Writing historical fiction about the ancient past: the challenges of portraying Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh
This thesis explores the issues involved when attempting to write a work of historical fiction that is based in the ancient past. It focuses on the use of a modern identity to supplement what little is known about a similar personality from the past.
Specifically, this work considers the life of a female pharaoh of ancient Egypt, Hatshepsut, and uses Hillary Clinton as a modern model on which to build the ancient story. The theories of historical fiction explored within the exegesis are applied to the accompanying novel, Of the Sedge and the Bee.
Observations of Clinton over the last fifty years, with particular focus on 2016, when she was the Democratic nominee for the American Presidency, provided the basis for an analysis of her character. These traits were subsequently transposed to Hatshepsut to develop her characterisation within the novel. Clinton’s experiences were also used for the purposes of emplotment in Of the Sedge and the Bee. This worked on a wholistic level, framing the story within the short period leading up to Hatshepsut’s ultimate ascendance. It also functioned more specifically, with particular incidents from Clinton’s life appearing in the book as events occurring around Hatshepsut.
The thesis foregrounds the gender barriers which helped prevent Clinton from achieving the presidency. These barriers form the core conflict driving Hatshepsut’s story in the novel. The thesis also considers self-reflexivity as a specific aspect of historiographical metafiction, wherein the work both questions the nature of truth and purports to the tell the truth about historical events.
As a whole, this thesis is an inquiry into how a modern model can be used to illuminate the ancient past within an historical novel. It explores concepts of emplotment and characterisation, and. exposes issues of gender, media and politics which have persisted for over three and a half millennia.