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Introducing the “mistorical,” and The Uses and Limits of History in...

 

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First I want to formally introduce our newest tag at Dear Author: mistorical. Now tags don’t generally get such an officious welcome, but this one, in particular, might be a wee bit controversial, as it means, quite literally, “mistaken historical.” In other words, it’s the tag we’re now going to be using to describe all manner of historically inauthentic and inaccurate books on the blog – a catchall term that can be used for books of any time period or any type of mistaken, misused, mythologized, missing, or otherwise inaccurately portrayed historicism.

Why have such a tag? Because for many readers (myself included), the historical authenticity and accuracy of a book labeled “Historical Romance” is an important element of its construction. This was certainly the case in DA January’s review of Phoenix Sullivan’s Spoil of War, in which the author explicitly defended the historical representations of her book:

As an indie author (or whatever term will eventually come to define us) by choice and a content editor by trade, I absolutely own any copyediting errors in the book. However, the two specifically pointed out are not errors. “Fagging courage” is correct; one of the definitions of the verb fag is to weary or exhaust. And “prob” is more akin to “pushing futiley at” than the word “probe” is. I’m happy to review comma errors that may have been made — with the understanding that commas can be a rather “gray” area when it comes to style and pacing.

I’m also not here to go point by point through the research, but I will mention that “Ryan” is the anglicized version of the many variants of a name that is ancient Gaelic in origin (Rian, Rion, Riain, etc), much like the name Arthur itself is an anglicized version of any of several variants from Roman or Welsh origin.

The question of historicity dogged the comment thread, with Maili responding to Sullivan’s defense of Ryan:

Rían, Ríon and Ríain aren’t variants of one name nor do they have anything in common, except for one thing–this prefix: rí.

‘Rí’ on its own does mean ‘king’ (or in contemporary sense, ruler), but it doesn’t mean it’s just that when used as a prefix. Please, Irish – certainly old Irish – is a lot more complex than that. As a prefix, it implies anything that suggests high position or influence.

As it stands, there is nothing so far that can confirm the meaning of Ryan is ‘little king’. Four reasons: a) the supposed etymology of Ryan/little king doesn’t fit in with the traditional Irish naming system – same with the (Scottish) Gaelic naming system, b) some say that in Irish, it’s grammatically incorrect, c) it doesn’t fit geographically, and d) every intensive search so far had failed to make a solid connection between Ryan and ‘little king’ and/or ‘Rí’. Any decent Irish or Gaelic name etymologist can and will tell you all this.

As Sunita and Dhympna, a medieval historian, have detailed, the historical representations in the book are anything but historically sound, which cuts quite harshly against the author’s own defense of the book on those grounds.

Which raises the question of what the uses and limits of history are in fiction, and especially in the way readers evaluate fictional stories that depend, in their worldbuilding, on recognizable moments from the past.

Anyone who has conversed with me for longer than two minutes knows I’m pretty enthusiastically adamant that “historical Romance” should take history seriously, and that books we describe as wallpaper or historically inspired, or historical fantasy, or the like should have another label. Because as Dhympna’s analysis of Sullivan’s Spoil of War demonstrates, historical accuracy, even in a book set in the 5th century, is hardly impossible. Further, a sense of historical authenticity — that is, the larger atmospheric context that makes the world building believable — is obtainable for an era in which we have a decent amount of historical data and analysis available. And this may be naïve of me, but any time I hear an author say something like “I love history,” or “I love researching history,” or “I think historical research is so fascinating,” that raises my expectation for the historicity of their book. Because, like Sullivan’s defense of her novel, I read that as a kind of credentialing, albeit more casual than the inclusion of an author’s note or footnotes or bibliography or the like.

All that said, I do not think that historicity can save a bad story (and again, see Sunita’s review of Spoil of War for an example of this), or that its lack can ruin a masterful one. An example of the latter can be found in the long discussion pursuant to my review of Julie Anne Long’s What I Did For A Duke. Each reader determines what constitutes a masterful story, however, and readers can, indeed, be fatally distracted by what we perceive to be too many errors, historical or otherwise. By the same token, we can be mistaken about what is and isn’t accurate or authentic in a book, creating frustration for authors and indirectly, perhaps, perpetuating inauthentic but widely accepted elements.

One of the more perplexing issues for me around historical accuracy, though, is exemplified by the nature of the Regency Romance and the extent to which accuracy seems to be partially defined by genre progenitors like Jane Austen or foremothers like Georgette Heyer. In fact, the extent to which books like Heyer’s are now viewed as historical sources themselves demonstrates how muddy the concept of “historical accuracy” can be for a period like the Regency, which has much more significance and endurance in the genre than it does generally. As Maili pointed out on Twitter recently, much of the historical critique of Regency Romance deals with cultural and social faux pas rather than larger political or economic issues. It almost seems as if there’s a specific type of history readers of Regency Romance expect from the subgenre. I often feel confused by discussions about Regency accuracy, because I’m not well-versed in Heyer, and I don’t read Austen as genre Romance. So my question, as someone who does not have expert knowledge of the Regency, is how much of that alleged accuracy is derived from Heyer and Austen, and how much from a thorough knowledge of general historical sources?

One particular difficulty with Heyer seems to be the extent to which the author herself has become an icon and a beacon, which was very much in evidence throughout the Smart Bitches thread on The Grand Sophy, with author Anne Stuart objecting to Sarah’s frustration with the book’s stereotypical slur on “Jewish moneylenders:”

I saw the grade and thought, are you fucking crazy?  In general I glaze over racism etc. in older books (and remember, this book is 61 years old, came out before GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT (the first major movie to tackle anti-semitism).

Then again, I adore Heyer so much that I simply ignore the appalling classism (the adopted son in THESE OLD SHADES—horrors!) etc.  Either you adore Heyer or you don’t.

However, I am sorry that it was personally painful.  I do think 1950 was long enough in the past to overlook the casual racism.

Given the contrast in tone between discussion of Phoenix Sullivan’s book and Heyer’s Grand Sophy, the question of historicity is pointed: how much does “real” history count, and does the author’s own history count? One author intercepts discussion of the book to defend her own research credentials against claims of offensive characterization, while in another context readers use “historical accuracy” to defend an offensive characterization. Sullivan goes so far as to suggest that readers who disagree with her portrayals in Spoil of Wardemand anachronistic thinking from characters.” Which seems to be similar to what some readers are saying about those who take issue with the portrayal of Jewish characters in Heyer’s novels.

So what’s the difference? Is there a difference?

I think there’s a crucial difference, but will leave it to others to measure the validity of my distinction: In one instance, readers are being asked to accept the alleged historical accuracy of an author’s portrayal, offensive or not. In the other instance, readers are being asked to dismiss aspects of a portrayal that may or may not be historically accurate (or if accurate, certainly not universal). It’s especially ironic when you consider the fact that Heyer’s portrayal is probably more accurately reflective of both her time and the time of her books.

And yet the sheer depth and breadth of reader investment in Heyer’s books adds another layer to the dilemma of historicism, because in some cases it seems Heyer is not only being invoked as an author, but as a historical authority herself, for her own books and those derived from her body of work. Heyer seems to be both source and author, which shapes not only what is seen as “true” in her books and those influenced by her work, but also what is deemed appropriate in terms of reader response. That is, it seems that Heyer’s influence is influencing not only what we read in Regency Romance, but how we should be reading it, as well. Which for me diverges substantially from the notion and relevance of historical accuracy in the Romance genre as a whole.

So what if we remove the author from the analysis? At this point, is that even possible, especially with Regency Romance? And if it’s possible, will it make it easier or harder to assess the historical validity of a story?

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

256 Comments

  1. Angela
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:20:51

    I thought so many things while reading this, I should have been taking notes!

    The question that sticks in my mind, and I’m sure I know the answer is yes, when you tag something as ‘mistorical’ that will be discussed in the review, right? Historical inaccuracy grates on my nerves while reading…most of the time. But there are those things that don’t bother me as much, or that a great story (like you said) can overcome.

    I’d definitely like for the author to be removed from the discussions/analysis on the historicsm of the book. Though I do think it’s harder to do that.

    I also don’t read Jane Austen as genre Romance, and I’ve never read Heyer, so she hasn’t been able to become a source for me. So my desire for historicsm is from more general historical sources and study.

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  2. L.K. Rigel
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:24:27

    Typo alert: I think you meant “what if” in: So what is we remove …

    Thanks for this. I love the “mistorical” term. It doesn’t necessarily have to land as a pejorative, either. I can see authors self-labeling a work as a mistorical to relieve themselves of the burden of accuracy when historical accuracy won’t work for a particular story.

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  3. Sirius
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:24:59

    I think I am with you in a sense that I also want the historical romances to adequately reflect the time period the story is supposedly set in. And yes, I agree that wallpaper historical, costume historical or whatever we call it should have different label. However recently (or maybe not so recently) I realized something else – if I do not know the time period and will miss the mistakes which are there, I will still love the book if the characters and plot are done to my satisfaction. I mean, I do not really know what this means. Does it mean that I care less about historical accuracy than I thought I did? Probably not, because if the writer puts the wrong Russian tsar on the throne in 19 century or lets russian serves be freed in the wrong year, or let Decembrist rebellion occur in another century, I will want to throw the book against the wall. But I suppose if I read a book set in the country I know little about, historical accuracy would be the last component I will think of when deciding whether book was well done or not. Unless of course the anachronisms are so obvious (I don’t know planes flying in middle ages?) that it will make me roll my eyes?

    I mean, I guess it is true for anybody, because you cannot know all periods equally well, but I am wondering what if somebody else who does know the period better than me and will go through the book and point all mistakes that I missed, if I am already loving characters and plot, would I care? I think not much, I will move the book in the category of costume historical in my mind, but it will still be a *great* costume historical for me. Hope I am making sense and thank you for interesting essay.

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  4. RBA
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:28:07

    I love you for doing this. How anyone can claim history is unimportant in historical romance makes no sense to me. So many “historical romances” are about as accurate as that fantasy movie Willow, starring Val Kilmer.

    It is HISTORICAL and ROMANCE. If the history is unimportant, that should mean you get to print historical stories without a romance in them and sell them as “historical romance” too!

    I always respect authors who care about the accuracy of their writing so much more. I remember reading about the research Sara Donati did for her series – before the internet was even what it is today – and my respect for her quadrupled and then some.

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  5. Joy
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:45:03

    All periods cannot be known perfectly because there is actually a lot we don’t know about history. There are however, certain things that we do know and those things should be covered, IMO, in at least the thoroughness of an undergraduate survey course (like, picking a date and having the right pope, emperor, and architecture). If an author is going to take blatant liberties, it’s nice to have an afterword to explain what and why (“I have antedated the Irish invasion of the Orkneys somewhat in order to…”).

    On the other hand, historical fiction is fiction and the author is essentially doing worldbuilding that s/he hopes to be convincing to the audience. Things that sound too modern (even if documented in the period such female gladiators, “shagging” in the 1800s, or Regency-era women named Tiffany!) are going to be problems for some readers, while obvious inaccuracies (squash and/or potatoes in medieval Europe!) may be the errors that kill it for other readers. Building your own historical milieu on not only historical sources but respected authors who did a convincing job of worldbuilding is a shortcut that works well for some authors if they can pull of the “convincing” part themselves as well.

    The real problem IMO is when the historical gets the knowns of history horribly wrong yet is at the same time very convincing in historical atmosphere etc. That’s when you learn bad history from your reading.

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  6. Christine
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:46:00

    I have to admit I have a sliding scale when it comes to grading books on their historical research. I’ve never written it out but my grading system seems to be that I take the authenticity as seriously as the book takes itself. If the book is a romp or written so the time period itself really isn’t a huge consideration I am more generous about overlooking a lack of details or even some flubs. If the work is presented as a serious drama and the time and setting is a main component- the former history major in me comes out. For example when I read “Ruthless” by Anne Stuart I didn’t feel the time frame was a huge factor in the story. While set in the 18th century it was really about the hero and heroine and could have been set in almost any historical era before telephones, cars etc. Another reader noticed what they felt was an incorrect inclusion of a “registry office” for a marriage. It didn’t bother me at all. Maybe because the time frame was mentioned but felt so vague I kept thinking it was taking place mid 19th century. Ditto for lighthearted books by Garwood like “The Bride” etc. I don’t think anyone can argue it’s historically accurate but it is what it is. You either get a chuckle from it or you don’t. With authors I consider more serious like Joanna Bourne, Merdith Duran, etc. a major gaffe would be jarring but I haven’t found one in their works yet. One time Joanna Bourne put up on her site an analysis an expert did scrutinizing every word used to see if it was in use and appropriate for early 19th century England. It was great. On the other end of the spectrum I found Laura Kinsale’s “For My Lady’s Heart” took me out of the story due to her insistence on using period appropriate language.

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  7. Keishon
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:53:03

    Heh, well historical inaccuracy isn’t a deal breaker for me but label them as you see fit. If historical accuracy is so great and wonderful, why wasn’t Roberta Gellis more popular? Historical accuracy is a polarizing topic because not everybody feels that “accuracy” is as important as the overall story in genre fiction.

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  8. SabrinaDarby
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 10:54:21

    As a historical romance author…well, there is a rabbit hole of research, but there is a certain level of responsibility. I usually ask myself, “Is it possible?” and then, “Even if rare, is it motivated?” And hopefully by answering yes to both questions, I satisfy that responsibility.

    @Sirius:

    As a reader/audience member, I have a similar relationship to historical-set stories. For example, after the Tudors television series made a few early mistakes, I never watched the show again. Yet, I adore Michael Mann’s Public Enemies and when I did research after watching the movie, I found it had made several huge historical changes for creative reasons. Does it make me love the movie any less? No, but it does make me always feel that I have to qualify that love.

    ETA: Christine makes a good point about the sliding scale. Also, although history is based in facts, there is a good deal of subjectivity around historical accuracy. This is true of nonfiction historical accounts as well.

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  9. Jan
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:08:33

    Ah the mistorical, it’s so far in the past, everything got a little misty.

    I like the tag, although I agree that when used, it should definitely be elaborated on in the review.

    I also think Sirius is onto something – if it’s not your time-period, historical correctness is hard to see, unless the mistakes are glaring.

    My experience lies more in prehistory, protohistory in Northern-Western Europe, and the Antiquity, although that’s getting hazier and hazier.

    Even after reading a ton of Regency novels, I’m pretty sure almost all anachronisms would go over my head.

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  10. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:10:45

    I love history.
    When I review a historical romance, I sometimes feel mean picking out the anachronisms, Americanisms and historical inaccuracies, but they are there. Sometimes there’s a great story hiding under the mauve nylon prom dresses.

    So I’d love to see the introduction of a “historical fantasy” label or tag. Something vaguely based on, say, the Regency, that doesn’t carry the burden of doing the research. That would give readers license to ignore the stupidisms. Instead of the denigrating “Regency lite” and “wallpaper historical” labels, “historical fantasy” could be a positive one.

    And one suggestion of how to get it right, or better, anyway. When you set a novel in Britain, get a British editor, beta reader or fact checker to go through it. I write contemporary romance as well as historical, and some of my characters are American. I consider myself pretty good at doing it, and I’ve certainly done a lot of research, but I still get things wrong, and having an American editor is absolutely essential to me.

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  11. DM
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:18:04

    Great post. I love the term.

    The Regency has become in Romance what the Western became in Golden Age Hollywood, and bears about an equal resemblance to the real thing.

    I take the authenticity as seriously as the book takes itself. If the book is a romp or written so the time period itself really isn’t a huge consideration I am more generous about overlooking a lack of details or even some flubs. If the work is presented as a serious drama and the time and setting is a main component- the former history major in me comes out.

