The Historical Novel: Jack Lindsay's 1649


  • Michael Wilding


In Fanfrolico and After Jack Lindsay discusses the historical novels he began to write in the mid 1930s. 'I still, however, could not handle the contemporary scene.' 1 When contemporary society proves too resistant, then a recourse to history can be a way of approaching it from another direction, an approach to catch it off guard, unprotected. So it was in the mid-seventeenth century, both before the English Revolution and in the Restoration aftermath of repression, that poets turned to Old Testament themes: to search for a model that would illuminate the current complexities; and to evade the complex of repressions that effectively discouraged an accurate expression of the present moment. To turn to the historical is not to flee in escapism from the present, but to confront it by a negation that will allow a true perception of the negated present to emerge dialectically. The inexpressible crisis of the nineteen-thirties thus finds itself revealed in Lindsay's 1649: A Novel of A Year (1938);2 the emergent centralized, military-based, repressive Junto of Cromwell images the emergent dictatorships and national governments and the destruction of the radical impulses of cooperation and freedom at this moment in twentieth-century history.