Using fiction as the genre of her work enables Louise to work through some of the ethical considerations that surround the retelling of another person’s life.
Of particular difficulty for her was the varied volume of archival records of each grandmother. Of one — a ward of the state from the age of five — there is only a record of enrolment at the Townville Central School, a newspaper clipping of her marriage, and family stories and memories. Of the other — born into a well-off family — there is substantially more in the form of newspaper clippings of school results, society events, and personal milestones.
Fiction opens a space for Louise to use the threads of her grandmothers’ lives in an ethical way. Her grandmothers’ records will inspire a story of regional women’s experiences in general, rather than an attempt to recreate an accurate history for each woman. This means she can speak to the experiences of her grandmothers without the risk of misrepresenting them.
“I’m presenting what could have happened rather than assuming, or asking the reader to assume, that it is an accurate representation of what happened,” she says.
This unique use of fiction places Louise's novel in the category of 'memory text', a term used by academic Kate Mitchell to convey what historical fiction can contribute to our understanding of the past. Reading a text as a memory text situates the historical novel as an act of memory and puts the reader in an active role in the production of meaning.
“This approach to writing women’s stories in historical fiction recognises that the meaning of the past is produced by those who reimagine it, recreate it, and represent it.”
PhD Candidate Louise Henry
“Given the limitations in historical evidence of women’s lives that can occur, developing the scope for memory texts such as novels like mine expands the presence of women in our collective imaginary,” Louise says.