A stack of 3 closed books (left); an open notebook with a pen on top (right). Title: 12 Novels Thata Changed How I Read Fiction

#6 “The Short History of a Prince” by Jane Hamilton

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Book cover: The Short History of a Prince by Jane Hamilton

#6 The Short History of a Prince by Jane Hamilton

© 1998

Date read: 2/24/2000

This book would not have the same effect on me if I read it now for the first time as it did when I read it more than 20 years ago. Some issues that we now take for granted were just entering the arena of public discussion back then. 

However, the author’s technique of waiting until the reader is well into the novel before revealing a crucial detail about her protagonist would work just as well today as it did then, albeit with a different context. By the time I got that revelation, I’d already become invested in the character and was rooting for him to succeed.

The Short History is one of the first contemporary novels I remember reading as an example of conscious social commentary. Coming from an academic background, I had been trained to look at literary works as textual and aesthetic objects only, separate from any larger social or cultural issues that might have prevailed at the time the work was created or that the author might have spoken or written about in other works or other media, such as interviews or personal essays. 

Reading this novel reinforced for me the importance of understanding fiction within the context of its creation. Learning this lesson marked the beginning of my transition from the academic study of literature to a more personally meaningful approach.

© 2024 by Mary Daniels Brown

2 thoughts on “#6 “The Short History of a Prince” by Jane Hamilton”

  1. My heavens, I haven’t thought about Jane Hamilton in ages, which is sad because at one time she was a favorite writer of mine! I do remember enjoying Prince, as well as her Map of the World, but then I lost track of her work. I could see how Prince might be a bit dated these days (although perhaps less so, depending upon the community); it would be an interesting exercise to read it again, after so many years!

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks for commenting, Janakay. Yes, when I was putting together this list of 12 novels, I was surprised to realize that I haven’t read any more of Jane Hamilton’s books in this century! I had read Book of Ruth and Map of the World when they came out and thought they were well done. I don’t know why I let Hamilton fall off my radar. Unrelatedly, I’ve subscribed to your blog and look forward to reading more.

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