08 May 2018 Photo Rulanzen Martin
What the difference between a historian and a historical novelist
Prof Angelique van Niekerk, the Head of Department, Irma Joubertand Prof Henning Pieterse.

Irma Joubert, seasoned author of historical novels such as Anderkant Pontenilo, was the speaker at the second popular lecture for 2018 in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch, German and French at the University of the Free State (UFS).

The theme, "The boundary between fact and fiction", dealt with the differences, as well as the similarities between the creative writer and the historian, and how they address their individual writing tasks. Joubert also focused on how she, as an author, employs historical facts in her books.

The department hosted the lecture at the Bloemfontein Campus on 13 April 2018.

Fiction writer should express the emotive
“I was actually just a teacher who was crazy about history and then one day started to write. All I want to do is to convey a piece of history that grips the readers,” said Joubert. 

Exactly the same sources are employed by both the historian and historical novelist. The key primary sources include diary entries, letters and reports that appeared during that time, as well as eyewitness reports. Verbal sources are more significant to the historical novelist than the historian, because the stories, the emotive aspect, and the experiences are important here.

“The use of language should capture the spirit of the time; where the historian uses uninvolved, but accessible language, the novelist has to bring out the emotive,” she said.

Correct terminology important
“As a novelist, I believe in visiting the locations,” said Joubert. "It is important for both the historian and the novelist to visit the places they are writing about.”

The terminology should be correct as well. An example Joubert mentioned was that people did not talk about polio in the 1950s, but rather about infantile paralysis. The reader gets a feeling for the time period. 

Description also plays a major role, and it is necessary to look at what people were eating and drinking during that period, how they dressed, as well as their living conditions. 

It is important for the historian to depict the truth as clearly as possible, while fiction is crucial to the novelist. However, the story stays the same. “The historian records facts and then interprets them, while the novelist is looking for more,” said Joubert. 


Read the Afrikaans article here.

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