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Everything We Know About Scotland, We Learned from Romance Books

  1. All Scottish men are named Jamie. But that’s only if they’re not called Alistair.
  2. All Scottish men wear kilts, even when they were outlawed and even when they didn’t exist. All clans have an identifying tartan.
  3. All Scottish men carry claymores.
  4. Everyone is a Highlander because the Highlands start right at the border between England and Scotland.
  5. Half the country has red hair and half has black. Not brown, mind you but raven, midnight black. There are no fair haired lassies in Scotland.
  6. Speaking of Lassies, all women are lassies. Wee lassies especially. Never mind that actually refers to young girls.
  7. All Scottish men prefer English brides.
  8. Every other man is a Laird.
  9. They all say “didnae, cannae, willnae, wouldnae” with the emphasis on the “ae.”
  10. Scottish men are always drunk on single malt whisky.
  11. Haggis is served at every meal.
  12. Everyone lives near a loch.
  13. They all own sheep. Sometimes drunk on single malt whisky, full on haggis, wet from the loch, they mistake the sheep for wee lassies and take off their tartan to lay on the ground and . . . well, that scene wasn’t from a romance book.
  14. At least once a day, Scottish men say “Och, wee Lassie, doonae ken my kilt?”

hb_1978403.jpgOf course, our list is tongue in cheek. We know that romance historicals often take license with history and the question is to what extent can authors do this and still be acceptable to readers. Let’s be real. The majority of the romance reading public do not hold history degrees. The majority of romance reading public will not know when a desk with a drawer was first made; how terribly wrong it is for a gentleman to remove his jacket in public during the Victorian period; that potatoes didn’t come to Europe until 1570.

For me, I am not going to let a historical inaccuracy get in the way of my enjoyment of a good story so long as the inaccuracy is not noticeable or does not detract from the overall world created by the author. I loved The Raven Prince and felt that I could overlook the unlikely possibility of a young gentlewoman serving as the secretary for a titled man in the Georgian period.

For others, the craft is the story and a fork appearing before forks existed will kill the mood of the entire book. If you can’t trust an author to get the fork right, what other specious goods is she trying to pass off? Some authors are personally affronted that others don’t put as much effort into ensuring that the book is historically accurate. The problem is that accuracy can sometimes be, well, subjective.

Readers don’t always know what is historically accurate. I’ve read individuals complain that an author is too modern. This is an accusation that was leveled often toward Connie Brockway whose historicals are keepers for me. I recall people picking on Julie Ann Long for her use of “alien” in Beauty and the Spy. Ms. Long, I believe, came along and defended the etymology of the word “alien”. Alien was first used as a synonym for foreigner in 1330. It wasn’t until the mid 1900s that alien was first attributed to meaning “of another planet.” The Raven Prince also suffered the accusation of too modern of a voice for some. The hero is described as demolishing his plate. Demolish is attributed to the 1500s French word, demoliss.

Late VictorianI am guilty of this. Recently I read a book set in the late 1800s in England that referred to New York York harbor on Independence Day (1885); werewolf (Old English); velvet lined handcuffs (pre 1900s). The book was historically accurate but because I have had a decade of reading almost soley Regency related romances, when I first started reading, I had to remind myself of the time period. The more immersed I became in the story, the less this became a concern.

I love those old time Susan Johnson books that included footnotes. I remember reading Forbidden featuring a female Native American attorney in Montana set in the late 1800s. I was skeptical that there was such a creature, but the footnotes sold me that this could have happened.

Fn. 1. Lyda Burton Conley, of Kansas City, was the first Native American woman lawyer in the United States. Admitted to the Kansas bar in 1910, she’d begun studying law in 1904 in order to represent herself and the Wyandotte tribe in a lawsuit against the United States government.

and

Fn. 2. In 1878, the House passed Bill No. 1077, which gave women attorneys access to the federal courts. After another year of buttonholing senators in the corridors of the Capitol, the “Lockwood” bill passed the Senate in 1879 after three years of extensive lobbying, and President Rutherford B. Hayes signed it into law.

