That quote is by Rudge in Alan Bennett’s brilliant play, the History Boys. There are several brilliant quotes on the nature of history in it, including:
‘Our perspective on the past alters. Looking back, immediately in front of us is dead ground. We don’t see it, and because we don’t see it this means that there is no period so remote as the recent past.’ Irwin in The History Boys.
That is probably the truest thing I’ve heard said about history recently. Or recent history. Whatever. The older, the deader the subject, the more objective the analysis. Look at the reappraisals of WW1 that are currently de jour. There is nothing like this with the analysis of, say, the Anglo-US invasion of Iraq and the links to the current political upheavals there. It will be decades before there is a proper analysis of the causes and effects. When I studied history at A level in 1973-75, the Nixon tapes, impeachment and Tricky Dicky’s resignation were the hot issues (along with the Yom Kippur war, the three day week and the miners’ strikes). It was impossible, then, to understand the links between these events and, say, the outcome of the Vietnam war, the liberalism of the 1964-70 Labour governments and the oil spike and inflation, but over time it becomes easier to see the how the jigsaw fits.
This week’s prompt from Charli Mills is very much on point.
June 25, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that considers history, near or far.
How close can you go with ‘history’? When does the past become history? In fiction we have the historical novel as a genre but when does that start? I’m currently working on a novel that spans the period from the announcement that London had won the right to host the Olympics through to the opening ceremony (July 6th 2005 to July 27th 2012). Is that an historical novel? It feels odd to call it such. And maybe, as Irwin says above, it is too close, it is in the ‘dead ground’ and so not yet history.
Before I come to my flash, I have to make a confession; my recent attempts have been sadly lacking in one fundamental element of good flash fiction: the piece should stand alone as a story and not rely on either the prompt or knowledge of any previous work for it to make sense. Mine singularly failed that test. And while I’m continuing with my characters from before, I hope I have moved closer to the ideal of a self-contained piece.
You can’t take it with you
Mary opened the desk drawer. What a mess. She needed help with Dad’s estate.
Underneath some bills she found a postcard: Brighton, postmarked 1984. ‘Darling Peter, we have to stop.’ Signed ‘Angela’.
Mary remembered the strange woman at the funeral, calling herself Angie. ‘We need to talk’. Handing her a phone number.
Memories flooded back.
Mum crying. ‘Why with Angela?’
Seeing a list of Dad’s standing orders. ‘£100 to Ms A Simmonds each month.’
A trip to town. Bumping into a woman and red haired boy. Dad embarrassed. Boy’s hair like Dad’s in those old photos.
What a mess.