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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Sunday, September 16, 2007

When makes a historical a historical?

I don't read historicals very much even though I write them. There are a number of reasons I just drafted and deleted because they made me sound both impossibly snotty and impossibly insecure, and I do have to work on being nice anyway. So I'll say instead that when I read a historical I want to be taken to another place: I want atmosphere, which is not the same as being inundated with historical details, however accurate. I want the strangeness of different rules and morality and circumstances juxtaposed with emotions and desires that I can recognize.

Here are some of the factors I think makes a good historical a good historical:

Sounds, smells, textures. The way fabric flows, how it looks by candlelight or gaslight, the sound it makes. How surfaces--mud, frozen dirt, the straw-covered floor of a carriage, wooden floors--feel through leather boots, dancing slippers, or bare feet. The heat of a fire and the cold air on the other side of the room.

Speech. I'm not a major stickler for correct speech. Or am I? There are zillions of sources for Regency-speak, Jane Austen for starters. I don't believe you have to never, ever, ever contract a word; I'm not an expert by any means but if you read colloquial material you'll see people did say "didn't" instead of "did not," for instance. I don't quite know how I'd handle medieval-speak, but I do know that tossing in the occasional "mayhap" or "perchance" just doesn't cut it for me.

Terms of address. I'll throw a book at the wall if the butler addresses the master of the house as Bob, or vice versa. One of the things I love about the Regency is that it was a time of change in manners and intimacy, and that, for instance (gasp shock horror), married couples were actually beginning to use first names to each other. But not always. How better to express amorous discord than with excessive formality? It's a gift, I tell you.

An attempt at historical accuracy. No lace panties in the Regency, please, and whatever the covers show, no polyester gowns or men's shirts that button all the way down. I should point out that my copyeditor for The Rules of Gentility (on sale now, oh shut up, Janet) alerted me to the fact that I had used hansom cab every time I meant hackney carriage. I also discovered too late that my prices were grossly inflated, by about five times. Oops.

All that said, there are writers who because of the truth and passion of what they have to say can include the most egregious anachronisms and inaccuracies, and it doesn't matter.

What do you think?

The ladies of the Risky Regencies blog invite you to a week of Regency fun, celebrations and prizes, September 16-22. Grand Prize is a $25 Amazon gift certificate.



At 8:47 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Hey, Janet! I saw your comment about men's shirts!! Stay tuned. I'll have more to say on that subject on the 20th!

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Norah Wilson said...

Janet, this has only a glancing relevance to your blog entry, but I saw a real 1950s vintage London Taxi Cab this week. An Austin FX3, I believe. The fellow brought it over to Canada (New Brunswick) from London. It now sports a Nissan diesel engine, but it looks otherwise just like it should. Glossy and black and right hand drive. And he's going to drive it to New York to meet a woman he met on the Internet. Yes, he's British. :-)


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