Queen Louise of PrussiaIn Arnette Lamb’s, The Betrothal, the historical detail added such richness to the story that I felt I was actually there. The heroine, Marjorie Entwhistle, was the postmistress of Bath when Blake Chesterfield came to claim her hand. Chesterfield has a terrible secret to which Marjorie’s father became privy. Chesterfield must convince Marjorie to marry him or Marjorie’s father will make the secret public, damning Chesterfield and his entire line. Lamb laid out in great detail the workings of the Post and how Marjorie came to be in control of it; how important that this was as it made money for her which she desperately needed to provide independence for herself. Hogarth’s work as a cartoonist and satirist played an integral role, firmly settling the book in the mid 1700s.

To further muddy the waters, history is recorded by the conquerors of a period and many details can be interpreted more than one way. In Joan Wolf’s Fool’s Masquerade, the hero is trying to explain to the heroine how wronged King Richard the Third was by history. King Richard did not, Diccon tells Valentine, dispose of the three princes in the tower.

The earl’s dark eyes were hard on my face. “. . . Richard the Third, Valentine, is the most bitterly wronged king in all of English history.”

I held his gaze. “I only know about him from Shakespeare.”

His mouth twisted. “You and everyone else. Crookback Richard, villain, usurper, murderer. And none of it is true.”

“What was Shakespeare’s source?” I asked. One thing I had learned from my father was to evaluate the bias of historical sources before coming to any conclusions.

Lord Leyburn looked at me speculatively. “The History of Richard III by Sir Thomas More.”

“Sir Thomas More?” I shook my head. “I don’t think one can call into question the integrity of a man like More, my lord.”

“Thomas More was brought up in the household of Cardinal Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Morton was the right hand man of Henry the Seventh, the Tudor usurper who defeated Richard at Bosworth Field. Morton was also, and had been for years, Richard’s deadly enemy. There is no doubt that Morton is the one who supplied the information about Richard to his pupil, Thomas More. And the history was never published in More’s lifetime. It was found with his papers after his death. It was not finished. I’ve always thought that More, who was an extremely intelligent man, never finished it because he had begun to doubt the honesty and the value of the material supplied to him by Morton.”

This was all extremely interesting. “Are there no other sources?” I asked thoughtfully.

“Nothing chronological. There are, of course, Parliamentary records and decrees, personal letters from the time, the Patent Rolls, things like that.”

I want authors to get it right. I think that they should do the research and know the time period in which they write as well as a scholar of that period. Shouldn’t we readers be the allowed to learn as well as be entertained? The thing is, though, that even if we readers want writers to strive for more historical accuracy, we don’t want slavish devotion to accuracy (whatever that may be) to take the place of a good story.

Just because I have a law degree and can barely stomach reading contemporaries featuring lawyers because so many of authors portray legal proceedings incorrectly, I don’t think that Jayne is foolish or ignorant for enjoying a book like that. Similarly, a reader who doesn’t recognize the tricorn (Georgian) from the bicorn (Regency) from the derby (Victorian) isn’t a cretin either. I believe we readers we are looking for is to be swept away into the past, even if its a fantasy past, for just a few hours.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

28 Comments

  1. LinM
    May 01, 2007 @ 06:20:50

    King Richard did not, Diccon tells Valentine, dispose of the three princes in the tower.

    Umm – wasn’t that two princes in the tower? Interesting that you should quote this passage as an example of historical research because when I read it something in the presentation of details made me think that the source was Josepine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time”. Tey’s book is lovely and having read it many many years ago, I find the bard’s Richard III impossible to watch.

    Otherwise, I’m a history ignoramus. So I love footnotes or appendices that explain the source of interesting details.

