Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore explain the relationship between history and fiction in their latest project, Blindspot





What happens when historians write fiction? We decided to find out. Blindspot, our novel, is set in 1764, in Boston, a city reeling from the economic downturn following the French and Indian War, and beginning to simmer with the fires of liberty. The book tells the story of Stewart Jameson, a Scottish portrait painter fleeing debtor’s prison, and Fanny Easton, the fallen daughter of one of Boston’s richest merchants, who poses as a boy to gain a situation as Jameson’s apprentice. Their lives take a turn when Samuel Bradstreet, Speaker of the Massachusetts Assembly, is murdered the day Jameson and Easton are to paint him.

We invented these characters and their story is fiction. But we meant it to be a kind of history, too. In ways small and large, Blindspot engages with the real world of the late eighteenth century, and with the struggles of scholars to understand that world. Fanny Easton bears more than a passing resemblance to the young, striving John Singleton Copley, for example. And our Samuel Bradstreet is closely based on James Otis, Jr., who insisted that Boston patriots consider the contradiction between their cries for liberty and the owning of slaves. More broadly, the novel engages with the century-long debate over the ideological versus the economic origins of the American Revolution (a debate whose contributors include everyone from Charles Beard to Bernard Bailyn, Alfred Young, Gary Nash, and Gordon Wood). The characters in our fictional Boston wrestle with both, as people at the time surely experienced the growing conflict with Britain....


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