Monday, May 16, 2011

Poetic truth

When I said that I had found Mary Wollstonecraft's birthplace, the building she was born in, I wrote the truth. I even had a witness, a reliable friend who happened to be with me, exploring Spitalfields, when we stumbled across the dilapidated house.

The truth: and there's the rub. This is the poetic truth -- historical accuracy is another matter, and it's fatal to confuse the two. Poetic truth is tousle-hair'd Rupert Brooke, Apollonian youth, dying in golden glory before the slaughter of the Dardanelles really got under way; an undishonoured warrior-poet; and his resting place, some corner of a foreign field that will be forever England. Historical accuracy is a mosquito bite and blood poisoning, and the Greek Army's shooting range.

Historical accuracy would have you believe that Mary's first home was swept away a century later to make room for Liverpool Street Station. Pfff! What do historical accurists know? I have been inside her house, I tell you. I have walked up her stairs, and seen her bedchamber.

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