    And, I have read so many bad books set in Scotland that I am now conditioned to avoid any book with “Highland” in the title or the back-cover blurb.

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  2. Teddy Pig
    May 01, 2007 @ 06:28:57

    15. All Scottish sheep are scared.

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  3. Elizabeth
    May 01, 2007 @ 06:32:44

    I try not to sweat the anachronisms in historical fiction. As in The Raven Prince, they often facilitate an original story twist or allow authors to develop a unique quality in a main character. And, really, non-historians should not be appointing themselves to the History Police. I mean, I GUESS they’re entitled to read an accurate book (Seriously, we’re talking historical romance here. I really don’t care how accurately the author has described the hero’s sword–as long as it’s big!) but the thing is, they don’t necessarily have the expertise to know accurate from inaccurate.

    I can understand how people who are very well read within a historical fiction category might start to fancy themselves experts, but a thorough fact check should always precede that angry note to the author. I think the body of Regency-era fiction, for example, has created it’s own genre norms (like science fiction and it’s “Robot Laws”) that may hold more true to the category than to history. Just because a word is seldom used in the category doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate.

    So, please, no vigilante History Police. Go be a crossing guard or something, instead. And enjoy your book.

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  4. Jorrie Spencer
    May 01, 2007 @ 07:15:08

    I think everyone who picks up a historical romance wants to enjoy the book. What throws one reader out of a book may not affect another.

    What I want is to believe in the world the author has created. While historical details can trip me up, I find I’m more likely to disengage when the heroine decides to, oh, get rid of her pesky virginity or something like that. That is, view their sexuality in a manner that feels, to me, very modern. (That’s not to say that in the right author’s hands, they could pull it off. Just that it’s a hard sell for me.)

    I want to be swept away to another world and if today’s mindset and values keep cropping up, especially in a plot-convenient way, I disengage.

    But this is all such an individual thing. I admire people who write historical romance. They have so many balls in the air.

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  5. Keishon
    May 01, 2007 @ 07:56:48

    I enjoy historical romances where the setting is or isn’t a major part of the story. I just want to be entertained. I am ignorant of the finer misteps of history when it’s used more or less as wallpaper. Sorry, I majored in something else and not history. I’ve yet to read a book that features my profession but wow, I can bet legal thrillers aren’t high on your list of books to read. You must mean those books that aren’t written by lawyers, right?

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  6. Wendy
    May 01, 2007 @ 10:04:03

    Well I do have a history degree and have to say the only time historical inaccuracies bug me is when “other stuff” in the book is bugging me. For instance, I’m only annoyed when the author addresses the heroine has Lady SoAndSo when it should be Miss SoAndSo if that heroine is also too-stupid-to-live, shrill and in constant need of rescuing. Most of the time I just roll with it.

    I do think authors should get the basics down. I don’t want a detailed, rich, mind-numbing history lesson – but I also don’t want wallpaper history with a mediocre plot/character(s). That’s worse than “bad” – that’s boring.

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  7. Robin
    May 01, 2007 @ 10:49:25

    1. I tend to get more frustrated by the Scottish stereotypes in books that I enjoy than ones I don’t, probably because I expect more from those authors. Not fair, but true.

    2. re. Alien: anyone who works with American immigration history, law, or policy still uses the word as meaning “foreign,” because it’s still part of that vocabulary. Plus, IIRC, England DID have an Alien Office created to spy on the French during that very busy period following the American and French Revolutions.

    3. I LOVE those footnotes in Susan Johnson’s old books, and sometimes feel that history in Romance novels is passed from novel to novel rather than from actual historical research to novel. Or at the very least that some authors are using the same — potentially inaccurate — sources to construct their novels (i.e. Georgette Heyer as original source for Regency Romance, despite the fact that she was not objectively transcribing history into her novels).

    4. No, history is not objectively accurate, but one can at least join the conversation, which is what a good historian does, and IMO, what a good author of historical fiction — Romance or not — can and should do.