    This perfectly reflects my reading habits. I don’t expect authenticity from Julie Anne Long or Elizabeth Hoyt. I do expect it from Bourne and Duran.

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  12. Las
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:24:19

    Just how inaccurate does a historical have to be to get labeled “mistorical?” If the only thing a book gets wrong is the type of petticoat worn, will that earn it the label? Or will it require getting one major fact and/or several small ones wrong? I’m not against the label or anything, but considering how seemingly random the online outrage over historical inaccuracies are I’m curious as to how exactly this new tag is going to work.

    Since in my mind there is no greater historical inaccuracy than the idea of marrying for love and male fidelity, I’m not one to quibble much over historical facts. Get the “tone” right, don’t get a major fact wrong that the average fifth grader would know, and tread very, very carefully when writing POC characters, especially when dealing with colonization, and I’m good.

    I wonder if my ambivalence has to do with not considering Austen’s work romance, never liking “traditional” Regency, and never having read Heyer.

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  13. L.K. Rigel
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:29:54

    So “historical fantasy” for a work that is intentionally inaccurate (or ahistoric or whatever the proper term) and “mistorical” for a work that is proclaimed and marketed as historically accurate but is not?

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  14. Keishon
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:30:46

    I take the authenticity as seriously as the book takes itself

    Last comment but yeah, I agree with this.

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  15. Kate Pearce Pearce
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:34:24

    Well, the thing with history is that it’s a) written by the winners and b) it is someone’s ‘opinion’.
    The first thing we were told when I started my degree in history is that there are very few facts and a lot of opinions.
    For instance, being a Brit, my take on the war of 1812 with the USA might differ significantly from someone who is American. I might choose to read different contemporary sources that make the Brits look like the heroes, whereas my American author might read something that makes the Brits look like the bad guys. Which of us is right if we are both using contemporary sources and writing fiction?
    Even people on the same side contradict each other. For example, during WWII a bomb dropped near my mother’s house and set some of their garden of fire. If you talked to the 4 women who were present, they all claim to be the one who heroically went out there and smothered the flames. They still argue about it.

    So, as we are writing fiction, it all comes down to the reaction of the reader. When I read books where basic British history is wrong, I’m more likely to throw them away because it bugs me, whereas another reader might not be worried at all.
    I’ll be interested to see how you are going to define the category of mistorical. :)

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  16. BJ
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:39:33

    One note on language use (I have a degree in linguistics, so it’s an area that interests me…):
    In many cases, if the the story/characters/etc. are otherwise good, mildly anachronistic language actually doesn’t bother me. Thinking about why ~~ I think I have what I’d almost call a ‘translation’ filter. Maybe the exact term isn’t historically accurate, but the characters could have expressed the equivalent idea/emotion, so my brain is ok with the historically accurate phrase having been ‘translated’ into modern terms, just like characters speaking French or Italian get translated. If nothing else, it’s better than bad historical ‘dialect’ writing ;-)

    However, if the story lines/characters have glaring other weaknesses, the language issue can begin to grate.

    One exception to my tolerance policy: If you are going to have Quaker characters, get the plain speech right. A Sarah McCarty ended up as DNF because she massacred the whole thee/thy bit :-( The whole point of using thee was that it took a singular verb (is/has) rather than a plural (are/have). I’m pretty laid back about my desire for accuracy in my fun reading, but that put me over the edge. [There were other issues with her portrayal of 19th century Quakers, but that's a different story....no one gets those right!]

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  17. Sunita
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:40:29

    Great post! You comments about Heyer really resonate for me:

    Heyer seems to be both source and author, which shapes not only what is seen as “true” in her books and those influenced by her work, but also what is deemed appropriate in terms of reader response. That is, it seems that Heyer’s influence is influencing not only what we read in Regency Romance, but how we should be reading it, as well.

    In my teens I took everything in Heyer as historical gospel, because it was such a complete and authentic-feeling world. But I had no idea how much she left out, or the relatively narrow scope of her sources, until I starting reading contemporaneous letters, diaries, and memoirs, and of course scholarly work on the period.

    What really drives me crazy is that readers will resist deviations from Heyer by claiming the deviations are not historically accurate. Yes, Heyer created an unforgettable world, and she derived a chunk of it from authentic source material. But it’s not the only way to conceptualize that era, and treating her as “authority” ossifies the genre and curtails contemporary authors’ choices.

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  18. DM
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 11:44:51

    @Las

    Just how inaccurate does a historical have to be to get labeled “mistorical?” If the only thing a book gets wrong is the type of petticoat worn, will that earn it the label? Or will it require getting one major fact and/or several small ones wrong? I’m not against the label or anything, but considering how seemingly random the online outrage over historical inaccuracies are I’m curious as to how exactly this new tag is going to work.

    I should probably clarify that I’m NOT interested in the kind of nit-picking that Lynne describes. Language is always in flux, and no one wants to read a work written in the English of another era.

    For me, a more important criteria is this: Do the events, laws, or customs of the period serve as an obstacle to the HEA? If not, is this really a historical?

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  19. Sirius
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 12:03:52

    @Kate Pearce Pearce: I agree about history being written by victors and sometimes (or often) contradicting facts. However honest historian would still give his due to the facts IMO, no matter how much spin she would want to give to make her side look better. Lets take battle of Borodino of 1812. I obviously grew up reading mostly Russian sources about it and it was such a big deal in Russian history that a lot of fiction was devoted to the battle, big deal was made of it, etc. I work in another field, but being a history major I never stopped being interested in history and constantly reading historical nonfiction. Couple years ago I have read couple of french accounts on the topic (in english translation) and while of course they all talk a great deal about why Napoleon just HAD TO go to Russia and how many strategic mistakes Kutuzov made as a commander, as far as I remember the sources that I have read gave their dues to Kutuzov and the fact that Battle of Borodino was a stand off (even though they claim Russians could have won it).

    So what I am trying to say is I guess I expect from the writer who cares about historical accuracy of their fiction to read both sources in your example – british and american and make sure the facts are the same, unless of course the accounts are so wildly contradicting that it is not possible. Hope I am making sense. I most certainly do not care who are the bad guys going to be in the story you (generic you) will end up writing, I *know* who the bad guys are in my head in that war, but even if your bad guys differ from mine, as long as the picture is more or less accurate (I do not care for nitpicking either), I will certainly be okay with it and be more easily convinced to look at the war from the other side’s eyes. IMO of course.

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  20. DS
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 12:27:15

    @Keishon: I really like Roberta Gellis, but there was this really long review on Amazon about how she had flubbed the use of the title Duke in one of her early books. Yes, she had used the title before it had been created. She also had posted on her web site a note that she had erred in another book by using a spinning wheel. I really like the fact that she admits these things (with good humor even).

    However authors who get all up in the air and defensive make me look even harder at their research.

    Usually if I start nit picking the history its because I’m not enjoying the story– or it’s so bad– squash?– that I can’t ignore it.

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  21. cayenne
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 12:30:30

    I love this discussion & think I said enough about historical accuracy in the other topic. I have two things to add: a) I love the term Mistorical, thank you! b) After reading a ton of trad regs and finding them strongly varied in their treatment of the same historical period, I did some research to find out what was true and what was interpretation of others’ fictional works (i.e. derivative of Heyer & Austen). For a starting book, I recommend Our Tempestuous Day by Carolly Erickson, who is primarily a Tudor historian of the Telephone Book-Sized Royal Biography genre; this book is more accessible and a great overview of the society and mores of the Regency.

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  22. Kate Pearce Pearce
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 12:35:58

    @Sirius, I agree, a good historian will look at both sides of an argument, weigh up the facts and present, either a balanced argument in favor of whichever side he/she comes down on, or completely trash everyone else’s arguments and research. :)
    But this is historical romance and the expectation isn’t quite the same. I think it should be, because what better way to show two sides of an argument than through already established conflict between the h/h? But the history often has to take a backseat to the love story. The real issue, is how much do you put in there without detracting from the romance, and how accurate and in depth should it be?
    Personally I love writing the historical bits and love finding out those interesting facts to add to the narrative, but that might be because I’m a history major. Sometimes I wonder whether that distorts my view of what readers want. :)

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  23. Susanna Fraser
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 12:58:58

    @Lynne Connolly

    So I’d love to see the introduction of a “historical fantasy” label or tag. Something vaguely based on, say, the Regency, that doesn’t carry the burden of doing the research. That would give readers license to ignore the stupidisms. Instead of the denigrating “Regency lite” and “wallpaper historical” labels, “historical fantasy” could be a positive one.

    I see what you’re saying, but I’ve been (rightly or wrongly) calling alternative history with fantasy elements like Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series historical fantasy all this time, so it would confuse me to see it applied to a historical romance unless there was a dragon or wizard in there somewhere. :-)

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  24. Carolyn
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 13:03:18

    I agree with Las:

    “Since in my mind there is no greater historical inaccuracy than the idea of marrying for love and male fidelity, I’m not one to quibble much over historical facts.”

    It’s all fantasy, including historical.

    If I can overlook the shenanigans the H/h get up to in the tightly regimented Regency/Victorian eras, I can forgive a few historical inaccuracies. I have no idea when spinning wheels came into use, and frankly I really don’t care. Unless they put the Crimean war in Baltimore or something equally egregious, it’s the story and the characters that command my attention.

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  25. Jane
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 13:15:18

    For me, it is a lot less about historical accuracy and a lot more about the claims that authors and publishers are making about their books. The term “historical romance” actually means something to readers. And often you see author’s degrees or expertise trotted out to give authenticity to a particular book. But I think it is more fair to readers and authors to label the books accurately so that the reader expectations are appropriately aligned with the author’s intent. A romp can be just as historically accurate as a drama and a drama can be just as wallpapery as a romp. Neither of that matters in so far as whatever story the author is telling trumps any interruptions the inaccuracies may cause.

    However, to be fair to those authors who really do endeavor to get it right versus the authors who want to use the time period because it sells well or because the dresses are pretty, then I think historical fantasy is more accurate depiction. It places far less pressure on everyone to “get it right” and avoids all those arguments about how no one can know really know about history because historical accounts themselves are inaccurate.

    Creating a new sub genre label for all those books that are historical fantasies rather than historical romance sets the proper reader expectations as well. Readers going in will know that what they encounter in books isn’t real history and thus won’t look dumb when they try to assert a “fact” that they read in a romance book (which only serves to make them and the genre look bad). Further, readers won’t feel misled by all the historical inaccuracies. Instead, they can just “go with the flow”.

    As one commenter upthread said, mistorical doesn’t need to be a perjorative. Instead it can be used to describe any historical fantasy. I’d label Julie Garwood’s books as mistoricals. Wonderful, keeper books but pretty poor on the historical accuracy. Connie Brockway is another one who has a very modern voice but whose early mistoricals are favorites of mine. I’m all for the term “mistorical” and will be using it myself.

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  26. Maili
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 13:19:26

    @Jane: I was typing up my response when you posted yours. I second everything you said there, especially the first and second paragraphs.

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  27. L.K. Rigel
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 13:21:47

    dammit. I hate when I spell something wrong in public.

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  28. Kim
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 13:35:50

    I usually like for books to be historically accurate, but in a romance novel, I don’t mind if there are a couple of errors. In JAL’s books, I tend to be more concerned with the errors in grammar and sentence structure. That said, I do like the term you coined.

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  29. cayenne
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 13:36:47

    Susanna Fraser said:

    I see what you’re saying, but I’ve been (rightly or wrongly) calling alternative history with fantasy elements like Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series historical fantasy all this time, so it would confuse me to see it applied to a historical romance unless there was a dragon or wizard in there somewhere. :-)

    I would agree with this definition; in it, I place more emphasis on the fantasy element than the historical. I would also add Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s St Germain books, which are vampire stories, to this group, as well as most of Guy Gavriel Kay’s oeuvre, in which he duplicates a real historical period to an impressive extent, then just slightly twists it into a fantasy setting.

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  30. Janine
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 13:39:57

    @Susanna Fraser:

    I’ve been (rightly or wrongly) calling alternative history with fantasy elements like Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series historical fantasy all this time, so it would confuse me to see it applied to a historical romance unless there was a dragon or wizard in there somewhere. :-)

    This confusion between genres is the problem I see with the “historical fantasy” term — I would expect magic or fantasy creatures from a book labeled that way.

    Also, “historical fantasy” does not get across that there is a romance or a HEA in the book, and that is something some of us need to know before we buy.

    I’m not sure what the right term is but I agree there is a need for a separate label. As a reader I want to know if I should absorb history lessons from a novel. As a writer I do research but still sometimes get things wrong.

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  31. Las
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 13:41:13

    @Jane:
    Readers going in will know that what they encounter in books isn’t real history and thus won’t look dumb when they try to assert a “fact” that they read in a romance book (which only serves to make them and the genre look bad).

    Putting it that way makes me more enthusiastic for the mistorical label, since I’m not convinced that many readers who complain about historical inaccuracies haven’t learned their history from historical romances to begin with!

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  32. L.K. Rigel
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 13:44:43

    @Janine:

    I’ve labeled my newest historical fantasy because it’s set in an alternative universe with fairies and witches somewhat recognizable as present day and 10th century Cornwall. I wouldn’t want people to expect ahistorical tons and ballgowns from a “historical fantasy” label.

    edited to add: maybe I should call it historical fantasy romance

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  33. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 13:48:53

    I think nitpicking is for the author, editor and critiquer to do. Why should it lie on the reader’s shoulders?
    I read lots of books where I know nothing about the background, but I find I enjoy it when it “feels” right. I recently read a Harlequin set in the world of the racing driver, for instance, and there were more details than usual, which I really loved, because they added to the depth of the book. Racing drivers? I don’t even drive, but the book had an added something because, when I looked up the author, she’d had experience in the field.
    So all the nitpicking should be done before the book gets on the shelves. I’m sorry it isn’t.
    And I’ve read books where the details aren’t what they should be, but I’ve loved them anyway. Kleypas’s “The Devil in Winter” springs to mind. That’s definitely a historical fantasy, but I didn’t care, because I loved the story. But I’d love to know, going in, if the author is playing with history or is really into it.
    I have noticed that readers are a lot pickier about books set in the American historical background. Something else I know little about.
    The language – one of my all-time favourite TV series is “Deadwood.” Apparently the cursing is sometimes anachronistic – I wouldn’t know, but it worked so well in that series, and expressed the characters and the background, that, well, who the hell cares? But some people did, very much, until the writer explained his reasoning.

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  34. SabrinaDarby
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:05:21

    @Jane: “won’t look dumb when they try to assert a “fact” that they read in a romance book”

    I’m a little disturbed by the idea that we need to somehow protect the romance reader from looking stupid.

    Even as a child, when I read historical romance, I knew that it was fiction and I read the encyclopedia afterward to separate out fact from fiction.

    That being said, I think it’s appropriate for reviews to comment on historical accuracy if that is a topic important to the reviewer.

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  35. Jane
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:18:33

    @SabrinaDarby So if an author presents something in her historical fiction and the reader believes the depiction to be historically accurate, it’s the reader’s fault? I’m a little disturbed by that. There is a difference between protecting the reader from looking stupid (i.e., don’t pay all your bills because some rich guy will fall for you and sweep you off to his island off the coast of Italy) to depicting something that is inaccurate and asking the reader to discern which depictions are accurate and which are not. This is an area wherein the author has to take responsibility because to many readers the term “historical” actually means something.

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  36. Jessica
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:35:17

    Jane_L wrote, “As one commenter upthread said, mistorical doesn’t need to be a perjorative.”

