Monday, April 18, 2005

Fiction, the Parallel Record

It has always been disappointing that Delaware book collectors are little interested in fiction. They would rather collect dusty histories. Delawareans have been extraordinarily literate, writing hundreds of novels and short stories. Some of these are merely written by Delawareans. Others use Delaware as the setting. To me, these are the most interesting.

If a fictional work is written by a person living at the time the story happens, and the writer bases it on his knowledge of real people and places, it can give the reader an insight into that time and place. This insight can be more complete than that gained from a history. Henry Seidel Canby grew up among the wealthy Quaker business families of Wilmington in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His 1920 novel Our House is fiction but is set in that society. Much can learned of their family customs, households, dining habits, and business practices. Canby suggests, for example, that when Quaker young men wanted a good time, they dated the daughters of working-class families. Girls of their own class were saved for loftier purposes. Try finding that in Scharf.

A paper by the University of Delaware's Prof. Augustus H. Able III titled "Fiction as a Mirror of Delaware Life" was printed in the Historical Society of Delaware's Delaware History (Vol. III, No. 1) in March 1948. In it he talks about literature as "a living record running parallel to the historical record." Viewed in this way, some Delaware fiction is worthy of study and detective work.

I have just added two articles from the old newsletter to the Collecting Delaware Books Web site (see "links" in the sidebar) about Delaware fiction.Click on "Articles" and look at the bottom of the section on "Books."