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Popular History and Fiction

The Myth of August the Strong in German Literature, Art and Media

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Madeleine Brook

This book addresses the function of fiction in the creation of an historical myth and the uses of myth over time. The subject of the case study is the popular image of August the Strong (1670-1733), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, a figure who has frequently been portrayed as possessing extraordinary sexual prowess and ruling over a magnificent, but frivolous, court in Dresden. The author locates the origins of this myth in the art and literature of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century and traces its development up to the twenty-first century in German historiography, fiction, art and media.
The study identifies the long-lasting effects of the cultural dominance of Prussia on Saxon historiography in the nineteenth century and the privileged status of particular historical sources over others. It thus sheds light on the challenges facing historians since the early twentieth century when they rely on popular media in recounting and interpreting history. Conversely, it reveals how writers of popular historical fiction employ the methodologies of the historian to bring historical knowledge and self-identity together for the reader.