    I can see that, but since the prefix “mis” has a pretty negative connotation in the English language (usually synonymous for mistakenly, wrongly, incorrectly, etc. ), perhaps the label for this new category of romance should be reconsidered.

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  37. Pat
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:41:02

    I would like to say that historical accuracy matters to me, but in practice it doesn’t always. It matters a great deal when I am not particularly enjoying a book in the first place and some piece of historical idiocy or totally anachronistic language knocks me out of the story completely. It doesn’t matter at all when I am so engrossed in the tale that Sir Launcelot could drive up in a Rolls Royce and I wouldn’t notice.
    I think historical inaccuracy bothers most to me when the plot is based on something that just isn’t so, like a duke deciding to have his bastard inherit the title.
    So all things considered, I do like the idea of mistorical romance, assuming it comes with explanation.

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  38. Sunita
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:41:35

    I love “mistorical” but I can see why authors wouldn’t be as keen. I came up with “historical mashup” and “historical lite” when I did a taxonomy a while ago, but they aren’t as catchy.

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  39. SabrinaDarby
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:45:40

    @Jane: I think it’s a very fine, gray line here and one that certainly isn’t precise. And it refers back to that sliding scale of accuracy. I expect an author to do her or his best to be as historically accurate as possible in a historical romance. And as a reader, I tend to expect the fiction book that I am picking up to be exactly that, with the fiction part taking precedence unless real historical characters are used.

    Kinda like reality tv… I’m expecting the essence of the truth, not the truth.

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  40. Joy
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:46:45

    Maybe mythstorical romance because it has more myths than facts?

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  41. Maili
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:48:39

    @Jessica: In that case, how about ‘ahistorical’? Quite popular with film reviewers and film critics alike. Wikipedia: Ahistoricism

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  42. Annabel
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:48:47

    Both of my historicals were labeled “historical fantasies” because I write BDSM, and there was really no way to write the naughtiness and shenanigans I wanted to and still make it historically accurate. But I doubt readers open up a historical BDSM novel expecting anything but fantasy? I’m not sure. About the closest thing I ever read to BDSM placed in true historical context was Lisa Valdez’s Patience, and I giggled through that whole thing. I mean, it was hot, but it didn’t feel historically “real” to me for one moment. But, I played along with the author because the content was arousing to me.

    I do think “mistorical” sounds a little perjorative for authors who are intentionally, for story or genre purposes, departing from historical accuracy. Maybe something like fanta-storical? Ugh. That is an ugly word.

    But “mistorical” sounds like someone intended for something to be historically accurate and missed the mark.

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  43. Seeley deBorn
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 14:51:46

    Considering that it was bemoaned earlier that Heyer is being used as a source for historical accuracy, it seems that it’s already been agreed that asserting facts read in historical romances is not a good idea.

    Fiction should never be cited as a source for fact, regardless of how “accurate” anyone claims it to be. That really is dumb.

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  44. jmc
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 15:11:10

    One of the more perplexing issues for me around historical accuracy, though, is exemplified by the nature of the Regency Romance and the extent to which accuracy seems to be partially defined by genre progenitors like Jane Austen or foremothers like Georgette Heyer. In fact, the extent to which books like Heyer’s are now viewed as historical sources themselves demonstrates how muddy the concept of “historical accuracy” can be for a period like the Regency, which has much more significance and endurance in the genre than it does generally.

    I’ve always been perplexed by genre romance’s view of Heyer as the authority on the Regency. While she can legitimately be called the mother of a subgenre, being the first to write a sizeable collection of fiction set within the period does not necessarily confer accuracy in her scholarship or knowledge of the period. While I’ve read a few of her books and found them mildly enjoyable, nothing about them or about her history/scholarship screams “authority” to me; even less so as I’ve gradually read more history of the period. That’s not a knock on her writing or her ability to build a consistent world through out her catalog of Regency-set books, just a query about how/what authority we as readers attribute to Heyer (and Austen, although once again, I don’t think she was writing genre romance or intended to be taken for an authority on her time).

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  45. Jane
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 15:24:17

    @Seeley deBorn The word “fiction” doesn’t absolve authors of the responsibility to be accurate as possible, particularly if they are rendering their books with a certain patina of historical authenticity. I don’t think a reader is dumb if she says that she learned that forks were used in the medeival period or champagne glasses during the Georgian period even if both are historically inaccurate (but used in historical romances). When I am reading a historical romance, my first assumption isn’t that everything there is historically inaccurate. In fact, I want it to be historically accurate. I want to believe that the depictions of the characters, the societal constraints, the dresses, and the carriages, and the activities are true to the period. Why shouldn’t I? Why does that make me dumb?

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  46. Stephanie Dray
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 15:40:25

    I’m an author of historical fantasy. Though my novels are based on the true life story of Cleopatra’s daughter, they are injected with magic realism and the mysticism of ancient Isis worship. That said, I spend a lot of time and effort trying to get the history right. (I’ve even contemplated rotting shellfish in my backyard to reproduce the process by which the ancients made purple dye.)

    I think my responsibility is met, however, by my author’s note at the end of the book explaining changes and choices I’ve made. I also have a blooper’s section on my website for that dark day when I discover that, say, lavender doesn’t bloom in Algeria in the season that I said it did.

    At any rate, I hope the term ‘historical fantasy’ is not adopted to describe historical romances that some readers feel lack authenticity.

    By the same token, I’m not fond of mistorical either as it seems quite pejorative to me. Moreover, the label is bound to be used by folks who are wrong about the historical accuracy of a book. (Even Publisher’s Weekly mistakenly attacked the historicity of Courtney Milan’s work.)

    Historical-Lite seems to be the best compromise because it can encompass both good and bad works of that nature. HBO’s Rome and Showtimes The Tudors were both riddled with errors, but both richly deserved their commercial success. It seems to me almost all historical romances in which love is the primary motivation for marriage are innately inaccurate, but we all draw our lines differently and there’s nothing wrong with that. Historical fiction doesn’t have to be good for you. It’s not like fiber.

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  47. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 15:43:10

    This could interest those of you who can go:
    http://www.history.ac.uk/historical-fiction
    A conference on the history in fiction. I’d love to go, But over here at least, there’s a bit of a sneering attitude form some “straight” history writers to writers of historical romance. I wonder why?
    I’d skip the Alison Weir plenary.
    http://www.history.ac.uk/historical-fiction

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  48. Lslcw
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 15:52:32

    I love this discussion and the thoughtful comments – thanks to everyone participating.
    FWIW, as a historian of 19th and early 20th century America, I have (what I think are) idiosyncratic thresholds for historical romances. Unless someone is driving a Mercedes through St. James Park, I don’t mind a little anachronism in an otherwise well-done Regency. If a Georgian heroine throws a baseball through a window, I mind – otherwise, not so much. However, once we move into my own field, my filters go up. I think I am so invested in untangling and understanding the complexities I work within that glossing them over pushes too many buttons. The “new” Lisa Kleypas re-release was in my hand until I saw its American setting. I have left other books on the shelf or put them down unfinished because I couldn’t get past problems with portrayals of race, gender, politics, expansion, or other issues that I deal with every day.
    What about other folks?

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  49. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 16:06:59

    Actually your Georgian girl could have thrown a baseball through a window. Jane Austen has characters playing baseball, although it appears more like the English rounders than the American version.

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  50. Lslcw
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 16:14:44

    @Lynne – yep, I was thinking a nice, well-stitched, clean, white baseball in the modern American style.

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  51. Robin/Janet
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 16:41:31

    Thanks for all of the great comments, everyone! I have some substantive responses I need to think a bit more about, but one thing I wanted to comment on is the “pejorative” nature of mistorical. For me, it’s no more pejorative (much less, in fact), than “wallpaper historical,” although YMMV. As for readers getting it “wrong,” it happens now, although often it seems to turn into more of a debate between individuals about specific points. Sometimes the author is wrong, and sometimes the reader is wrong. And as we saw with Phoenix Sullivan’s comments, she’s kept pretty strong to her insistence that she’s writing authentic history, so I’m not sure any term is going to be more or less offensive to someone who is convinced they got it right.

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  52. Jo
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 16:55:18

    Striving for historical accuracy is a goal, but the relationship is still the thing. In the accuracy department, sometimes (often, actually) I don’t know what I don’t know. That blind spot keeps me from looking up something I should have. Starting out ignorant, and embracing it, works better in terms of learning new things and weaving those elements into the story. I’m comfortable with mistorical because I figure I always get something wrong. It’s still fiction, and I kinda like to make stuff up. I’m more likely to be yanked from the page by dialogue that screams 21st century than someone serving a potato at a medieval banquet before potatoes were common fare. And while I’m thinking about, that dialogue problem isn’t confined to historicals. I just read a popular contemporary thriller author (used to write romance) and discovered dialogue so stilted and overly dramatic that it read like the dialogue frames from silent movie days. All that was missing was the piano music.

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  53. Jessica
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 16:59:57

    @Robin/Janet: “one thing I wanted to comment on is the “pejorative” nature of mistorical. For me, it’s no more pejorative (much less, in fact), than “wallpaper historical,” although YMMV. ”

    Mine does, and I’ll try to explain. I am newer to romance than so many here, but when I hear “wallpaper historical” I think “lightly applied” or “thin” or “not full of detail.” I don’t think “mistaken.” I also don’t assume the author has failed in some aim (for example, to offer thick descriptions of a historical period). If she doesn’t have the goal of doing more than barely sketching Regency England, that’s ok with me. So, to me, “wallpaper historical” is not a criticism, but a description.

    Honestly, I’m still confused by what work the term “mistorical” is supposed to be doing, and I look forward to more discussion.

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  54. DM
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 17:20:30

    I’m a writer and I love this term because I think it’s useful for describing a whole gamut of problems that “wallpaper historical” doesn’t really cover. I’m not worried about it being pejorative–in fact I think it describes perfectly what Publisher’s Weekly did to Courtney Milan–they applied mistorical standards to her work.

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  55. Lizzy
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 17:40:14

    I also support this new term, owing to the fact that I love a.) history and b.) mist.

    But I sense that’s not exactly what is meant here.

    Hey, may I suggest a coining of a similar word: Mythorical? It’s kind of like when you make a historical mistake (mistorical), but it’s really just because your tale is based in myth? Not to be confused with mythological, since that’s a real word that people use in their scholarly discourses and stuff.

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  56. Seeley deBorn
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 17:49:49

    @Jane Wanting historical fiction to be accurate doesn’t make you dumb. Could you please point out where I said that it does?

    Maybe you didn’t understand what I meant when I said “Fiction should never be cited as a source for fact, regardless of how ‘accurate’ anyone claims it to be. That really is dumb.”

    To clarify: Readers (and writers) citing fictional works as sources of fact without verifying the accuracy of the information is dumb and, on the part of authors, lazy. Why? Because if fiction was full of fact, you wouldn’t have had to make this tag or post in the first place.

    When you, I, readers, editors, reviewers, and the rest of the romancelandia no longer have to complain about inaccuracies and anachronisms, or tag posts with special tags specifically designed to point out that the story isn’t factual in its representation of the era in which it occurs, I’ll recant. Until then, no one should be citing romance novels as sole sources of historical fact.

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  57. Jane
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 18:12:41

    @Seeley deBorn Who said anything about citing romances novels as “sole sources of historical fact”?

    You said

    “Considering that it was bemoaned earlier that Heyer is being used as a source for historical accuracy, it seems that it’s already been agreed that asserting facts read in historical romances is not a good idea. Fiction should never be cited as a source for fact, regardless of how “accurate” anyone claims it to be. That really is dumb.”

    in reply to my comment

    Readers going in will know that what they encounter in books isn’t real history and thus won’t look dumb when they try to assert a “fact” that they read in a romance book (which only serves to make them and the genre look bad)

    I’ve heard readers say that they learned historical fact a, b, and c from romance novels. That’s what I am talking about. And when they say that and then make a factual assertion based on something they read in a “historical romance” and they are wrong, it makes the reader and the genre look dumb. I’m not talking about a researched paper. I’m talking about the conversations that individuals have with other individuals. I don’t think it is dumb for readers to do this. I think it is bad that we have a sub genre passed off as historical when it is often nothing more than a costume drama where even the clothes are hardly accurate.

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  58. Las
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 18:13:05

    Thinking after reading some of the comments I can definitely see why “mistorical” can read as pejorative. It was coined by reviewers who really dislikes inaccuracies in historical romances, after all. And the nature of the internets being what it is I can easily imagine it being used as a condemnation, with flame wars breaking out all over the place because of what appears to be a hierarchy in historical romance. I mean, many reviewers all over the web give lower grades just because of (alleged) inaccuracies, so it’s a fair assumption that if they use the word “mistorical” to describe a book they’re being insulting. Not that it’s an accurate assumption, but it’s not an unreasonable one.

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  59. Linda Hilton
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 18:16:14

    Mistake. Misogyny. Misconstrue. Misunderstanding. Mislaid. Misremembered.

    I think “mistorical” will easily be taken by the wider reading public as pejorative, and I think that will do a serious disservice to everyone involved.

    Readers and reviewers may get the wrong things wrong. Editors may insist on changes that create errors. Authors sometimes have access to information that may not be readily available to the general public but be accused of “mistory” when in fact they were 100% accurate.

    If a reviewer requires that all historical novels — romances or not — be 100% accurate (by whose accuracy?), I think that’s a standard impossible to achieve. Should the author have to footnote her or his novel stating “I know there’s really no such street as Overlake Court in 1864 Chicago. . . .I made it up” to avoid being accused of inaccuracy?

    How many Dukes and Earls and Marquesses are “inaccurate” because those particular titles never existed?

    If an author writes of a ball at the Brighton Pavilion on such and such a date and someone comes along and says, “Nope, never happened, Prinny was at Windsor that week-end,” do we condemn the book as “mistorical”??

    Where’s the room for imagination in this straitjacket?

    I’m all for historical accuracy. I chimed in on the subject when it was that pseudo-Arthurian mishmash. I threw a book against a wall when characters were speculating about the outcome of the presidential election of 1879, and the one that had orchids flown from Brazil to New York for a party in 1876, and the one that had the screw-up over who was heir to Edward IV. These are pretty obvious things, to me. But for the reader who never catches those flubs and enjoys the story anyway? Is she to be looked down upon because she misread something, or misquoted it, or mislearned it?

    But if reviewers are going to nitpick whether blackberries ripen in late June or early July in southern Michigan, whether the color of a Georgian ballgown can accurately be described as magenta or cerise, whether the Victorian suicide note could have been written with a fountain pen. . .. that strikes me as unnecessarily petty, especially if one single mistake is enough to get the book labeled “mistorical” by someone who may herself have made a mistake.

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  60. Jane
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 18:17:03

    @Jessica Everyone is free to apply their own definition but the way in which I’ll be using it here at DA (and I do most of the tagging) will be to any historical that has historical anachronisms if mentioned in the review.

    We’d all be better off if romance historicals weren’t marketed as historicals but rather fantasy romance fiction set in a historical time period but since a) that is never going to happen and b) it is far too long, then I’m happy with mistorical.

