Lack of evidence: limit or opportunity? It depends whether you’re a documentary or feature film maker, a biographer or a novelist. The mystery of Mozart’s death, at age 35 after a two-week illness, has long intrigued writers of fact and fiction as well as physicians and epidemiologists.
I recently read Mozart’s Last Aria by novelist Matt Rees. When Mozart dies after telling his wife he’s been poisoned, his sister Nannerl travels to Vienna to see if there’s any basis for his suspicions. It’s 1791, and the French Revolution has monarchs everywhere running scared. Nannerl’s quest gets dangerously entangled with the secrets of Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Illuminati, and traditional aristocrats before she can solve the mystery of her brother’s final days.
The blend of fact and fiction in historical novels takes many forms: fictional people affected by real events, fictional events in the lives of real people, or a totally made-up story in a distinctive historical setting. Rees explores a real historical mystery. Was Mozart murdered, or did he die of rheumatic fever, trichinosis, or accidental mercury poisoning? We’ll never know. That leaves lots of opportunity for imagination to play.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.