Beyond Trash

In the middle part of this century one of the main staples of the Anglo- American reading public was the historical novel, or romance. Such "swashbucklers" were not great literature, but they had their virtues. In the hands of skilled writers like C.S. Forester or Kenneth Roberts, they introduced a great many people to some decent history which they would not otherwise have encountered.

Of course, "historical" themes have often been employed by great writers—as in War and Peace, George Garrett's Elizabethan novels, or, in the case of the War Between the States, such works as Andrew Lytle's The Long Night, Caroline Gordon's None Shall Look Back, or Gore Vidal's Lincoln. But I am speaking of writers a cut below this level—though the dividing line between a great and a very good writer is not necessarily that sharply defined. Historical novelists like Forester and Roberts and many others flourished in a day when millions read them along with William Faulkner in the old Saturday Evening Post.

Forester's Captain Horatio Hornblower, Roberts' Northwest Passage, Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood and Scaramouche, and Kathleen Winsor's Forever Amber, along with many others, became lavish movie productions that brought to the masses a not-contemptible elementary introduction to important...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here