    5. But some things, like that whole heinous “Lord’s First Night” crap from Braveheart, have been debunked as myth and need to die, die, die already.

    6. I have enjoyed a number of wallpaper historicals, and who really knows what the key is there, but I don’t read those books thinking I can trust the history. And I have to admit that there’s still a little part of my brain that thinks, “Look, if you want to write fantasy, WRITE FANTASY and CALL IT THAT.” Otherwise, I wish authors who aspire to write historical Romance would please, please, please, have some respect for the history in the same way they want readers to respect the romance. There’s little that makes me cringe more than an author who talks about how much she loves history and then appears to show no respect for accuracy or authenticity in the book itself. I don’t care if the silverware is wrong (unless the book features silverware in a central way), and I will overlook tons of language and other anachronisms (often because I don’t know the truth), and if the author’s voice is compelling, I can be persuaded from noticing lots of other stuff, but screwing up important dates, historical figures, social customs, mating rituals, geographic realities, available technologies, etc. are all embarrassingly easy to uncover these days, especially with so much web access to historical texts, encyclopedic references, and even primary sources.

    7. I do think readers need to accept that sometimes an author may know more than we do about the historical authenticity of their book, especially since we have been so conditioned by inaccurate history in Romance in some cases. Sometimes I wonder if authors are afraid to use real history in some instances because readers will assume it’s made up.

    8. Maybe we need to differentiate between Historical Romance and Romance *inspired by* history or with historical elements. No offense to Julia Quinn (I refer to her because she seems to be credited with starting the trend of “lite” historicals), but I don’t consider her books Historical Romance in the same way I do Judith Ivory’s or Laura Kinsale’s or Susan Johnson’s older books. IMO readers aren’t getting capital H-history in those “lite” books, they’re getting historically flavored Romance, which can be wonderfully written, witty, very romantic, entertaining, and even accurate as far as some of the historical details go. But different, still, from hard-core Historical Romance.

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  8. ClosetNerd
    May 01, 2007 @ 11:36:58

    I am not so much of a history person, although I agree that the errors seem more glaring when the book isn’t holding my interest to begin with. My particular pet peeve is with the scientific “liberties” authors take, which can encompass everything from simple gravity to really awkward anatomical errors (I recently read a threesome story that referred to the female character’s prostate gland. I actually briefly wondered if maybe I had been ignoring some transgender theme hidden in the text, but alas, it seems the author had just given the heroine a little “bonus” without explanation.)

    I am willing to go along with all kinds of suspension of disbelief in fantasy/paranormal/sci-fi, but in a contemporary or historical romance it seems like the characters should be stuck with the same laws of physics, nature, gravity and basic anatomy that the rest of us are. If someone wants to write an awesome transgender Victorian farce, I’ll give it a shot, but you can’t just throw this stuff in there, and as far as errors go, accidentally giving Lady Windermere balls is a pretty big one.

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  9. Robin
    May 01, 2007 @ 11:48:02

    as far as errors go, accidentally giving Lady Windermere balls is a pretty big one.

    These are the kinds of errors that make me wonder where the editor is in all this. I realize that e-pubs don’t all have the legions of editors that, say, Avon claims to sic on a book, but still . . . are we just to assume that the original copy looked even worse? I don’t know which scares me more, the idea that there’s no editing or that these final manuscripts have already undergone a significant upgrade.

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  10. Tara Marie
    May 01, 2007 @ 11:58:56

    Ah, where’s Maili when we need her? She’d love the title and list.

    I loved The Raven Prince and felt that I could overlook the unlikely possibility of a young gentlewoman serving as the secretary for a titled man in the Georgian period.

    I think books like The Raven Prince work so well because they author brings you to a point where you think “It might be possible.” You know it’s not likely yet the book works anyway.

    I think historical fiction writers need one rule, if a writer includes specific details about history, they need to make sure it’s accurate, because someone’s going to call them on it if it’s not.l

    I love those old time Susan Johnson books that included footnotes.

