Fictions of History offers a new definition of the term “fictions.” A fiction is not merely the imaginative literature we treasure in works of novelists, dramatists, and poets. It is a powerful, driving idea that enters the life of an individual, the course a whole society travels, and the stories historians tell about the human past. In many dimensions, fictions affect every person on planet Earth. We all live lives based on fictions.
Frances Richardson Keller chooses fascinating examples to demonstrate how dominant fictions of a given time emerge and are entrenched, and how historical figures have come to accept or reject these fictions. She begins with “the grandest fiction,” the patriarchal system, and reflects on its origins, effects, and future. Then she addresses the fictions that dominated stories historians told about the Reconstruction of America after the Civil War. Keller next considers the emergence and demise of Mormon polygamy as a fiction in the 19th century. Her fourth and last illustration is the life of Eleanor Roosevelt and the fictions that empowered her.