Historical Fiction. The “Folk” Tale of Azov, the Tales of the Founding of Moscow, and The Tale of the Page Monastery of Tver
One of the most important elements in the history of literature is the history of literary invention. This is a matter not so much of the authenticity or lack of authenticity of the information conveyed by the text, as of the evolution of the author’s premises and the reader’s response. Generally speaking this evolution is as follows.
In mediaeval literature the author aimed at persuading the reader of the truth of what he was describing. And the reader, for his part, believed wholly and unquestioningly in this truth (“it was so”). If the text aroused doubts in him for some reason (“it was not so”), he classed it as false and did not regard it as having any spiritual value. Neither the composing nor the reading of such a work could be regarded as morally justified.
The literature of the modern age preached a different principle. It valued not truth (understood as factual authenticity), but the illusion of truth, verisimilitude. Literature was seen as a phenomenon with an independent spiritual value and could therefore not be judged in terms of being “true” or “false”. The author and the reader began to realise that literary authenticity and verisimilitude were not the same thing. In other words, a different system of values was set up in which artistic invention held a most important place.
Mastering the art of invention was a complex and lengthy process. It is seen most clearly in the “historical mythology” of the seventeenth century, in fiction on historical themes. A typical example is the “folk” tale of Azov, written in the 1670s, which enables us to see how historical fiction freed itself from historiography.33