Last month I went to see a new play exploring the truth and legend behind Dick Turpin. The play is a fast-paced musical called Dick Turpin’s Last Ride
. It was on at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds and is now on tour around the UK
(do see it if you can).
It was a fabulous play - I reviewed it here
- and it really brought it home to me how ‘History’ is in the hands of the best narrator - and how we as historical novelists should be very careful with our research.
|18th century illustration, Newgate Calendar|
The real Dick Turpin, for instance, was a thug, a bully, a thief, a murderer and a rapist. He was reported as such after he swung from the gallows in 1739 and his name lay disgraced in the lists of criminals.
|illustration from Rookwood, 1849|
Yet the Victorian novelist William Harrison Ainsworth - in need of a plot device - borrowed that name, borrowed someone else’s epic ride, stitched them together... and by investing him with a more likeable character and livelier writing than anything else in his largely forgotten Gothic novel Rookwood
, turned ‘Dick Turpin’ into a legend which others have themselves borrowed and embellished through the years.
|romanticised highway robbery by Frith|
An awful warning, I think, of the dangers in using real historical figures in fiction but not bothering to find out how those people would actually have acted or reacted.
Labels: Jan Jones, Theatre Royal