Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative certainly stands as one of the most recognizable texts of the Civil War “canon” (if such a thing exists). The three volumes, when placed side by side, make an imposing and impressive sight. Whether you’ve read them, you certainly know of them, and maybe you even own them. They do, after all, look good on a bookshelf.
I’ve read much of Foote’s Narrative before but not all of it, so I’ve decided to tackle it. This will be my first time through the entire work from start to finish. As I go, I’ll periodically share with you my observations and reactions, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in return.
In the meantime, I invite you to consider this comment from Foote. What do you think?
Well, I am a novelist, and what is more I agree with D.H. Lawrence’s estimate of the novel as ‘the one bright book of life….’ The point I would make is that the novelist and the historian are seeking the same thing: the truth—not a different truth: the same truth—only they reach it, or try to reach it, by different routes. Whether the event took place in a world now gone to dust, preserved by documents and evaluated by scholarship, or in the imagination, preserved by memory and distilled by the creative process, they both want to tell us how it was: to recreate it, by their separate methods, and make it live again in the world around them.
This has been my aim, as well, only I have combined the two. Accepting the historian’s standards without his paraphernalia, I have employed the novelist’s methods without his license. Instead of inventing characters and incidents, I searched them out—and having found them, I took them as they were.