    Me too. I don’t know how many times her footnotes sent me to google, encarta or the library for more details.

    In the past I’ve loved books filled with historical detail. But I’ve mellowed over the years and find wallpaper historicals just as entertaining I’m more into characters these days than detailed history.

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  11. Robin
    May 01, 2007 @ 12:26:38

    I'm more into characters these days than detailed history.

    Where it gets dicey for me is where authors want to use some historical details and discard others because they don’t seem to fit or they’re difficult to use or whatever. So as a reader, when an author tries to sell me a character who is a “product of his or her time,” I feel the history is as important an element of the characterization as personality, appearance, vocation, etc., and I want it to be a reflection of conscientious historical research. If an author is going outside the bounds of historical fact, then perhaps an author’s note would be in order, or at least not the suggestion that the character is a representation of historical reality. For example, the raping hero Jane wrote about a while ago — if someone wants to claim that history is the basis for that characteristic, then give me all the historical nuances, because it wasn’t so black and white as women were property = hero can rape at will. Likewise, if an author wants to use the virgin widow as historically accurate, I want to know that the author *knows* this to be true and the hows and whys and wherefores of it; I can’t accept the assumption that virginity=value=virgin widow.

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  12. sherry thomas
    May 01, 2007 @ 12:30:22

    I’ve always prided myself on getting my history right. But recently I’ve had to become more humble about it. My books are set in late Victorian/early Edwardian era, and I have the advantage over authors whose books are set further back in history in that many more of the words we use today were already in use around the turn of the century.

    Still, it was amazing to realize just how many little mistakes I’ve made along the way.

    My copy editor, for example, threw out the use of “femme fatale”, since it didn’t come into usage until well into the twentieth century.

    I’d decribed someone barging into the path of another like a “Dreadnought”. Only to discover that dreadnoughts didn’t exist until 1908.

    And there were quite a few more like this, things that I as a reader would probably not even have noticed, but now on the other side, as an author, must take great care to prevent.

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  13. Jane
    May 01, 2007 @ 12:59:12

    LinM – you are correct. it was two little princes. Sigh. lol.

    TP – I know. But those winter nights can be lonely . . .

    Elizabeth – I think that’s an interesting concept re: the regency-era fiction creating its own genre norms. I think Robin’s point of writers basing their research on reading others in the genre lends itself to this sort of thing. I am not familiar with Robot Laws though. Can you tell us more?

    Ms. Spencer – I don’t really understand those ridding myself of virginity themes. I think it is done to create a sexual tension or allow a more sexual tone but I generally hate those themes.

    Keishon – I do read some legal thrillers but rarely. Even the ones written by former legal professionals require quite a suspension of disbelief that is hard for me to do. To Kill a Mockingbird is so brilliant because its legal scenes are accurate, and not only accurate but instructive. There’s the scene where Atticus is questioning Ewell about his left handedness. Rather than come out and just ask the question about whether Ewell was left handed, Atticus challenges Ewell’s literacy and suggests he can’t write. Ewell doesn’t see what is coming and offers to prove he can write, which he does with his left hand. Brilliant. It makes for great courtroom drama in real life and in fiction.

    Also the movie, My Cousin Vinnie, absolutely accurate, particularly when Vinnie is credentialing Marissa Tomei’s character as an expert. That’s pretty much exactly how you would do it in a courtroom.

    Wendy said but I also don't want wallpaper history with a mediocre plot/character(s). That's worse than “badâ€? – that's boring
    .

    I agree, but isn’t the problem there more than just poorly researched material? I.e., a great story can make up for a wallpaper historical background and a bad story can bring down the historically rich book.

    Robin sometimes feel that history in Romance novels is passed from novel to novel rather than from actual historical research to novel.

