In response to the question of what can creative writing contribute to the historical record, a quick survey of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities gives many contextual clues of the historical era in which it was penned in several ways: through its illustrations, by its contextual clues, and through its popularity in the contemporary era in which it was written and published.
First, this novel offers illustrations by Halblot K. Browne that depict the physical nature of the times. For example, the image entitled “The Shoemaker” in Book I, Chapter 6 shows the dress of both men and women of the era, it shows the differences in dress between socioeconomic classes, and it portrays the attitude of someone of a higher class in relation to his obvious opinion of someone in a lower class.
This novel also offers contextual clues about the historical period with its descriptions of homes, businesses, people, and especially relationships. Because Dickens was writing for a contemporary audience about a subject that was realistic, he utilized concepts familiar to his audience in order to gain both their trust and their interest. Hence, the comprehensive detail contained in this novel is a direct reflection of the reality of the times, and it is also an example of the reality of the time in which it was written that can be utilized for understanding the era.
A third way in which creative writing, through Dickens’ novel, can contribute to the historical record is with the production of the novel itself. This specific novel was popular at the time it was written. This fact alone tells a great deal about society at that time. By inferring the societal taste of the era regarding fine art such as realistic fiction writing, history scholars can also infer some of the thought processes of the people of the era, even if direct records of those thought process may be absent.