James Michener (1907–1997) was famous partly for the Herculean research he did for his novels, including Hawaii, The Source and Centennial. But he admitted that research will only take you so far:
“The greatest novels are written without any recourse to research other than the writer’s solitary inspection of the human experience. Flaubert, Dostoevski, Jane Austen, Turgenev, and Henry James exemplify this truth …
“To praise a writer for having done research is like praising a bus driver for knowing how to shift gears; if he can’t perform that simple function, he has no right to climb into the bus …
“What research is done should be like the tip of the iceberg: one-tenth visible in the finished work, nine-tenths submerged, but available to give the whole stability and a sense of force.”
James Michener Literary Reflections: Michener on Michener, Hemingway, Capote & Others (State House Press, 1993) www.mcwhiney.org/press/.
Comment by Janice Harayda:
Some of the year’s most popular novels have drawn on extensive research, including Water for Elephants www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/09/21/ (review and reading group guide posted separately on Sept. 21) and Thirteen Moons. What novels have you read that have made effective use of historical research?
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.