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  61. L.K. Rigel
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 18:18:06

    How about “historical-ish”

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  62. Annabel
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 18:33:53

    HistoricPunk

    Steamistoricals

    Historimagoricals

    And my fave for Historicals that miss the mark: “Hystericals”

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  63. Lynne Connolly
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 18:45:14

    You see, if a Georgian ballgown was described as magenta or cerise, that would shoot me out of the story tout suite. Because the mental image that conveys is so wrong, it bursts out of the page.
    Not at you, maybe, but at me. Which is one reader lost.
    And isn’t that one of the points? That all the readers who know a bit about history and want to be able to trust the author are going away and won’t come back?
    I would read the inaccurate books if they didn’t claim accuracy, and I’d be able to relax into the book.
    There is no such thing as 100% accuracy, and that kind of inflammatory language and stance doesn’t help any discussion of the topic. As I said above, why should the reader have to take this burden? I have wasted a lot of money and a lot of hours on books that didn’t satisfy me because they weren’t, as described, historical romances. Not even close. I would love some distinction to tell me if the the book I’m looking at is really historical or not. If it recreates a past age for me.
    And yes, I want accuracy, and I want some attempt at a recreation of an age long gone. I’m not ashamed of that, nor do I think it’s unreasonable to ask it.
    I like historipunk! It sounds hot.

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  64. Seeley deBorn
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 18:55:30

    @Jane I imagine these readers also cite CSI when discussing criminology, and Dexter for psychology.

    Authors bend history on purpose to suit their stories. It’s often called “artistic license” and I’ve seen authors outright state that they’ve used it: an acknowledged anachronistic piece of furniture included because it emphasized the theme of the story.

    She purposefully misrepresented the facts for the sake of the fiction.

    Publishers obviously don’t care about this sort of thing or her book wouldn’t have made it into Harlequin’s line up. The idea of a completely accurate historical romance is a lovely one, but a piece of fiction in and of itself.

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  65. Sherry Thomas
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 19:20:24

    This is nerve-wrecking.

    It is actually easier, when you know you don’t know something or aren’t sure about the depth of your knowledge. Then you can go look it up. And if you can’t find anything on it, avoid it altogether.

    But we all have these blind spots, aspect of our knowledge we do not question. And then sometimes we are dead wrong about stuff we thought we knew.

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  66. Lynn
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 19:49:06

    I’m with Susanna Fraser in that the term “historical fantasy” to me means a historical with dragons or elves or other fantastical creatures.
    I also think that “mistorical” could be construed as a pejorative term. Maybe as a number of others have suggested — historical lite or lite historical??

    As with a number of other commenters, if the story and characters grab me, I can handle some historical mistakes. If something really bugs me, I can always look it up to see how accurate it is. If the author was wrong, will that stop me from finishing the book?– No, if I am invested in the characters. Taking Julie Garwood as an example — is she historically accurate — absolutely not — but, all of her books are on my keeper shelf!

    But, I do hold authors who state publically that they try to be 100% accurate to a higher standard — if you are going to proclaim that, you had better deliver.
    Lynn

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  67. Jane
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 19:53:42

    @Seeley deBorn I’m not sure what you are arguing but I don’t see anything wrong with asking authors who write “historical romance” to try to be as authentic and accurate as possible. I’ve never argued for a completely accurate historical romance but I have argued that romances that only give lip service to historicism be classified as a historical fantasy romance or, here at DA, mistorical.

    I’m not sure if you are intentionally misrepresenting what I’m arguing or I’m simply not being clear enough so I will give you the benefit of the doubt and try to be as clear as possible:

    1) Applying a different label that historical to romances set in the 19th C and before can provide authors freedom to not be bound by historical authenticity. Knowing this readers will not have expectations that the depictions in the books are accurate and will not deem the book to provide anything but a few hours of entertainment.

    2) Applying historical romances to books, regardless of whether they be romps or drama, that are researched and presented as authentic as possible and period appropriate will reward those authors who are trying to present the period as accurately as possible. Knowing this readers can appreciate the historical detail as well as the romance story itself.

    Providing a different label that “historical” actually frees authors up to world build as they want and it provides readers with a better set of expectations. This lends itself to creating more credibility with the reader and the genre overall.

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  68. Las
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 19:55:55

    @Sherry Thomas: But we all have these blind spots, aspect of our knowledge we do not question. And then sometimes we are dead wrong about stuff we thought we knew.
    That is exactly why I often find a lot of the debates about historical accuracy in romance novels frustrating. It’s also why I’ve gone from indifferent-to-slightly-amused at the “mistorical” tag to disliking the idea in the space of a few hours. So will reviewers now only review historicals that take place in periods they’ve extensively studied? And why stop at historicals? Why not have special tags for inaccurate details in other subgenres, like suspense, medical, Navy SEAL, sports, etc?

    To be clear, I’m not saying it’s wrong for readers to dislike books with such inaccuracies…there are plenty of books that I’ve disliked solely because I’m too knowledgeable about particular topic for me to just go with the story. But when it comes to historicals, there’s this tone in the online community suggesting that authors are somehow lying to readers when they write historicals that that haven’t been proofread by someone with a PhD in Regency. And I think this is exclusively a problem of the online romance community, specifically bloggers and authors. I highly doubt that the average readers are reading historical romance with the expectation of accuracy.

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  69. Linda Hilton
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 20:19:25

    @Las: What you said.

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  70. Jane
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 20:23:41

    @Las I’d argue that the average reader thinks that the historical is accurate. I know that I did. I had no idea that Julie Garwood’s depictions of Scottish highlanders were so very wrong. I’m glad I know now that they aren’t accurate and I don’t enjoy them any less. But I’ve heard many a reader exclaim that they learned x, y, z from a historical romance book they’ve read.

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  71. rebyj
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 20:26:55

    I consider myself an average reader. I have a rural Kentucky education from 30 something years ago so inaccuracy in historical fiction has to be glaring for me to pick up on it. Usually it’s only noticeable to me in speech. An “ok” or other slang used before it’s time. Or Ben Franklin meeting Leonardo Divinci and similar outrageous lifetime differences.

    I do appreciate author’s notes at the end of books that explain liberties they may have taken.

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  72. Deb Kinnard
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 20:30:24

    I struggled with this one in my time-travel book. Granted, time-travel is itself a fantasy or speculative element, but once my traveler landed in mid fourteenth century England, I wanted to get it “right” as much as possible.

    Enter my publisher, who insisted that the upper classes just after the Pestilence did not speak French but English! We batted it back and forth for a bit, and I went back to historians and source documents. For every citation I found that claimed they preferred French, I found another that claimed they’d transitioned to English.

    Just one example–”getting it right” is not always as cut and dried as it might appear. That said, I wanted to get as close as possible. For every historical era our readers love, there are experts who will rightly expect to trust we haven’t made egregious mistakes. I for one will try at all times not to violate that trust.

    As far as Heyer, one of my writing club-mates insists that she included certain details knowing they were inaccurate, for reasons of her own. Who knows how many people “know” Heyer’s facts to be true, even if she wrote them intentionally to be miscues?

    I’d feel “mistorical” would be pejorative if applied to one of my books. At least I don’t have the English sailing from the east coast into the Irish Sea as one multi-pubbed author wrote…

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  73. Robin/Janet
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 20:56:34

    @Jessica: But you’re assuming that authors *intend* that painted on effect and that they would not, even if they did intend it, find the term “wallpaper” offensive. After witnessing (and even participating in) some pretty gnarly debates about both of these things, I can’t share those assumptions.

    @Las: Correct me if I’m wrong, but here’s what I hear you saying: we should cut authors a break for historical errors, but we shouldn’t cut readers a break for identifying them.

    Why not have special tags for inaccurate details in other subgenres, like suspense, medical, Navy SEAL, sports, etc?

    Give us time…

    And I think this is exclusively a problem of the online romance community, specifically bloggers and authors. I highly doubt that the average readers are reading historical romance with the expectation of accuracy.

    I think it’s more the opposite, in fact. I cannot tell you how many women I’ve talked to who haven’t a clue what’s going on with the online Romance community but who read the genre and absolutely think they’re reading about REAL history. These aren’t stupid, ignorant women, either.

    I’m not surprised the mistorical term is controversial. After all, I still remember people not wanting what Cassie Edwards did labeled plagiarism. And I sympathize with those authors (a couple who have commented here) who really do the research and who might feel self-conscious with such a term. Sadly, it’s often those who are perfectionists who worry about being called out for stuff they’ll never be called out for.

    But if you’re confident in the good faith of authors in not misusing historical anachronisms, why not be confident in the good faith of readers and reviewers not to apply the term to every book that isn’t 100% historically pristine?

    @Jo: Look, you even have an avatar! ;D

    @Lynne Connolly: As I said above, why should the reader have to take this burden?

    Precisely! And I think the fact that readers feel we often DO have that burden has a lot to do with why the issue is so frustrating to many of us. If I read a book set in a period I have very little knowledge of, IMO that doesn’t exempt the author from responsibility for getting it right, just because I may not notice the mistakes. Although I persistently feel that’s exactly what I’m being told I should expect.

    I have nothing against books that make a muck of history, that have no interest in historical context and details, and I think it can be brilliant when an author can *use* history for a different or larger purpose, as in Steampunk. But that’s not, IMO, Historical Romance.

    I’ve been vacillating between smiling and frowning over the perception that readers have unreasonable expectations about historical authenticity, because for the most part I don’t think we go past the surface in recognizing and calling out errors in so many of the books we read. And I don’t think the vast, vast majority of us are looking for perfection by any stretch. I think we’re looking for a sense of respect for history and a respect for history as a character and a vital part of the worldbuilding in HR. That HR is perceived to be a strong seller tends to raise my cynicism, too, especially when I feel a story could have been set anywhere and that the pseudo-historical setting adds virtually nothing to the character of the book.

    @Sunita: I think @DM said it really well, but one issue I have with “lite” as a catch-all is that it really only suggests a light hand with history, not anachronistic or mashed up or faux or other absences or historicity in a book. I mean, mistorical can as easily mean “missing history” as “mistaken history” without the need for a lot of extra terminology, IMO.

    @Joy: All periods cannot be known perfectly because there is actually a lot we don’t know about history.

    I used to find this argument a lot more persuasive, but I’ve kind of gotten to the point where I feel like the vast majority of what Romance tackles is well-trod ground with enough primary and secondary research available to render the historical moment with a fair amount of accuracy and authenticity.

    And while I realize that historians like Dhympna might object to my use of the word “accuracy” as an “imprecise” word, I like it for reference to dates, historical persons, places, etc., whereas I like authenticity to refer to those elements that provide atmosphere. And yes, those things might be more subject to interpretation. But if something is plausible, and the author provides a note to indicate that, readers can follow along, IMO. I mean, look at what we cooperatively swallow that ISN’T accurate in an objectively known sense right now?

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  74. Evangeline Holland
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 21:13:56

    I feel there are many layers to this debate. The Regency world as created by Georgette Heyer is very appealing for both readers and writers–there are a clear-cut set of rules, manners, and mores to follow, and Heyer added just enough history to her setting so that it appears as close to the real Regency era as possible. IMHO, once we move outside of “Regency England,” historicals tend to fall into an alternate historical universe.

    When a book is set in 1813, Prinny may make an appearance, the characters may visit Almack’s, and the threat of Napoleon’s invasion is in the forefront of their minds. Contrast that with a book set in 1853–the author may mention Queen Victoria and possibly railroads, but we have no other “cultural” or “social” markers so to speak, which delineate the mid Victorian era as clearly and memorably as with the Regency period. However, because the (Heyer) Regency period is so familiar, it’s much easier to slip into the romance, which makes it appear that we are glutted with wallpaper historicals.

    In turn, I think many authors of Georgians, Victorians, etc transfer those (Heyer) Regency tropes into 1745 or 1867 because the historical background in a Regency appears so subtle, it’s actually quite awkward and jarring to have to explain London in 1867 rather than just getting on with the romance. Ergo, the existence of the “mistorical” or “ahistorical”. Basically, for those of us who write outside of Regency England, there are no rules or boundaries, yet as I write, I sometimes feel self-conscious of the unfamiliarity of my chosen setting and have to work extra hard to not info-dump.

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  75. Pat
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 21:26:55

    @Lynne Connolly:
    I think sometimes people, whether critics or readers,can get a bit too picky. I know there were no aniline dyes in the Georgian period, but I have seen paintings in which trimmings and embroidery at least were a color I would call cerise. That is not the sort of “error” that would bother me.
    For that matter, I know that not everyone in the Regency period considered Napoleon a monster and Wellington a hero. There were a fair number of people, even in England, who thought just the opposite. But I would give an author a pass on that simply because that could well be the general opinion in the group of people she is talking about.
    I recently read a book set in the Regency in which a character was charged two shillings for a glass of lemonade at an inn. Now I could not tell you precisely what the cost of lemonade was then, but that struck me as awfully high. It didn’t make me toss the book, but it did tell me not to pay too much attention to prices in this book.
    Is something like that enough to consign a book to mistory? (And yes, it does sound pejorative, but I can’t think of an alternative that doesn’t sound worse.) I would hope not.

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  76. Jill Myles
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 21:27:49

    Haha – I totally vote for BodicePunk.

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  77. Las
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 21:50:05

    @Robin/Janet:
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but here’s what I hear you saying: we should cut authors a break for historical errors, but we shouldn’t cut readers a break for identifying them.

    No, not at all. In fact, I stated that I understand disliking a story because of inaccuracies in whatever subject a reader knows about, because I’ve been there. What I don’t understand are readers–particularly bloggers, because I don’t count writers of big blogs like DA as average readers–who appear to be outraged that complete historical accuracy isn’t a top priority for authors. I’m not talking about major errors that someone who never studied history beyond what’s required in U.S. high schools would notice–those deserve a call-out. But small details that some bloggers use their platform to lecture us about…really?

    I cannot tell you how many women I’ve talked to who haven’t a clue what’s going on with the online Romance community but who read the genre and absolutely think they’re reading about REAL history. These aren’t stupid, ignorant women, either.

    But that’s a completely separate issue. It’s one thing for people who actually know history to dislike inaccuracies in romance…I get that up to a certain point, and, unless I’m misunderstanding, they’re the audience for the “mistorical” tag. It’s another issue entirely for people who don’t know history thinking they’re getting an accurate history lesson from fiction. I would argue that that’s the epitome of ignorance and if you’re concerned about them several posts explaining what fiction is and what it’s not, as well as the definition of “creative license” would be a good idea. Unless every review of a “mistorical” is going to correct every single inaccuracy in the book I don’t buy the claim that the new tag is meant to help those readers.

    But if you’re confident in the good faith of authors in not misusing historical anachronisms, why not be confident in the good faith of readers and reviewers not to apply the term to every book that isn’t 100% historically pristine?

    Because this is the internet? And I’ve seen enough nit-picking over this issue to have my doubts? Though I’m always happy to be proven wrong about my cynicism.

    And honestly, this isn’t about the “good faith of authors” at all. It’s more about what looks to me like outrage over inaccuracies, as if authors are deliberately trying to piss people off. It’s over-the-top.

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  78. Lynn S.
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 21:56:18

    Theme Tuesday and even the poor polar bear is inaccurate. It’s snowman, not penguin, silly bear.

    I’ll start by saying that greedy me enjoys historical depth and context in historical romances but I’m happy enough if I’m being provided with emotional authenticity and characters that aren’t wildly anachronistic. As the genre stands now, unless an author is using historical authenticity as a selling point for their book, I think readers are best served by viewing a historical romance as imaginative interpretation.

    Historicity is clear cut in meaning but I’m not as clear on the way historicism is being used in both of the posts today. My understanding of historicism is as a philosophical concept which at its root is about the idea that human events and endeavors are directly related to and should be viewed within their historical context in order to be fully understood. With regard to fiction, this would seem to have more to do with inauthentic characterization than historical fact checking. My view of historicism actually speaks to what I would prefer in historical romance: characters in a particular setting, being who they are in part because of past events (personal and historical), and reacting authentically to their current world and the events occurring within it. I think the Heyer/Austen effect on late Georgian historical romances would make for an interesting discussion of its own. Heyer as reference source is open for debate but Austen as contemporary source is also up for scrutiny—we all know that creative license is not the sole purview of historical fiction.

