Novelist David Liss on The Twelfth Enchantment
In David Liss' new novel, The Twelfth Enchantment (Random House), he has decided to mix historical fiction with a dash of magic and the surprise presence of Lord Byron for good measure. Set in early 1800s England, Liss constructs a tale of the young down-on-her-luck Lucy Derrick who fears her best option may be to marry an unappealing fellow. Add to the story's mix a battle between the Industrial Revolution and Luddites. Liss is clearly an author that loves to research his subjects--and fortunately enjoys discussing his latest novel in this interview.
Not every novelist, even one known for his historical fiction, would tackle the Luddite Uprising--how did you decide upon utilizing that historical event?
It developed naturally from my interest in wanting to write about the economics of the Regency period. I've always been drawn to significant moments in the history of capitalism, as well as labor history, so the Luddites were a perfect fit for my interests. Guys who express their anger at the system by breaking machines and burning down buildings? That always makes for a good story! Most people think of Luddites as people who hated technology, but that wasn't the case. They were skilled laborers who were being left behind by the industrial revolution. Communities where artisans had supported their families for generations were being destroyed by the factory system. This was serious stuff.
Did you hesitate at all in using a major figure like Lord Byron in the book?
I've always avoided using real historical figures in my novels before — except in The Whiskey Rebels, where it made good, historical sense. In general, I tend to dislike historical fiction that tries to rehearse everything the reader already knows by writing stories in which everyone who just happens to be famous shows up. In this case, because I was writing historical fantasy, I felt free to play around with facts and characters. My main rule going in was that I could change the way things really happened, I could not change the way things appeared to happen. So, in Byron's case, in this novel he experiences some things that are totally fictional, but none of it is visible to people on the outside.Continued on the next page