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August 12, 2014

The French Lieutenant’s Language

More on accuracy of language in historical fiction. The following is an excerpt from a Granta article by John Fowles, called “The French Lieutenant’s Diary,” about writing the novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman. It comes to us courtesy of the very generous and thoughtful Annamaria Alfieri.

“I am writing The French Lieutenant’s Woman at the moment and reading Mrs Gaskell’s Mary Barton [first published in 1848] at the same time. Her dialogue is much more ‘modern’ than mine – full of contractions and so on. Yet in order for me to convey the century that has passed since the time of the book I am right to invent dialogue much more formal than the Victorians actually spoke. This gives the illusion better. In a sense an absolutely accurate Victorian dialogue would be less truthful than what I am doing.”

Now that’s an interesting idea. What do you think?



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