    Finally, please no more labels. No historical fantasy or historical fantasy romance. Fantasy speaks well enough if the history is fantasy as well. And I’m with Jessica and Linda Hilton on using mistorical. It’s clever and my mind leapt to mystorical when I first read it, but “mis” has a bad connotation and I don’t feel that setting up a term like mistorical for inclusion in the romance lexicon serves any good purpose.

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  79. Jane
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 22:18:07

    @Las I’m the epitome of ignorance then. When I first read historical romances, I did believe that they were depicting things accurately. Perhaps I was sucked in by the footnotes left by Susan Johnson in her historicals but yes, I believed the stuff written in historical romances were historically accurate. I had no idea that authors didn’t actually do research for these books or that their research were other romance books! If an author wrote historical romance, I assumed she was plenty familiar with the time period about which she wrote. Not sure why that is a completely ignorant thing to do but there you have it. I am a multidegreed professional that was the epitome of ignorance. I am no longer, as I have come to realize that historicity isn’t taken very seriously in the genre by broad swaths of readers and writers, but for a good 8 years or so I am sure that I was one of those grossly ignorant people.

    As Robin noted in her original post, we’ve often given very high marks to books that are historically inauthentic but the mistorical label does a service to readers. And we are reader focused after all.

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  80. Robin/Janet
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 22:58:01

    It’s one thing for people who actually know history to dislike inaccuracies in romance…I get that up to a certain point, and, unless I’m misunderstanding, they’re the audience for the “mistorical” tag. It’s another issue entirely for people who don’t know history thinking they’re getting an accurate history lesson from fiction.

    I don’t really understand the point of this distinction. Are you saying it’s better for someone to unconsciously assume (aka expect) that they’re getting accurate history in HR than for someone to actively question the history and actively expect accurate history?

    Regardless of what you’re getting at there, I find it telling that we’re still putting the onus for historicity on the READER and not the book itself. And if that’s going to continue to be the case, then I feel it’s even more important for me to have a label for books that IMO miss the HR mark.

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  81. Sunita
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 22:59:56

    @Las:

    It’s more about what looks to me like outrage over inaccuracies, as if authors are deliberately trying to piss people off. It’s over-the-top.

    I’m not in a position to speak for any of my fellow bloggers at DA, but I can assure you I’m not outraged. There was probably a time when I was, but it is long past. What I *am* is tired. I’m tired of author’s notes (and other supporting material) that appear designed to convince me that the author has done historical research and/or consulted experts, and then when I read the text it is full of egregious errors that should not have occurred if the author had done that research. As a reader, how am I supposed to reconcile this contradiction?

    I don’t go into every romance novel looking for mistakes, but when they hit me in the face, yes, I notice them. Am I supposed to *not* point them out when I review the book? If I am silent, then you have less knowledgeable readers thinking, thanks to the author’s notes (or the website that details the author’s research, or the blog tour chock full of historical research tidbits), that the historical material is reliable.

    I believe that authors who borrow other people’s history in order to write and sell their books have a responsibility to represent that history as faithfully and respectfully as they are able. When it comes to a lot of historical romance, we’re not dealing with motes, we’re dealing with beams.

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  82. Linda Hilton
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 23:21:40

    I wasn’t gonna post this, but then changed my mind and decided I would.

    If the tag “mistorical” will be used to mean > “quite literally, “mistaken historical.” In other words, it’s the tag we’re now going to be using to describe all manner of historically inauthentic and inaccurate books on the blog – a catchall term that can be used for books of any time period or any type of mistaken, misused, mythologized, missing, or otherwise inaccurately portrayed historicism,” I don’t see how it can be anything BUT pejorative.

    If it’s not intended to be pejorative, can you tell me when is “inauthentic” a compliment? When are you going to praise a book for its misused historicity? Which authors are going to quote your reviews that cite their (alleged) inaccuracies?

    Seems to me there’s no way to make MISTORICAL! mean something positive.

    What are the standards going to be? A single mistake that could have been corrected merely by looking it up on Wikipedia? Will that be enough to earn a book the label of “MISTORICAL!” What about the books with errors the reviewer didn’t catch? Do they get to skate? Or will books now only be reviewed by experts in that particular historic time period? Is accuracy more important than anything else? More important than good story? More important than engaging the reader’s emotions?

    What if the error isn’t crucial to the story? Say for example, a secondary character whose name is half a century too modern. Well, the author should have checked! Thumbs down, MISTORICAL! because the chambermaid’s name is anachronistic.

    Of course, if the reviewer enjoyed the book (subjective opinion) then errors don’t count, apparently. So Julie Garwood’s multitude of errors will be dismissed and she won’t be burdened with the pejorative MISTORICAL! because the reviewer likes her stories, but another unknown author who puts Fort Bridger on the prairies a year earlier than it really was gets MISTORICAL! branded on her literary forehead forever and ever and ever? If there’s nothing pejorative about the label, why not give it to Garwood as well as anyone else? Or is it because DA knows full well the term is pejorative and intends to use it to castigate some authors but not others?

    Personally, to me the term “historical romance” means a romance story set in some historical period prior to an arbitrary demarcation from “contemporary.” For some that distinction might be set at 1900 or 1945 (end of WW2) or even 1963 (assassination of JFK) or 1969 (Neil Armstrong on the moon, Woodstock). But whatever the marker is, I don’t think — and of course this is merely one person’s opinion — anyone can write a novel, romance or otherwise, that is 100% historically accurate. And to threaten authors with a MISTORICAL! branding if they should happen to get something (horror of horrors!) wrong, is unfair.

    I can’t read Garwood because of her inaccuracies, because those inaccuracies prevent me from suspending any other disbelief. I’ve thrown books against the wall because the authors got basic facts wrong or their Spanish was wrong or they don’t know how to get from Phoenix to Tucson on I-10 or whatever. My husband thought I was absolutely out of my ever lovin’ mind when I screamed at the TV because St. Ken Burns made big booboos on “Baseball” — and then guess what the headlines on the sports pages were the next day?

    I have no problem with a reviewer pointing out an author’s errors. I have no problem with a reviewer excoriating an author for apparent shoddy “research.” But I do have a problem with a review site arbitrarily and without any definition of standards labeling some books with a distinct pejorative MISTORICAL! and then saying it’s not pejorative.

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  83. Linda Hilton
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 23:25:59

    @Robin/Janet: I think you have a flip side issue to be wary of, however.

    If you start labeling things as inaccurate with this “catchall” MISTORICAL! are you also going to be telling readers which details are accurate, so they’ll at least learn something from their reading? Or should they simply assume EVERYTHING is inaccurate in a MISTORICAL! novel?

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  84. Unbiased Observer
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 23:27:10

    A good author will respect history. Labels like mistorical are for those who don’t.

    And a good author doesn’t need to tell readers how to label what they read.

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  85. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 00:04:19

    @Linda Hilton: I never argued that the term isn’t pejorative. My only comment on that particular point was that IMO it’s no more pejorative than “wallpaper historical,” which I think we can all agree is mainstream Rom vocabulary now. And people STILL argue over what that means. So let people argue over what mistorical means, too.

    And again, I think it’s so telling that READERS are being “labeled” as the problem here. Gah, that’s frustrating to me, and what started as a bit tongue in cheek for me (the mistorical label) has, through the course of this discussion, actually become quite seriously meaningful to me.

    It’s like Son of The Fourth Wall.

    What about the IMO huge issue I brought up in the second half of the post about how historical accuracy, especially in the Regency, seems to be defined by certain iconic authors? And more than that, there seems to be a pressure to read later books a certain way in order not to offend the iconic status of those authors? I understand that I’m biased here, but I see that as much more threatening to the integrity of the genre/subgenre, not to mention the reader-author community, than a review tag.

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  86. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 00:43:52

    @Robin/Janet:

    1. “Wallpaper historical” is still a subjective term, and accepted as such. It is not in and of itself a negative. In contrast, MISTORICAL! explicitly says “This author made MISTAKES and is therefore not trustworthy! Maybe she did it on purpose to fool you or maybe she’s just lazy or stupid, but SHE MADE MISTAKES! Bad author! Bad author!” And no, I’m not saying that tongue in cheek.

    2 The argument about Heyer and racism was not about the historical accuracy of her description of Goldhanger as a character (who might have lived) during the Regency but about her personal morality in including such a racist stereotype in the novel without qualification or mitigation, based on 2011′s readership’s knowledge of Heyer’s background and the historical timeframe in which The Grand Sophy was written and published. As far as I can recall, there was no argument about the historical accuracy. I think we all know that racial and gender stereotypes abound in literature and art; the discussion seemed to me to center around the appropriateness of Heyer’s use of the stereotype and how it affected some readers. I think that’s very very different from a discussion of whether or not “squash” could have been served at a 5th C. British banquet.

    3. As far as readers getting bad history from reading romances, I’m sure there are lots of other sources of misinformation out there in popular culture that will have much more direct impact on people’s lives than if they read a romance novel with a Regency heroine named Buffy. I haven’t seen anyone label readers here with the same kind of negative categorization as MISTORICAL! does to authors.

    And I guess that’s the real crux here for me — when you talk about labeling the books as MISTORICAL! what you really seem to be doing is labeling the author. You’re looking at a literary artifact and saying “This contains something that I believe to be an error and therefore the author must have made a mistake. Since I can’t call her a name without some risk to myself, I will instead transfer my anger at her to her book and call it MISTORICAL.”

    And again, you’re not setting any standards by which to judge mistoricalness/mistoricity. As Jodi Thomas pointed out, it’s one thing when an author doesn’t know the details and looks them up, but it’s another entirely when she honestly believes she “knows” something and then is found out to be wrong.

    Furthermore, tagging one book MISTORICAL! without any standards leaves all of that author’s other books, and indeed all books in the genre open to that allegation. Gee, just what we need, another negative term to go right along with the undead and undying “bodiceripper” to slam historical romances.

    Once again, I don’t think errors should go unnoted or unchallenged, not at all. But I don’t think the particular term MISTORICAL! and the way it’s proposed to be used here is a good way to highlight whatever the problem may be with the perceived inaccuracies found in some historical romances.

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  87. DM
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 00:50:08

    I think “mistorical” will easily be taken by the wider reading public as pejorative, and I think that will do a serious disservice to everyone involved.

    Um, so what?

    The romance genre will never earn the respect of the wider reading public if it isn’t willing to acknowledge that it is just like other genres. Some of it is bad, some of it is good, and some of it can stand with the best fiction in any aisle of the bookstore. Shrinking from pejorative terminology only indicates to the wider reading public that we are undiscriminating readers who cannot make distinctions between books that are vividly, authentically historical, and books that use a borrowed set of tropes cobbled together from tertiary sources.

    Science fiction was once where romance is now. It was published by specialized presses, marketed to one gender, and identified by a distinctive style of cover art that evolved over time. Today, outstanding science fiction is recognized as just plain good literature, it is read widely by both genders, and classic titles are optioned and re-optioned and adapted and remade by Hollywood ad finitum. Science fiction didn’t shrink from making distinctions that some authors no doubt felt were pejorative. Space opera was not always a flattering term. Hard science fiction was felt to be more authentic than soft science fiction. Readers gravitated to the best titles, soft or hard, space opera or earth bound dystopian, that suited their individual tastes. And those books broke out and found their way to the wider reading public.

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  88. Will Coe
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 03:44:54

    This topic is generating more steam than a Swedish sauna, which is perfectly appropriate for a concatenation of historical romance readers/writers.

    I don’t think we need the term ‘mistorical’ because it implies that ‘historical’ is a synonym for truthful. History is a belief system founded on the manipulation of verifiable events at which the historian-priest was not present. Historical fiction, romantic or not, merely owns up to the degree of invention. It’s a more evangelical church. If the historian and the histfic author can make me believe their word paintings then I’m equally happy with either. If I’m drawn slowly but lasciviously into the story of Sir Walter Ralegh tearing off Bess Throckmorton’s knickers and impregnating her against a tree to the tune of ‘Ooh, sweet Sir Walter, ooh, sweet Sir Walter’ then I’m ready to overlook the fact that genital coverings are a Tudor anachronism and that Walt was on the sodomy side of bi.

    I’m more likely to believe if the writer is a committed believer themselves. Which is where the painstaking research comes in. If the writer believes that they understand their historical period – and I’m presuming self awareness here – then they are well on the way to making a disciple of me. Unless there are howlers, I’ll gloss over any inaccuracies I happen to spot. Unless I’m looking for them. Which would mean I’m an egotripper. Something I try hard not to be.

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  89. KKJ
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 04:44:56

    As a virgin in this rational dissection of romance, I’ve been trying to distill my expectations and reactions to better justify my devotion to the genre. Discussions like this just reinforce my increasingly unhealthy obsession.

    To help future romance authors avoid Post-Mistorical Stress Disorder, here is Kelly’s Manifesto on Neo-Constructivist Romantical Historicism, backed by my one year of library grad school and self-proclaimed armchair historian status.

    Is the historical setting integral or incidental?

    If it’s integral to the characters and the plot, there’s absolutely an expectation of accuracy (insert an unsaid but implied DUH here).

    If the history is treated with respect and applied carefully, I probably won’t even notice the oops until a third or fourth reading. If I’m sucked into the story and invested in the characters, I couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether their carriage should have been a barouche instead of a landau.

    But do NOT hit me over the head with irrelevant trivia, archaic word usage or info-dumping to show off your mad research skillz, or you’ll be the next one purged from my Kindle.* The Spoil author’s defense of “fagging courage” is a perfect example. It might be technically correct, but it’s jarring and disruptive to my reading, so STFU.

    To sum up: Always remember Rule #1 – Just Because You CAN Doesn’t Mean You SHOULD.

    (*Unfortunately, Kindle-purging doesn’t have nearly the same visceral impact as throwing a 400-page paperback at the wall – kind of like having to use that wimpy little “end call” slider thingy instead of a good hard phone slam that reverberates through the whole house).

    If the history is incidental, is it used appropriately to support characterization or provide a visual frame of reference?

    In Kleypas’ Wallflower and Hathaway series, the early Victorian setting allows for some quirks that would be anachronistic in a true Regency, e.g. the snarky American dollar princesses playing ball with the stable boys, and the Enlightened Earl’s bromance with a Cit and a half-Gypsy card dealer.

    Or maybe that’s just my overweening love/lust for said Enlightened Earl, still reigning as my Ultimate Hero.

    Does the use of history consist solely of name-dropping, title-lust, fashion-fantasy and/or property-porn?

    This blatant misuse and disrespect of “history” really frosts my cupcake. If you claim a peerage or ballgown or Mayfair Mansion Staffed by 150 Servants Who Have Sworn Mindless Allegiance To The Family For Generations is integral to the story or a character, you’d better damn well prove it. Otherwise, you’re just a lazy hack barfing up boring, worn-to-a-thread clichés.

    For example, random or superficial references to the following will NOT give you history cred: Almack’s (ooh, the watered-down lemonade and Sally Jersey as a bouncer!), Vauxhall Gardens (ooh, the paper-thin ham slices!), or White’s (ooh, the smoky, leathery enclave of upper-crust masculinity!).

    Also, Prinny should NEVER be used as an incidental character. Yes, yes, we KNOW he was a fat, lecherous wastrel, which makes him a handy foil to the sensitive, manly Duke of AnimalNameLandscapeFeature. But any reference to the Regent, especially a gratuitous use of the annoying nickname, immediately gives me a case of the icks and shuts me right out of the story.

