Monday, September 21, 2009

Sister, sister

Earlier today I was reworking a scene which while presented in the third person is from the perspective of Vincent's sister Lies. The middle sister, very little is reported about Lies in the literature on Van Gogh or in his letters. (I have seen a picture of her and read that she was interested in writing. That's pretty much it.) This is good in one way: I'm free to imagine her as I want. Maybe because of that, I found myself gravitating to Lies's point of view in several scenes featuring Vincent's family. There's nothing wrong with the scenes as written, but it's a fact of his biography that, after Theo, Vincent was closest to his youngest sister Wil. He wrote letters to her from France, and even considered introducing her someday to Boch, a Belgian poet and painter whom he met in Arles. After Theo, she was the most sympathetic toward Vincent's ambition to become a painter. And yet, I don't seem to highlight her that often in the novel.

In the rewriting process I have struggled with this, forcing myself to put more of her into the book. I'm starting to wonder if this desire is based solely on biographical fact and if I should stop worrying about it--since I'm writing a novel. With such a well known individual as Van Gogh, is the fiction writer expected to play it closer to the documented life? I tend to think so, even if in the end I, of course, need to stay true to what my novel needs. But here's the thing. I feel more comfortable writing from Lies's point of view. Wil, a lot of the time, feels like an add on. If this were any other novel I would simply cut Wil's character out. Can I do that in a historical novel? Well, yes, I can, obviously. (And maybe I will!) But what I'm really asking is can I do that without suffering repercussions of a kind that are never suffered by the writer of a strictly fictional novel. Can I get away with it without anyone noticing? I don't think so. Certainly not Van Gogh enthusiasts, whom I hope will be interested in reading this book. So what, if anything, to do differently with Vincent's sisters is one of the many crucial decisions I will face in coming months.


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