    This is a huge thing, I think and perfectly stated. Readers fall prey to that easily because if the majority of what we read is ficton and romance fiction, our ideas of what is accurate is formed by those books, maybe even subconsciously. It’s unfair for us readers to then project our idea of what is “accurate” onto the author of a book when we ourselves are not certain of accuracy.

    ClosetNerd: I would have a problem with historicals featuring transgendered characters, particularly one who was titled and was high in society. I would need a footnote or something that told me of a true life character who did this and was accepted. But if it is not meant to be transgendered, I guess I would wonder HOW you could ever put balls on a woman?

    Tara Marie: I do want authors to be more accurate yet I feel like I can accept them if they are not. I suppose that attitude is not going to create historical excellence in the romance field, though.

    Sherry Thomas: I am so glad that your book is set in a new time period I think the late Victorian era is full of the glamour and pageantry of the Regency era. It’s nice to hear that your editor is helping you because clearly some editors aren’t paying attention to these details. I am sure that it is tough to fact check an entire novel though.

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  14. Jackie L.
    May 01, 2007 @ 13:02:09

    Hate historical inaccuracies, but only really hit the wall when it’s a medical mistake. Like one recent romantic suspense book linked two murders because both victims died of the same arrhythmia. For us to know that, the vics would have had to die in the hospital on a monitor. Arrhythmia is like a medical excuse–shoot, we don’t know why the guy died–maybe an arrhythmia? But 2 bodies in graves–no way, no how we could know they had an arrhythmia. Liked the book until then. Now I can’t read the other 2 in the trilogy.

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  15. Elizabeth
    May 01, 2007 @ 13:30:29

    Jane, the Robot Laws come from Isaac Asimov’s work. They are (no promise of accuracy here):
    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

    The interesting thing about Asimov’s Robot Laws: many other SF authors also adopted them and applied them within the constructs of their own universes. So something that was wholly made-up is now a kind of fact within the fiction.

    I think authors in several periods of historical romance–especially Regency and Scottish–have similarly developed their own fictional norms that in turn have been adopted by other authors for use in subsequent novels. The result is almost an alternative Regency universe, which is accurate enough to please most readers. (I mean, hey, I like those Julia Quinns as much as anybody.)

    I actually find it all kind of cool.

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  16. Janine
    May 01, 2007 @ 13:55:17

    I think the expectations that we bring to a book are not something we can just set aside. I don’t think anybody wants to be the history police. At least, I know I don’t. But sometimes (as happened to me with The Raven Prince; my review is on a computer that is not working right now, but someday it will be repaired and I will post it here), the characters’ behavior, atttitudes and speech feel contemporary to me in comparison with other books I’ve read set that were also set in the same era.

    To give a more specific example, I love Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy, but at one point, if I’m not mistaken, Brockway had her Victorian era British characters use the word “nope,” and it pulled me out of the story. It just didn’t sound like a word that English Victorians would use, and no matter if Jane pulled out a thousand etymology dictionaries to show me that it was, she would not be able to change that reading experience for me.

    It’s true that I am far from an expert on history, but I have a set of beliefs about it, and whether or not those beliefs are based on actual facts doesn’t change the fact that they are there, and that when I read something that strongly conflicts with those beliefs, my brain will start asking questions about whether the characters are behaving in a way that makes sense for their era or nationality. Once it’s asking those questions, I’m no longer involved in the story itself, and instead, I feel annoyed.

    That’s just the reality of the situation. If I can’t suspend disbelief, I’m not going to enjoy the book.

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  17. DS
    May 01, 2007 @ 14:33:04

    I love historical accuracy in a book. I especially love it when an author puts in something that I think is totally wrong and a fact check shows the author is right. I also am happy if the author adds a note saying yes, I know this is not quite right but I did it for the story. Happened to me recently with Mistress of the Arts of Death. Ariana Franklin AKA Diana Norman put a note at the back that kept me from feeling guilty that I had enjoyed the mystery so much I hadn’t fumed nearly enough about the anachronisms.