    In other words, authors, please ask yourself: Does Romancelandia really NEED yet another generic duke? How is YOUR manly marquess besieged by title-hungry, fortune-hunting spinsters different from his gazillions of Oxford classmates?

    Are you challenging your readers – and yourself as a writer – with a truly new historical character, or are you just churning out Regency MadLibs? Make an effort. Make it memorable. Please. For how-to advice, please see Courtney Milan.

    Does your dialogue sound like real people talking, or are your characters reading lines from a play?

    Not everyone will agree with me on this….

    Despite what we all want to believe, real people did NOT talk like Austen characters. Even in the elegant Georgian and Regency periods, real people spoke in short sentences, using one- or two-syllable words. They interrupted each other. They talked over each other. They cursed and whined and muttered and got tongue-tied.

    Unless your dramatis personae includes playwrights, poets, bluestockings or academics, turning a simple line of dialogue into a purplish page-long paragraph will NOT impress me. I’m a fast reader – if your dialogue slows me down, I’m outta there. Crap like that is one reason people make fun of the genre. So STFU.

    Gratuitous Latin and alliteration in the same sentence – DAMN, I’m good.

    What is the author’s intent and/or strength as a writer?

    Mild anachronisms in Julia Quinn or Julie Anne Long don’t bother me in the least. I read them with a sense of humor, because the authors are known for their wittiness and light touch. They want me to get to the last page with a smile and a swoon, and I almost always do.

    Quinn’s Regency world is apolitical and insular, which suits her character-driven writing style perfectly. If she suddenly switched to an earnest This Is Historical, Dammit style with Prinny as a main character, I’d suggest she consult her therapist about a change of medication.

    On the other hand, any Regency centering on the Horrors of War or the Evils of Vice demands accurate historical detail to create a believable world. See Carla Kelly’s “The Surgeon’s Lady” as a beautiful example of how to write a war-time Regency romance. (If there are historical errors in this book, I DON’T WANT TO KNOW LALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOOOOOUUUU)

    How experienced is the author, and how is the book published?

    If it’s a debut author, I’m more forgiving (within reason, AHEM). But if an established writer continues to make reckless mistakes again and again, it shows they’re too busy with book signings to bother with research or just plain don’t care. And if they don’t take their writing seriously, why should I?

    I’m also more forgiving with indie authors, because they don’t have access to the same support system. If I pay full-price for ANY book from a big-name publisher, I expect and DESERVE a quality product. I’m willing to pay more for those authors because I expect my money to fund fact-checkers and copy editors who prevent such errors. Or am I just naive to think that the vast publishing bureaucracies should be held accountable as much as, or even more than, the author?

    That said, ANY historical author should expect to be nit-picked and be prepared to respond to suggestions and criticisms in professional manner. As a bitchy blogger would say, big-girl undies are in the lingerie section. Go get some. While you’re shopping, don’t forget to hit the aisle of reference books for a little treasure called “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White. And be glad you don’t write Civil War history, because those geeks will MAKE YOU CRY.

    Ye gods this is long, and my manifesto really wasn’t a manifesto. But I’m not a real writer so nobody should pick on me because it might hurt my feelings. That’s bullying, you know.

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  90. Maili
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 05:53:20

    @Las:

    I’m not talking about major errors that someone who never studied history beyond what’s required in U.S. high schools would notice–those deserve a call-out. But small details that some bloggers use their platform to lecture us about…really?

    How small the details should be before we decide it’s nitpicking, and how big the details before we could issue a call-out to the apparent guilty party?

    We could debate all day on deciding where to draw a line between what’s relevant and what isn’t, but I basically feel it’s dodgy to debate that.

    What is nothing to me might be a huge cock-up to someone and vice versa. Whether the cock-up is valid doesn’t matter. What matters is whether it breaks the suspension of belief for that reader or reviewer. If it does, it’s entirely up to the reader/reviewer to explain why, how or/and when it broke. It’s not up to you or me to decide what’s too nitpicky and what isn’t for that reader/reviewer.

    So I think it makes sense to leave it to each DA reviewer to decide whether to use the tag or not when reviewing a historical romance in accordance with what they know. We readers don’t have to take the tag into consideration when we read reviews. I mean, you don’t give a crap about historical details and all that? Fine, ignore the tag and move on. Nowt wrong with that, surely?

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  91. Emilia
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 07:06:34

    Perhaps, coming from a reading background of having discovered Science Fiction and Fantasy long before Romance (“Historical” or otherwise), I have rarely been bothered by historical inaccuracies, as long as the internal world-building within the novel was cohesive and consistant. However, I do understand that, for some readers, the term “Historical Romance” implies that the worldbuiling within that novel will only include details that are verifiable by outside, scholarly sources. The label suggests, to those readers, that all writers in that sub-genre must tell their stories with a very limited scope of artistic licence to truly achieve the “Historical Romance” label. It does not imply the quality of the work, just that “details within this novel will correspond with available historical data”. I see it along the same lines as writing a sonnet vs. free form poetry. There are amazing and appalling examples of both in this world. Other readers may not take the label “Historical Romance” to have such strict requirements concerning historical data. I agree that the term “Mistorical” connotes an unintentional set of errors, as opposed to an altenative worldbuilding experience. How about an “Artistic Licence Rating System”, using a 1-10 scale on how historically accurate (in that reviewer’s opinion, of course), a novel is? It need not correlate with the quality of the work- as I said, there is gold and dross in every sub,sub,sub-genre out there. Can’t help it- the fussy scientist in me always wants quantifiable data to review!

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  92. Mireya
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 07:39:23

    I think the tag for DA reviews purposes, would be helpful in the sense that many visitors to this blog are history buffs or even hold history and/or literature degrees. Some of the reviewers themselves certainly are history buffs or majored in literature, so this is a peeve of theirs that is likely shared by many of the blog’s visitors, so it makes sense. I feel the exact same way with the use of Spanish, or the use of Hispanic/Latino characters, so I think I understand where they are coming from.

    That being said, for the average readers like me who are aware that when they read romance they are reading fiction,it does absolutely nothing. Why? Plain and simply, we go in knowing full well that that romance labeled as a “historical” is likely not that “historical” if you know what I mean. Hence, since we don’t want to spend time going to Google to start checking if the facts/settings/vocabulary, etc. are accurate, we don’t go around repeating what we may perceive as a historical detail as fact. This is one of the reasons why I think the tag used for mainstream (so to speak) would not work. The majority of the romance readership out there cares about the characters, the story, and either will not likely notice or will be willing to overlook the anacronysms (sp?), historical mistakes and the like, as long as the story is good and the characters are well written and appeal to them.

    Furthermore, adding yet another “label” to a genre that is full of labels to try and “classify” the different types of romance, and a genre that in recent years has started to blur the lines between one subgenre and another, it would, in my opinion, simply add yet another unnecessary layer to confuse things even further.

    Bottomline, I do see the tag being useful for this particular blog and its reviewers, given (a) the reviewers preferences and (b) the blog’s audience, but I don’t see it’s use unless it’s specifically directed to the niche of the romance reading population that has a personal peeve in this regard either because they are history and/or literature majors or are history buffs and know the subject well.

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  93. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 08:32:13

    @DM: “Space opera” is a classification by type, not by quality. For a reviewer to sneer at an author’s latest offering as “space opera” might suggest the subgenre doesn’t merit a second glance, but it doesn’t in and of itself imply the writing (research, characterization, the actual science) in that particular book is faulty. One could (and can) write a “space opera” masterpiece or just more “space opera” dreck.

    On quite the other hand, the connotation of MISTORICAL! is “this is a badly written book because the author has historical errors.” The epithet can be applied to Traditional Regency, medieval time travel, Victorian suffragists, Civil War (English or American) lovers on different sides, The Great War, whatever. It doesn’t matter what the subgenre or setting; the label is damning.

    And there’s still been no clarification of standards. If that fake Arthurian thing is MISTORICAL! are all other romance novels set in “The Past” that get that tag going to be assumed to be as bad? And will the label be applied to books the reviewer liked/loved so much that she/he noticed but chose to overlook the errors? The term has been put out there as “a catchall,” and I think that’s what it’s going to do — catch everything, to the point where it becomes either a.) meaningless or b.) a blanket condemnation of all historical romances.

    It’s one thing to be outraged over a book that’s riddled with errors that a reasonably competent and diligent author, with or without editorial staff or a critique group full of expert beta readers, should be expected to catch. It’s another thing to point out errors in a book that was otherwise enjoyable. It’s a third thing to complain that a few glaring errors ruined an otherwise enjoyable story. And it’s yet a fourth thing to pick up on some obscure bits of esoterica that do more to showcase the reviewer’s expertise — and snobbery, in some cases, and yes, there are times when I’m as guilty as the next reader — and use that expertise and snobbery with subtle malice.

    MISTORICAL! is a judgment, a guilty verdict, not an opinion. It’s limited to one portion of the romance literature — you don’t have a clever equivalent yet for inconsistent/inaccurate world-building in PNR or contemporary-setting romances, but you’re gung ho to jump all over the readers and writers of stories set in the past. Don’t readers ever learn “wrong” information from contemporary novels? Or is it okay if the details are improbable or inappropriate as long as the sheikh’s kingdom is imaginary or the billionaire’s billions didn’t really result from ruthlessly putting people on the street so he could build his luxury office condo with the glorious and unimpeded view?

    If romance novels can “teach” bad history, then they should also be called to account(pun intended) for teaching bad economics, bad geopolitics, bad sociology, bad international relations, bad business management, bad human resources, bad military tactics, bad public health practices, and so on. For some reason or other, no one seems to care much about THOSE errors of contemporary fact, which might actually impact real people’s lives, but may the great goddess rain hellfire and damnation and eternal ostracization on any author who uses the wrong name or fork in her historical romance.

    Because the other insult here is to the readers of historical romances. The MISTORICAL! label implies the ignorant and uninformed readers of historical romance NEED TO BE TOLD THEY’RE READING CRAP, but the usual ratings of A, B, C, D, and F are sufficient for readers of contemporary, PNR, TT, Vamp/shifter or other subgenres because THOSE readers are savvy and will know when the research is right/accurate.

    Once again, I have no problem with pointing out the errors; my problem is with the blatantly pejorative label MISTORICAL! for which there are no standards and from which there is no appeal.

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  94. Sunita
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 08:37:10

    I was puzzled by the view that Wallpaper has not generally been seen a pejorative term, and Google is my friend, so I surfed around. As usual, Laura Vivanco came to my rescue with this post from 2006, which led me to this post at Smart Bitches, which unfortunately leads to an AAR debate with a broken link.

    I then wondered if the usage had changed to descriptive-not-pejorative in the intervening years, and I remembered this post at an authors’ blog. While people defended the idea and execution of what I would call Wallpaper Romance, they didn’t seem to be regard the term as neutral.

    [Edited to fix link]

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  95. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 08:39:10

    @Maili: I mean, you don’t give a crap about historical details and all that? Fine, ignore the tag and move on.

    Are you suggesting that ignoring the tag = not giving a crap about historical details? Those of us who do care about historical details, geographic details in contemporaries, etc., are now required to jump on the bandwagon?

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  96. Isabel C.
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 08:39:37

    I like “soft historical”, a parallel with “soft science fiction”–because my reaction is about the same.

    When I write, I try to get historical details correct*–not that I always succeed–because I know there are some readers who will notice. When I read, except for blatant anachronisms, I really don’t care. Yeah, they didn’t have potatoes back then, radioactive spiders probably won’t do anything except turn to sludge, and you can’t hear laser fights in space. Whatever.

    I actually like a certain amount of deviation from history, or reality, or whatever: I don’t *want* to deal with pre-1970s attitudes toward sex, pre-20th century standards of hygiene or dental care, or the fact that gamma rays don’t do anything but kill you. (Same deal with the SCA, really: I like dressing up in a vaguely historical manner once in a while, but at the end of the day, Authentic Period Clothing doesn’t flatter me and outdoor latrines are grody.)

    *Or provide a reason why they aren’t. This isn’t the *reason* I write paranormal, but it’s definitely an advantage.

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  97. Sunita
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 08:54:02

    @Linda Hilton:

    Once again, I have no problem with pointing out the errors; my problem is with the blatantly pejorative label MISTORICAL! for which there are no standards and from which there is no appeal.

    Once again, I don’t speak for anyone else at DA.

    When we started batting around terms on Twitter, I thought of mistorical as different from wallpaper. (Please note: not MISTORICAL! but mistorical. I am guilty of enough exclamation point abuse as it is). But after nearly 100 comments, I think mistorical should include wallpaper, because in both cases, it’s not about the author and her intentions, it’s about the book and the execution of the historical aspect therein.

    As for the kinds and degrees of errors that have to occur for me to use the tag? I can tell you right now that I err on the side of being underinclusive, not overinclusive. That is, there are plenty of mistakes I don’t single out, and not necessarily because I “like” the author. It’s because I think the mistakes have to either be substantively important (e.g. Indians treating sati as par for the course in 19thC southern India) or so numerous as to make reading the book difficult (e.g., even I could see howlers in Spoil of War).

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  98. Teachsau
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 08:54:09

    @Linda Hilton:

    I’m not sure why you’ve taken this so personally.
    But am of course aware you’re trying to stir something up with MISTORICAL! in every second sentence.

    However as far as I’m know the lovely people who contribute to this book blog – THEIR book blog – are allowed to attach whatever tags they wish to use. I don’t think it’s a subgenre Amazon will be adopting any time soon, so I wouldn’t get so upset about it.

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  99. Teachsau
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 09:03:06

    @Isabel C.:

    That’s why I’m not always much of a fan of historical romance. I need my details correct, and at the same time I can’t find a setting where society was basically pretty crappy all that romantic.

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  100. Susanna Kearsley
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 09:16:50

    @Sunita: “I believe that authors who borrow other people’s history in order to write and sell their books have a responsibility to represent that history as faithfully and respectfully as they are able.”

    Yes. This. Nicely put.

    As Sherry Thomas pointed out upthread, even the best and most careful writers can make unintentional mistakes. Heck, scholarly historians can make mistakes (and do, more frequently than one might think). But we can try.

    And when it comes to the “mistorical” label, the bottom line is this, at least in my opinion:

    Readers, when they write reviews, aren’t talking to us writers. They are talking to each other. And they have a perfect right to use a language that allows them to communicate effectively. We don’t get to choose the terms they use to talk about our books.

    If “mistorical” gives the reviewers and readers at DA a quick, clean and useful way to describe books of a certain type, so be it.

    If they want to then invent another term (say, “imagined historical”) to further sub-categorize the genre into books in which the author plainly didn’t intend–and isn’t expected–to be historically accurate, then they can do that, too.

    Personally, if I saw the term “mistorical” on a review here, I wouldn’t be thinking, “Ah, the author must have her characters drinking tea in London in 1615″, I’d be thinking, “Hmm, there must be a lot of things obviously wrong or out of place with the historical background, here”.

    Just my own take on things.

    Oh, and it’s a little off-topic, I know, but because a few commenters talked about marrying for love being inaccurate, the contrarian in me feels bound to point out that they ought to read up on the history of Marguerite, Duchess of Rohan, who famously married for love in the 17th century, turning down numerous high-born suitors because of her love for a gentleman who was of a different faith and had no fortune. She had to apply for special royal dispensation to do so, and when trying to explain her feelings said, “I do not know if I shall be able to decide to marry him, but I do feel that I could not bear it if he married someone else.”

    True, it was an unusual enough event (at least among the upper classes) that people talked about it. But it did happen.

