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Historical Sources and the Writing of Fiction: An Analysis of Valerie Cuthbert’s The Great Siege of Fort Jesus

OCEANIC

      HUMANITIES 

             FOR THE 

      GLOBAL  SOUTH 

Published online

10 Jan 2021

100-111

Published online

Jauquelyne Kosgei

10 Jan 2021

This paper presents an analysis of Valerie Cuthbert’s The Great Siege of Fort Jesus (1970) by interrogating the relationship between its historical sources and its bias and omissions. Written for young adults, the novel engages with histories of the Kenyan coast during the 16th and 17th centuries. Using this text as a lens permits more general reflections on writers’ use of sources and how their choices shape the historical novels that emerge. I examine Cuthbert’s sources to determine which she adopts, what revisions she undertakes and which she neglects entirely. I conclude that the history Cuthbert relies on is notably one-sided, amounting to misrepresentation with potentially detrimental political consequences. Both her sources and the novel that emerges from them, I conclude, implicate and inscribe specific ideological positions tied to a specific arrangement of power.