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  18. Robin
    May 01, 2007 @ 14:40:36

    To give a more specific example, I love Brockway's My Dearest Enemy, but at one point, if I'm not mistaken, Brockway had her Victorian era British characters use the word “nope,â€? and it pulled me out of the story. It just didn't sound like a word that English Victorians would use, and no matter if Jane pulled out a thousand etymology dictionaries to show me that it was, she would not be able to change that reading experience for me.

    Even etymology can be tricky, because the online etymology dictionary shows “nope” as appearing as early as 1888, where did it originate and what did it mean and how quickly did it spread, and who was using it? Dictionary.com claims it’s an Americanized usage 1885-90 and informal, which comports with what I’ve read of late Victorian texts in both GB and the US. The Online Etymology Dictionary shows it as an emphatic version of no. So IMO you can’t just rely on etymological sources (except perhaps the OED, which not only lists dates but actual textual references) to determine whether a particular word would be in use or even fashionable. Although when you look up a word and it’s clearly an anachronism, that’s something different. At least if an author took time to check, I’ll give her credit for that, even if the word sounds jarring to me in the context of the book (based on my own expectations).

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  19. Jayne
    May 01, 2007 @ 14:57:43

    Recently in “Simply Magic” Balogh used the term “Beats me” to mean “I don’t know.” I sat there stunned that she’d written it and her editor hadn’t removed it. Maybe this was in use in Regency England (though I doubt it) but it was just too modern and, as Janine says, it pulled me completely out of the story. Not that I had good things to say about the book up til that point….

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  20. Robin
    May 01, 2007 @ 15:39:17

    For me it was this passage from The Leopard Prince:

    Edward de Raaf, fifth Earl of Swartingham, frowned. “I’ve told you to call me Edward or de Raaf. This my lord stuff is ridiculous.” (p. 372)

    I’m pretty sure that “stuff” used in that way is a 20th century invention. Oh, and I hate hate hate the use of “rod” for penis in historicals (thank GOD that Loretta Chase banished that horrific word from NQAL — I don’t think it’s even historically accurate). OTOH, I completely overlooked an anachronistic usage of the word “ego” from one historical (The Raven Prince?). We definitely all have our hot buttons. I can understand how all of our different nitpicks might feel really frustrating to an author, even if they’re perfectly legitimate from the reader’s perspective.

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  21. MCHalliday
    May 01, 2007 @ 15:46:14

    I want authors to get it right. I think that they should do the research and know the time period in which they write as well as a scholar of that period.

    I agree! I don’t want to be jarred from a tale because of modern jargon or inaccurate historical details. It’s very easy to verify facts, back to medival times, and so IMO there is no excuse for blatant misrepresentations. Albeit, with the exclusion of possible or alternative history. Using the example of the two princes house in the Tower of London (then a royal residence), it is not known whether the boys were murdered or even when they died. Therefore, I can embrace a tale in which one or both of the princes survived (Blackadder, first part of the series) and find it intriguing.

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  22. Janine
    May 01, 2007 @ 16:19:20

    Although when you look up a word and it's clearly an anachronism, that's something different. At least if an author took time to check, I'll give her credit for that, even if the word sounds jarring to me in the context of the book (based on my own expectations).

    I agree there is a difference and a clear anachronism is definitely worse, but the problem with the latter situation is that once I have to look up the word to find out whether or not it’s an anchronism, I’m no longer caught up in the spell that the author is trying to weave. Even if it turns out the word was in usage at that time and place, the magic of being transported to that time and place has obviously dissipated by then.

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  23. Janine
    May 01, 2007 @ 16:23:06

    [quote comment="27438"]Recently in “Simply Magic” Balogh used the term “Beats me” to mean “I don’t know.” I sat there stunned that she’d written it and her editor hadn’t removed it. Maybe this was in use in Regency England (though I doubt it) but it was just too modern and, as Janine says, it pulled me completely out of the story. [/quote]

    Yes, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. We sit there stunned and read the sentence again to be sure we read correctly. And by the time we close our gaping mouths we are in a different place than we were before. Which is why for me this has nothing to do with wanting to be “the history police.”