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  101. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 09:28:46

    @Teachsau: If you think I’ve taken it personally, well, I have to confess. Yes, I have.

    The opening of the OP was pretty much “We’re going to use this tag whenever we want to castigate authors [books don't get written without authors to write them, Sunita] who make mistakes. We aren’t going to set any standards and we reserve the right not to label the books we like regardless of the errors and we give contemporary and PNR a pass. This only applies to historicals,” and apparently that’s because it’s such a clever word.

    If the official bloggers at DA don’t want discussion — even after they’ve acknowledged in the OP that their tag is “controversial” — then they can turn off the discussion button I suppose. I thought the idea of having a blog like this was to elicit comment and foster discussion.

    If all they want is approval, well, they can ban me, I guess.

    And if it makes you feel better, I won’t use all caps and the exclamation point; I won’t use the term at all. Maybe I’ve given it more attention than it warranted.

    But as someone who has read and loved historical romances since long before the Woodiwiss phenomenon, as someone who has complained about historical inaccuracies since long before that Arthurian thing, as someone who has ventured into academia and defended the genre against all the other malicious “tags” like bodice-ripper and soft porn and if you’ve read one you’ve read ‘em all ’cause they’re all just alike, I thought I had the right to express my opinion like everyone else, whether they’ve just finished reading their first romance novel or their 10,000th. I guess I was wrong.

    @Sunita — I couldn’t get your links to work, but that could be just me. “Wallpaper” doesn’t necessarily inho mean errors; the other term does. If the history is irrelevant or non-integral to the “I have to snag a rich husband to save my family from financial ruin” plot, it’s not necessarily inaccurate; “wallpaper” doesn’t, as far as I know, even have to be tied to such a specific date that accuracy of tiny details is even verifiable. The new term says explicitly that the author included errors. Whether she did so intentionally for the sake of story or out of laziness or because she had other contradictory information doesn’t matter: the reviewer says there were errors, so it gets tagged.

    Look, I’m quite used to people disagreeing with me. I’m not a stranger to the sense of being the lone voice on my side of the opinion equation. But no one seems to be coming out and arguing with my point that this tag only applies to historicals. Why aren’t PNR and contemporaries being tagged for errors? Why are the readers of historicals assumed to be getting bad history, but readers of contemporaries are not accused of getting bad information from their reading material?

    I know that there’s a huge fandom here for HP (and I don’t mean the computer folks) and the angsty rich sheikh/delicate virgin type of sexual power portrait. Readers of that sort of thing are just expected to understand that it’s fantasy and so on, as if there’s no possibility that they will ever absorb any of the sentiments and tropes and “facts” into their real lives. But readers of historicals are somehow just assumed to be absorbing and regurgitating all kinds of bad history and they need to be corrected so they don’t continue to sin. To me that’s a double standard, and I’m going to argue against the notion of a double standard all I can. And if I do it passionately? Well, call me on my errors, but not my passion.

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  102. Las
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 09:48:51

    @Jane: So you don’t consider it ignorant for someone to think they know about the law by reading Grisham? Or know about crime investigation from watching CSI?

    @Robin/Janet:
    Are you saying it’s better for someone to unconsciously assume (aka expect) that they’re getting accurate history in HR than for someone to actively question the history and actively expect accurate history?

    Neither, really. I was just questioning the motivation behind the tag, since I was under the impression that it was for people who have significant knowledge of history and don’t want to read romances that aren’t historically accurate, and you implied that it was for readers who just assumed they were learning real history by reading romance. The former makes sense to me, but the latter doesn’t.

    And I’m not criticizing readers here…it’s the reviewers I’m questioning (yes, I know reviewers are readers too, but there’s a difference).

    @Sunita:
    Of course I think it’s fine for reviewers to point out mistakes…they already do that, as they should. It’s creating a whole new word to tag those books with that rubs me the wrong way. There’s a certain “tone” in a lot of reviews criticizing historical inaccuracies that I just don’t see when mentioning inaccuracies in other areas, and the new tag just reinforces that.

    @DM:
    The romance genre will never earn the respect of the wider reading public if it isn’t willing to acknowledge that it is just like other genres.

    Ah, so that’s it. Romance readers want the genre to be taken serious and they see historical inaccuracies as getting in the way of that. Your comparison to science fiction doesn’t work for me, because I’m pretty sure no one reads SF expecting scientific accuracy. I’ve come across articles and interviews with scientists breaking down the “science” in SF, and explaining what’s plausible and what’s not. The difference between that and discussions about historical romance? The science is presented as fun facts to make the reading experience more enjoyable. The history discussion turns into, “Look how the authors are deceiving the poor readers and making romance look bad!”

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  103. Maili
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 09:49:32

    @Linda Hilton: Bandwagon? Good grief.

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  104. Jane
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 10:04:19

    @Linda Hilton I stated up thread that I would use the tag to apply to any book in which the reviewer discusses the historicity in the text regardless of whether the review is positive or negative. So, while you state previously that it wouldn’t be applied to Julie Garwood, you would be inaccurate. I’ve said repeatedly in the comment thread that Garwood’s books are mistoricals and I have no problem applying the label to them. It doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of Garwood because I am too much of a historical rube for her historical inaccuracies to affect me adversely.

    As to Grisham, A Time to Kill does a great job of describing the jury process and I would have no problem with people basing their understanding of the jury process on that book. It’s as good as any I’ve experienced in real life. As for CSI, there are many legal seminars devoted to the CSI effect for juries. It was something mentioned in the Rape Cop case in New York City. CSI and shows like it are having a real time, real life negative effect on criminal trials as juries are now beginning to believe that there is DNA evidence or hard evidence for everything and losing sight of circumstantial evidence. I don’t think people are dumb at all for taking what they see on television and extrapolating that into their real life. It’s human nature. It would be great if CSI were more authentic and if I were a TV blogger or a crime fiction blogger, I’d be thinking up a new tagging term for those shows as well. But I’m not. I’m a romance book blogger and thus my passions and attentions are focused there.

    And as Robin said, perhaps we don’t have tags for contemporaries that are unbelievable but we call them when we see them. (I’ve railed on a number of sports books and hardly can bring myself to read a book featuring an attorney).

    Reviewing is not an exact science. We are all so different. Witness the review that Sunita and I did for Katharine Ashe’s book. We both gave it a C but Sunita brings her own cultural knowledge to the book whereas I am ignorant of those things that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t review a book featuring Indian characters or that should be the only thing that Sunita reviews. Nor should it prevent us from giving differing grades based on our perceptions or even providing different taxonomies. That’s where the commenters can come and help extrapolate topics for other readers.

    So yes, you are wrong in your assumption that it will be used to castigate authors. I remember distinctly the review by Jayne of The Raven Prince:

    I’d heard about the historical inaccuracies. Usually those bother me. Not this time. With this book I was so caught up in the story and the characters that I didn’t care. Not one bit. I was ready to believe that financially distressed widow Anna Wren could become the personal secretary of scarred Edward de Raafe, Earl of Swartingham (okay, I have to admit that I winced at that title) in 1760s England. That their attraction would intensify until Anna used her favor gained from helping a sick “barque of frailty” to take the chance to spend a hawt night (and then another hawter night) masked at a London brothel with this man who stirred her emotionally as well as physically. That Edward would at one point take Anna with him to London to a meeting of the Agrarian Society and the other members wouldn’t turn a hair. That the final showdown could take place in front of some members of the Quality and that Anna and Edward might have to face them down in the future. I didn’t care one little bit. Because by that point I was wiping away tears as I turned the pages. I so believed in the romance and the world you’d created between these two that if you’d told me they got into a Range Rover and drove off into the sunset on the M25 I would have nodded and said “of course, that’s the perfect vehicle for Jock to fit into”.

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  105. Unbiased Observer
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 10:04:29

    @Linda Hilton:

    Passion=/=belligerence.

    What you’re doing is not fostering discussion, it’s called creating a flame war. You’re shouting at people, mocking them with all caps, and then acting like a victim when they don’t agree with you.

    I fail to see a double standard in the mistorical label. A novel should be judged by the standards of its genre. Otherwise, A Dance with Dragons should get an F because it lacks sci-fi elements.

    It seems my name has become ironic.

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  106. Jane A
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 10:06:53

    Whether or not a book gets labelled mistorical seems pretty subjective. Most historical romances would fit in this category if the reviewer is truly a stickler. I don’t think this tag would mean much to me.

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  107. Sunita
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 10:22:04

    @Linda Hilton: Sorry about that, I realized after I posted that the first link didn’t work, and I fixed it. All three work for me now.

    [books don't get written without authors to write them, Sunita]

    As a published author for more years than I care to remember, yes, I’m aware of that. But I also know, as an author, that what I write and what people read in my work are not identical. I don’t review authors, I review books. If that doesn’t make sense to you, then we are talking past each other in a way that is probably not reconcilable.

    Like Jane, I’ve pointed out errors and what I consider substantively important elisions and misinterpretations in reviews of contemporaries. Sometimes readers agree with me, sometimes they don’t.

    I’m perfectly happy to have “miscontemporary” or some such as a label, but somehow I don’t think that’s going to improve this conversation.

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  108. Las
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 10:40:59

    @Susanna Kearsley: @Susanna Kearsley:

    Oh, and it’s a little off-topic, I know, but because a few commenters talked about marrying for love being inaccurate, the contrarian in me feels bound to point out that they ought to read up on the history of Marguerite, Duchess of Rohan, who famously married for love in the 17th century, turning down numerous high-born suitors because of her love for a gentleman who was of a different faith and had no fortune.Heh, I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek with that one, but a sincere thank you for that anecdote. I’ll have to read more about it.

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  109. Eileen Dreyer
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 10:49:21

    I do think that the discussion between what history really was vs what the myth has become. Georgette Heyer’s works probably represented a more Victorian attitude than a Regency one.But the norm has been to follow her lead.After reading regencies for years, I just assumed that NOBODY got divorced. Then I read a little book called Dancing Toward Waterloo, and I swear every third person in Brussels that spring had been, was being or would inevitably be divorced, if not just running off with somebody. And everybody else got over it. I don’t think we’re ever going to read true history in romance, because it tends to be unpallatable to the senses. But how far do we follow the myth? I know that one of my favorite quotes about history is from John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Jimmy Stewart has just been trying to finally tell the truth about an act long ascribed to him that made him a hero in people’s eyes. But the newsmen refuse to publish his version of the story. “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

    So saying, I do get pulled out of books when the author hasn’t done fair due dilligence. It really isn’t hard at all anymore to check your facts. And I agree that I also take the crime as seriously as the book takes itself. I call House a Medical Opera, because you know going in that there’s no real medical veracity beyond what the weird disease of the week is. But when Bill Peterson or God help me, David Caruso point their penlights down at a body in the dark to look for trace evidence, I throw something at the screen. (BTW, Jane, in forensicland, the catch phrase for misscience is CSI Don’t Think So).

    But like you said, rules tend to be overlooked in two instances. When the characters are so compelling, or the action so unrelenting that you don’t even notice til you’re finished. I call it the Fugitive Rule. A damn of that size in Illinois? Really? Really? But who cares? I want to know what’s going to happen when Tommy Lee Jones finally catches Harrison Ford.

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  110. Eileen Dreyer
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 10:51:39

    BTW…ahem. That’s dam. Not damn. See what happens when you post from a hospital rather than the trip to Ireland you were supposed to be on?

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  111. dick
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 10:57:40

    I think the word “mistorical” will add another layer of confusion to the labels used in romance fiction. In my thinking, “historical” placed in front of “romance” indicates only that the setting is in the past rather than that the romance in it conforms to actual history, just as “contemporary” in front of romance indicates the setting is sometime in the past 50 or 60 years or so, although for many readers anything which took place prior to 1970 is actually historical. Especially in human interactions, which after all is the basic subject of romance, I don’t think we will ever be able to say with complete accuracy what they were in the past anyway, although I suspect they didn’t differ much from the same kind of facts of today. The term “historical” has served well for those romances set in the past, regardless whether the historical facts in them are correct or not. Let it stand.

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  112. Honeywell
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 10:59:45

    Wouldn’t it be better to label the books that are considered historically accurate (or at least not grossly inaccurate which is probably more the point I think) with a clever name so the people who want history in their historical romances can find them?

    Whether you’re simply looking for an entertaining story or looking for a book that feels authentic with accurate historical detail why would you click on that tag? The tag does absolutely nothing to help readers find what they’re looking for, IMO.

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  113. Jessica
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 11:00:33

    @Jane: “@Jessica Everyone is free to apply their own definition but the way in which I’ll be using it here at DA (and I do most of the tagging) will be to any historical that has historical anachronisms if mentioned in the review. ”

    Actually, this helps. It seems to me then, that rather than any tiny error, only the ones that impact the reviewer’s assessment of the book so much that they get mention in the review will generate the label.

    But I don’t think it is accurate to say that “everyone is free to apply their own definition.” That’s not how things work. To take a ready to hand example, I tried to explain above what I took “wallpaper historical” to mean, and Sunita’s reply corrected me by linking to several other discussions. I now know how to properly use it in this community. I can’t make it mean whatever I want.

    I really appreciate what Las has had to say and also Lynn S, and it has helped me clarify my concerns (and they are pretty mild, but maybe worth enumerating).

    I asked above, “What work is this label supposed to be doing?”

    If it is (a) to “alert” readers not to be taken in my inaccuracies in the book, this seems a bit paternalistic to me. I’m sorry, I just don’t like it. But others may be very grateful for being saved from adding more inaccuracies to their repertoire of untruths. Time will tell.

    If it is (b) to signal a fault with the book, then I am not sure I like it either, for a couple of reasons. One, are there other tags that signal general genre-wide shortcomings (alphhole hero maybe?)? If so, then I’ll get over it, but if not, why historical accuracy this being singled out? And, relatedly, I just hope some space is left to recognize that writers in the genre should get to decide how they are going to use history to realize their literary aims. Of course, they can be criticized on a book by book basis, and *should* be, but I feel the tag is trying to set up an genre-defining expectation held by a few reviewers here which is not widely held by authors or readers, if bestseller lists are any indication, and which actually dovetails, in a way that worries me, with the kinds of criticisms people outside the genre often make, i.e. that this genre is not valuable on its own terms, but must first follow the conventions of other genres. (The derision of the paranormal community for PNR is one example. By which I mean, constant criticism of PNR writers for not “accurately” writing in the vampire or lycan literary and mythological traditions in PNR. Well, that’s not what they are doing, and as a PNR reader, I am glad of it.)

    On the other hand, I understand the desire not to just give romance writers a pass, as if to say “well, you’re just writing romance. What does it matter?” I just hope we can find balance here.

    I hope it goes without saying that people can use whatever terms they want on their own blogs, and if this term is embraced beyond DA, that will go a long way to showing that Robin and Jane are right, that it is needed.

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  114. Isabel C.
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 11:11:03

    @Teachsau: Ooh, yeah–that sounds tough.

    TVTropes used to do a pretty good job of this with science. Things where the science was not plot-integral, or clearly subordinated to the needs of the story, got “Art Major Biology” or “Art Major Physics”. Stuff that tried to do Serious! Science! and got it wrong was “You Fail Biology Forever” or “Somewhere a Paleontologist is Crying.” They’ve renamed and combined things since last I looked, but that was a pretty good example of differentiation in a site meant for readers. (They also use “Rule of Cool/Drama/Funny” for situations like Eileen talks about w/r/t The Fugitive.)

    As an author, I wouldn’t object at all to having my books called “English Major Historical”. ;) And I would certainly read something filed under that category.

