HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 52 no. 1 (2006)

History as Fiction, Fiction as History Isabelo de los Reyes and the Historical Novel

Delfin L. Tolentino Jr.

Discipline: History



A relatively obscure novella by Isabelo de los Reyes provides the basis for this study on the intersections of fiction and history. Ang Singsing nang Dalagang Marmol, perhaps de los Reyes’ only extended fictional narrative, is a peculiar work. Set against the backdrop of the Philippine-American War, this is a tale involving an enigmatic woman and a love-stru        ck officer in the revolutionary army. The romantic plot, typical of the period, is given an unusual dimension by sketches of past events and allusions to historical figures.


Although he is the author of a pioneering study on Filipino folklore and of a valuable piece of writing on the works of his equally illustrious mother, the Ilokano poet Leona Florentino, de los Reeys is known more for his historicak writings and polemical tracts, and also for his role in the nationalist and labor movements. His incursion into fiction writing is, therefore, a curiosity. What could have prompted him to engage in imaginative writing at a time when the vernacular novel, as a distinct genre in Philippine literature, was still in its nascent stage?


This paper argues that the explanation lies in Isabelo de los Reyes’ decision to situate his story in the context of history, even if that history was fairly recent. In narrating the human consequences of historical events, he sought to affirm the status of fiction as another mode of political and moral intervention in a moment of crisis. Thus, like other early 20th century Tagalog novels with historical underpinnings (e.g., Ismael Amado;s Bulalakaw ng Pag-asa or Gabriel Beato Francisco’s historical trilogy),  Singsing nang Dalagang Marmol brings in history not merely to exoticize a romantic plot but to critique the order of things.