Friday, January 02, 2009

Something I might have noticed had I bothered to look

A few days ago I mentioned that I was planning on reading David Donald's biography of Lincoln in conjunction with Gore Vidal's same titled historical fiction novel to compare for historical accuracy. In the course of adding in a link - this link - to that original post that I had forgotten to include when I first published it, I saw that Donald had actually reviewed Vidal's manuscript for him to help improve for historical accuracy. Donald commented about Vidal to PBS's NewsHour back on Feb. 12, 1996

A question from Jessica Bar of New York, NY

How is the Lincoln in your book different from Gore Vidal's Lincoln?

Prof. Donald responds:

Finally, to Jessica Bar, I can say that I am a great admirer of Gore Vidal's Lincoln, which he was kind enough to ask me to read in manuscript for him, and I think it is one of the great portraits of the President. My own differs somewhat in that it is more closely grounds in fact--and remember that Vidal's work is fiction, not history--and that it is based upon more intimate knowledge of behind-the-scenes activities in Civil War Washington. In addition, Vidal's Lincoln is--quite properly--a heroic figure who moves to change the very nature of American government and American society. Mine is a more troubled, pragmatic Lincoln, who was working out solutions to difficult problems always without a fixed plan or ideology in mind, save his determination to save the Union. Mr. Vidal and I had a considerable correspondence about his manuscript, and he was gracious enough to accept a good many of my suggested revisions. But on occasion he would refuse, saying that he knew very well that I was factually correct but that, for the purposes of his novel, he had to state his case in such-and-such a way. He was, I think, entirely correct in so doing--but, of course, as a historical biographer, I did not have the liberty of tampering with even the smallest of facts.

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