A World of Other People
Fourth Estate, $24.99 pb, 279 pp, 9780732291204
Novels have been appearing in the last decade or so in which one or more of the characters are actual historical figures, often themselves writers, appearing in propria persona, not considerately disguised and renamed, as Horace Skimpole was in Bleak House, for example. Perhaps the most notorious instance in recent years is Virginia Woolf in Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (1998), made even more memorable by Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic nose in the film thereof. Cunningham, who would appear to have known when he was onto a good thing, deployed Walt Whitman similarly in his novel Specimen Days (2005). To give this development a local habitation and a name, we need go no further than Ashley Hay’s The Body in the Clouds (2010) to find the historical Lieutenant William Dawes, after whom Dawes Point in Sydney is named, playing a considerable role.