    ReplyReply

  24. sybil
    May 01, 2007 @ 21:00:52

    So an author needs to be accurate but also know each and every reader’s quirks? I don’t know if it is fair to ask authors to account for reader ignorance. But that could just be me.

    At the same time I agree with wendy, shit bothers me when the story itself is bad. But you won’t find me with a red pen editing a book while I read it so I can go look at me I am so much smarter than the author.

    And if it turns out I am wrong say well it still doesn’t sound right to me so rot your historical knowledge! sounds too much like wanting to have your cake and eat it too…

    ReplyReply

  25. Camilla Bartley
    May 02, 2007 @ 03:02:08

    I’ve loved history since I was a child and as a result, my characters and plots(I write Edwardian/Belle Epoque set romances) have blossomed from real life people and events. I’m so anal about history(but lovably so) that I cannot rest until I’ve searched down to a detail about historical facts if a plot idea isn’t based in history (for instance, one of my upcoming WIP’s, my heroine is a lawyer in 1900s New York, as is her African-American friend, and I was literally sweating bullets to discover when not only women, but black women, were allowed to enter the New York State bar).

    In terms of other author’s historicals, I do agree with previous sentiments: they don’t bother me unless the rest of the book is lackluster. But one thing I do question is why write a historical romance if the history is irrelevant to the plot and characters? Why utilize any type of setting(even in contemporaries) if they’re only going to be used in a superficial manner? I’m of the school where the setting–down the year and season–has a point to my protagonists character/story arc.

    ReplyReply

  26. Janine
    May 02, 2007 @ 13:56:20

    [quote comment="27460"]So an author needs to be accurate but also know each and every reader’s quirks? I don’t know if it is fair to ask authors to account for reader ignorance. But that could just be me.

    At the same time I agree with wendy, shit bothers me when the story itself is bad. But you won’t find me with a red pen editing a book while I read it so I can go look at me I am so much smarter than the author.

    And if it turns out I am wrong say well it still doesn’t sound right to me so rot your historical knowledge! sounds too much like wanting to have your cake and eat it too…[/quote]

    LOL, Sybil! No, I am not saying that authors need to know each reader’s personal quirks. But at the same time, I think authors and editors need to be aware of the fact that sometimes a word that sounds modern can disrupt the reading experience even when it’s not actually modern.

    I once read an interview with Anne Rice in which she mentioned that when she was writing her historical novel Cry to Heaven, she had a line in which the characters talked about advertising themselves. She checked the word “advertise” and it had been in use at the time the book was set. However, her editor still pulled the word out, because even though it was in use, the editor thought it would sound contemporary to readers and disrupt their reading experience. Anne Rice was annoyed about this, if I recall correctly.

    Who was right? Ms. Rice or her editor? I think different readers will have different opinions on that. There is no absolute wrong or right here, there are only opinions, and different people’s reading experiences. But if the writers think about how readers experience reading, they can make an informed decision.

    As for me, I was still pulled out by Brockway’s use of “nope” in My Dearest Enemy. Wrong or right, it doesn’t change the fact that my reading was disrupted at the time I came across that word.

    ReplyReply

  27. Guest Author Day: Sherry Thomas ponders Too Old or Not Old Enough? : The Good, The Bad and The Unread
    Mar 24, 2008 @ 17:01:55

    [...] first time it happened it nearly gave me a heart attack. I was reading this opinion piece on DearAuthor.com, about the truths and perceptions of historical accuracy, when I came across this [...]

  28. Twitted by auriethepixie
    Jul 11, 2009 @ 12:44:48

    [...] This post was Twitted by auriethepixie [...]

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