Historical films and books always distort the historical record for dramatic purposes. Sometimes that doesn’t matter and sometimes it does. The Help, a best-selling book and now a film playing nationwide, elicited this statement from the Association of Black Women Historians.
According to the infamous seventeenth-century gossip, Madame de Sévigné, on April 24, 1671 François Vatel, distraught over the late arrival of fish for a banquet in honor of Louis XIV, committed suicide by impaling himself through the heart with a sword. Sévigné and other nobles speculated that Vatel, a well-known perfectionist, succumbed to the overwhelming pressures of planning an extravagant three-day banquet in honor of the king’s royal visit and decided to kill himself instead of having to face public humiliation for his failure.
“They did it. Not us!” According to historian Tony Judt, this was the way Europeans tried coming to terms with the fate suffered by their Jewish neighbors during the Second World War
As a historian of early America, my subject predates the invention of film or video, voice or music recording, or even photography. When I watch my modernist colleagues deliver multi-media lectures – including film clips, snatches of popular music or speeches, and photos – I feel a twinge of envy.
It is Moscow in the early 1960s. In this transitional period, when Stalin’s death opened up new possibilities for private life in Soviet society, we meet three young men and a young woman who can almost bring themselves to believe that they are entitled to a life that will be individually meaningful.