of straw, but there is good straw and rotten straw,” she told the Journal. “I was very careful to leave in all the probablys, might haves, could haves in the book, which was very hard. But I can live with uncertainty.”

One Response to “Germaine Greer and the Historical Novel”

  • I personally think she is past her “use by” date. Her opinions of late seem to be a little “off kilter” and as a reference or even “authority”, she would not be my first choice.

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