Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

'The Wind in the Forest' by Inglis Fletcher

The Wind in the Forest is a 'historical romance', written way back in 1957 by Inglis Fletcher. A search for pre-American Revolution settings at historical led me to this one (as with the Edward Cline Sparrowhawk series). Curiosity overcame 'historical romance' skepticism when I learned that Herman Husband and William Tryon appear as characters. Tryon was colonial governor of North Carolina from 1765 to 1771, then was promoted to become the last colonial governor of New York. Husband is both less well-known and more interesting. Labeled today as a 'populist', he became the main propagandist for the North Carolina Regulators. The Regulators were settlers in the western parts of the colony (Piedmont), who organized to oppose what they saw as unfair taxation and policies imposed on them by the eastern-dominated government. Against this backdrop of colonial politics, the fictional characters are primarily members of old planter families. As Fletcher describes it, these families were torn between loyalty to the colonial status-quo, sympathy for the injustices suffered by the westerners, and hunger for the latest London fashions. The struggle of opposing forces previews the revolutionary break with the mother country a few years later.

The 'romance' aspects of the novel were not overdone and, in fact, were no more prominent than in most historical novels. A different issue is likely to be more troubling to the modern reader; Fletcher's benign depiction of slavery. The novel is full of happy, hymn-singing, 'yes, Massa - no, Massa' slave characters. No whippings, runaways, horror stories of kidnapping and transport from Africa or fears of slave revolt disturb the idyllic tranquility of the plantations. Still, the story is not about them and doesn't try to promote slavery or demonize slave owners.

The five criteria:
  1. Did the novel inspire me to further historical research?

I picked up this novel because of its inclusion of Herman Husband. Although Fletcher claimed that his fictionalization was based on his own writings, he came off as ultimately less interesting than straight history would indicate. The same thing happened to Tryon and other historical characters. On the other hand, my interest in the east/west, rich/poor issues of the time were piqued. Score = 3

  1. Did the novel include enough history to make it an interesting historical story?

Most of the important events of the Regulator uprising are included (although lacking depth), and those events are integral to the story. Score = 3

  1. Was the depiction of historical events accurate?

The narrative follows historical events pretty faithfully, without obvious invention or distortion. Analysis of those events and the characters' motivations are, however, pretty shallow. Score = 3

  1. Was the depiction of historical characters accurate?

As noted in 1. above. Score = 3

  1. Would I read another novel by this author, continuing in this historical period, with these characters?

Possibly - this novel seems to be part of a series. They are mostly out-of-print, however, and not easily found. Score = 2.

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