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  115. Sherry Thomas
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 11:25:29

    @KKJ: I don’t know who you are but I’ve just set aside money to buy you a drink at some future date. :-)

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  116. Kim
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 11:37:12

    I never thought that historicals were necessarily historically accurate. Some authors use “literary license” with certain events, but this is usually noted in the afterword. Since it is fiction, I give greater latitude to mistakes as long as it’s not egregious. Of couse, what’s egregious is in the eye of the beholder.

    I’ve also noticed that certain authors welcome corrections on historical inaccuracies, while other authors go to great lengths to defend the inaccuracy.

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  117. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 11:38:51

    @Mireya: Furthermore, adding yet another “label” to a genre that is full of labels to try and “classify” the different types of romance, and a genre that in recent years has started to blur the lines between one subgenre and another, it would, in my opinion, simply add yet another unnecessary layer to confuse things even further.

    I actually went back to double check my description of the tag, because it kind of confused me to think of it in terms of a label beyond the blog. I tried to make it clear in my post that it’s a DA tag and will be used here for DA reviewers. I’m not actually sure how one would go about introducing a genre label that everyone would/should use, but I just want to make clear that we introduced the tag for use at DA (although I will probably use it in my Twitter stream, etc.), so that people will know what it refers to when it appears next to reviews or in casual conversation here.

    @Las: you implied that it was for readers who just assumed they were learning real history by reading romance.

    Where did I imply that? Because I certainly didn’t mean to. What I was responding to in my own comment about people assuming they were reading historically accurate Romance was your comment here:

    I highly doubt that the average readers are reading historical romance with the expectation of accuracy.

    I think you’re dead wrong about that, and when I said that, you told me it was a “separate point.” I still don’t know what that means, but the only point I was trying to make is that IME readers who are not online have commented to me, once they find out I read the genre, too, that they enjoy learning about history from Romance. That’s it.

    @Susanna Kearsley: Oh, and it’s a little off-topic, I know, but because a few commenters talked about marrying for love being inaccurate,

    Thank you for bringing this up again, since I forgot about it in the crush of mistorical debate, and thanks for your example.

    I have honestly never understood this perception, beyond, of course, the fact that it wasn’t until the late 18th C and the Englightenment, that individual choice in marriage was a legitimate aim. But we’ve certainly seen great love matches throughout history, and even if people didn’t necessarily marry for love, it’s not like the 19th C invented it.

    Another Romance myth I wish would bite the dust is the whole “every woman was a virgin before marriage” myth. I understand that there may be ideological and creative reasons to keep this device strong in the genre, but it’s not the historical standard so many think it is, and when I see HR authors repeat it as gospel I get soooo frustrated. It’s right up there, for me, with the whole “rape was more common in the past b/c women were property” myth, which still makes me want to beat me head against the wall in frustration (but god knows I need my few remaining brain cells for the basic functions of daily life). It’s one thing to have these devices deemed important to the genre, but OMG can we please stop justifying them with junk history?

    @Eileen Dreyer: I’m personally always amused when people tag Puritans as a sexually phobic lot, because not only was there some hot erotic poetry written by those folks (Anne Bradstreet, for example), and women were pretty routinely pregnant when they married. In fact, in more remote areas of the colonies, couples regularly lived together without benefit of marriage, moving on to other partners when those relationships (if they did) burned out.

    There is SO MUCH in history that can be used in Historical Romance it continues to frustrate and baffle me that the “myth,” as you put it, maintains such a hold over the genre. NOT that there’s not room for it, and not that the myth doesn’t serve particular purposes in the genre, but it’s not all there is, and I think we need to be more proactive in talking about the differences.

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  118. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 11:48:40

    @Linda Hilton: We ALL make mistakes, and since even those of us here who are the most vocal about historical accuracy have loved many a mistorical, I truly don’t understand where all the capitals and exclamation points are coming from.

    I honestly don’t understand why you think mistorical is more pejorative than wallpaper historical, but putting that aside, I feel that your objections, if followed strictly, would make it impossible for us to apply grades lower than an A to books or delineate in a review any perceived book flaws, historical or otherwise, because it might offend the author (putting aside the fact that reviews aren’t written for the author at all). Because what’s the difference, exactly, between talking extensively about the perceived errors in a review and the mistorical tag? What makes one aimed at the author and one aimed at the book?

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  119. Jackie Barbosa
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 11:49:34

    @Jane: And as Robin said, perhaps we don’t have tags for contemporaries that are unbelievable but we call them when we see them.

    I hereby suggest “contempowrongy”.

    Although I could write a treatise in response to what’s already been said in this thread (in part because I find myself agreeing to some extent with both sides), but I can’t and won’t because I’m in the middle of a hellish project for the evil day job that I swear is going to kill me dead.

    Back to the grindstone…

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  120. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 12:01:30

    The argument about Heyer and racism was not about the historical accuracy of her description of Goldhanger as a character (who might have lived) during the Regency but about her personal morality in including such a racist stereotype in the novel without qualification or mitigation, based on 2011?s readership’s knowledge of Heyer’s background and the historical timeframe in which The Grand Sophy was written and published. As far as I can recall, there was no argument about the historical accuracy. I think we all know that racial and gender stereotypes abound in literature and art; the discussion seemed to me to center around the appropriateness of Heyer’s use of the stereotype and how it affected some readers. I think that’s very very different from a discussion of whether or not “squash” could have been served at a 5th C. British banquet.

    Actually, historical accuracy WAS a significant issue in that conversation. But it was an issue on two levels, one of which was Heyer’s own historical context. Which is what I found interesting. It was as if the question of whether someone of Heyer’s time would be anti-Semitic was relevant not only to the characterization of Goldhanger, but also to the way readers should respond to that character.

    We talk all the time about separating an author from her book, and yet with Heyer, there seems to be an unspoken rule that the situation is otherwise. Which suggests to me that Heyer herself has become integrated into the genre as a historical source. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — after all, it has given rise to a robust subgenre of Heyeresque Regencies.

    But I also think we need to be careful about reading a book through the author’s own life, because if we decide that an author’s creative expression can ONLY reflect his/her personal beliefs, we’re in trouble as a society, IMO. And that goes both ways. In other words, if we say Heyer wasn’t anti-Semitic, would that mean she couldn’t write a racially stereotyped character? I hope this is received as a rhetorical question, because otherwise we’re going to have to condemn almost every author for some form of racism, sexism, classism, or general bigotry, based on stereotypical characters.

    What’s fascinating to me about the Heyer discussion is that there seemed to be a slippage between Heyer’s own historical moment (20th C), and the world she was creating in her fiction, and that slippage seemed almost natural to many who were arguing about The Grand Sophy. In one sense I think this reflects the awareness readers have that Heyer was not writing contemporary fiction, but in another I think it’s indicative of the iconic status Heyer occupies as a historical source rather than as a writer who made up a lot of what she wrote, historical details included. And it’s fascinating to me because I think it gets to the core of what some of us find frustrating in Historical Romance, which is this conflation of myth and history without a lot of reflective discussion about the differences and why/where/how they matter.

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  121. Antonia
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 12:14:16

    I agree with Honeywell. I think it would be better to highlight the books that deal with more than just the average ball and house party. It would be helpful for those who want to try something different than the norm. I’m not against pointing out serious historical inaccuracies, but the mistorical label is a bit extreme for reasons which have been previously mentioned. A sort of balance is needed.

    As for historical accuracy…

    In my opinion there is no book that can be 100% accurate. Even historical fiction isn’t 100% true. I don’t know if you’ve read “The Constant Princess” by Philippa Gregory, but she took some serious liberties with aspects regarding the life of Katherine of Aragon. Despite that, I wasn’t upset because: a. the book was well-written, b. the author stated what she had changed and explained why she had done it. I just sat back and enjoyed the story.

    I even doubt the accuracy of non-fiction (and by non-fiction I mean books like “Eat, Pray, Love”, not encyclopedias and other academic works), because there might be times when “characters” have a different name or appearance than in reality. There might be serious reasons for a change like that, and I wouldn’t rush to label the book as a “mis,” despite the fact that it wasn’t 100% accurate. “Mistorical” is a subjective term and I can see why some readers might not agree with it. Maybe the authors should just introduce a disclaimer or something before the story starts to warn readers not to take every historical element as a fact.

    But this is not my blog, so if the owners want to introduce that tag, it’s their decision. I will just take any review tagged as a mistorical with a grain of salt. An aspect the reviewer disliked, might not bother me as much. I’ve enjoyed a fair number of books with historical inaccuracies, so I won’t let a tag stop me, unless the mistake is serious in my eyes. If I were to pay attention to even the slightest inaccuracy, I probably wouldn’t be reading historical romance. If someone puts their mind to it, they can probably find historical inaccuracies even in Bourne and Duran’s books. If they find some, good for them, but ultimately I decide whether I want to read the book or not based on my personal criteria.

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  122. Amber
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 12:32:54

    I don’t mind the tag, although I can see where others would. Historical accuracy has never been a main issue for me. I simply don’t care if the wrong vegetable is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    I know where my tolerance level (and historical knowledge) is and avoid books that will likely trigger the nitpicking.

    Such a label might, in fact, help me find books I like. I have found very, very few authors who manage to balance historical accuracy without info-dumping or making me feel like I’m reading a microhistory.

    I read historical romance for the same reasons I read contemporary romance. For the characters and the story. But I do realize, at least for most of DA’s readership, I’m in the minority.

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  123. Maili
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 12:46:02

    @Honeywell:

    Wouldn’t it be better to label the books that are considered historically accurate (or at least not grossly inaccurate which is probably more the point I think) with a clever name so the people who want history in their historical romances can find them?

    I actually prefer that. It at least acknowledges or highlights authors’ fantastic efforts. Including those who write lite/wallpaper historical romances and anything that includes history in non-historical romances. I think I’m more likely to click on that tag than the mistorical tag.

    The mistorical tag still can be useful for those who want to know why such such’s novel didn’t work for a reviewer.

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  124. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 13:07:41

    @Maili and @Honeywell: For me that label should be “Historical Romance.” I know that as things stand it’s a pie in the sky expectation, and I’m not asking for 100% pristine HR, but I still think the term should mean something other than a nominal historical setting, details be damned.

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  125. Honeywell
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 13:34:57

    @Robin/Janet: Oh, I thought tags were a way for readers to find what they’re looking for.

    Does that mean that on DA books that aren’t historically accurate won’t get the historical tag any longer? I see for example that Spoils of War is only tagged with mistorical so can we expect the same for historical romances by say Maya Banks in the future?

    I have to say that although I enjoy this blog a lot I can’t help but think it’s a bit of a douche bag move to try and redefine the genre to suit your own personal tastes.

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  126. Mireya
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 13:44:35

    @Robin/Janet: I understood (or at least think I did) that it is just for DA purposes, but as I was reading the whole discussion, I started wondering what was this about, the intent wasn’t that clear to me as I kept reading, so I mentioned that in my comment for that very reason. I wasn’t entirely sure where the discussion was going. Frankly, however DA feels like tagging their reviews/blog articles, is fine by me. The explanation is appreciated.

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  127. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 13:46:10

    @Honeywell: Sorry, Honeywell, I wasn’t thinking specifically in terms of a review tag. I was thinking about it in terms of the HR label in general. I think in many cases the grade kind of speaks to the excellence of the book for the reviewer, doesn’t it? Or were you thinking of something more specific.

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  128. Ridley
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 13:47:48

    @Honeywell: How is it a douche bag move? Aren’t you being a little overdramatic?

    DA is defining books according to their tastes. That’s what blogs do.

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  129. Honeywell
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:00:34

    @Robin/Janet: I’m not sure what a review tag is? I’m talking about the tags that show up in red under a topic is that the same thing? I use (and thought the purpose of) those tags were to find similar topics.

    For instance, if you click on historical it will return a search that includes all the topics and books that have been given that label. Which is extremely useful as a reader if I’m looking for a historical romance.

    So my question is can I still click on a tag and expect it to return an accurate search or does your personal opinion about what is and isn’t a “true” historical romance going to interfere with that?

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  130. Honeywell
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:08:55

    @Ridley: Not sure what’s dramatic about not liking a new “feature”? Anytime something becomes less functional there’s a pretty good chance I’m not going to like it. And if it’s less functional for no other reason than to get your point across? That falls into douche bag territory for me. *shrugs* Just my opinion–no dramatics intended..

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  131. Unbiased Observer
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:24:31

    @Honeywell: Your point would carry more weight if you didn’t resort to name-calling.

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  132. Janine
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:28:47

    @Jackie Barbosa:

    I hereby suggest “contempowrongy”.

    LOL! Contempowrongies irritate me a lot more than mistoricals, which is one of the reasons I read a lot more historical romance than contemporary romance.

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  133. Janine
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:30:53

    @Sherry Thomas:

    I don’t know who you are but I’ve just set aside money to buy you a drink at some future date. :-)

    I think I’ll set some $$ aside for @Susanna Kearsley’s drink.

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  134. Honeywell
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:32:40

    @Unbiased Observer: I think “a bit of a douche bag move” doesn’t quite reach the name-calling threshold. I’ll agree it is slightly insulting, though, but no more so than refusing to classify a historical romance as historical romance.

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  135. Marsha
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:40:48

    @Jessica:

    You’ve put your finger precisely on what was bothering me but couldn’t quite name. The “mis”, even if it’s not really used as a prefix, feels like one with this word. As a result, the whole idea comes off as much more negative than seems to be intended.

    I’ve long joked – and have done so here, I think – that my favorite, most beloved books contain “a history-like substance”. So I really do get the point of mistorical, although I wish it was more informative and less snark/attacking in its nature.

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  136. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:44:24

    @Honeywell: Ah, until Ridley commented, I didn’t even see the “douche bag move” reference. If you think tagging books to reflect mistaken use of history — to the point where it’s noticeable and notable to a reviewer — is a way to “redefine the genre to suit your own personal tastes,” I don’t think we have much to say to each other about this issue. I’ll assume, though, that you’d classify grades the same way, as they’re tags and ALL ABOUT personal opinion.

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  137. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:46:57

    I think the greatest accomplishment of this thread, thus far, is perhaps the elevation of “wallpaper historical” to the level of near-compliment. Who’d have thought THAT was possible?

    [Off to plot a genre-toppling conspiracy of D and F grades...]

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  138. Jane
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:47:43

    @Honeywell Actually Spoil of War is tagged as follows: “arthurian, Fantasy, mistorical, phoenix sullivan, Self published” I simply forgot to add historical there and I’ve now corrected it.

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  139. Unbiased Observer
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 14:56:32

    @Honeywell: Fair Enough. But keep in mind that “douche bag” is one of the worst insults in the modern lexicon, epitomized by The Situation on Jersey Shore…who lost a fight with a wall.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFRSINPpJZ0&feature=related

    Think very carefully before you compare anybody to that guy.

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  140. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 15:01:09

    @Janine: My suggestion would have been contemptorary, but if I were a reviewer I would probably reserve that term for books I found particularly loathesome in their social attitudes, not just lack of accuracy in details.

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  141. lazaraspaste
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 15:01:11

    I’ve been debating about whether to say anything because I have reviewed books here where I have criticized the author’s use of history, and I think rightly so. They failed to build a believable world. This is not the same thing is being historically inaccurate.

    So yeah. This is an issue I’ve struggled over intellectually. What is the purpose of history in romance? Why use the past as the setting? I have answers, many of which are too long, too academic, and too theoretically driven to condense here. I actually wrote and gave a paper on this subject, blah blah blah. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Suffice it to say, over the last several months I have come to have a dissident viewpoint about the relationship of history to historically set fiction.

    To be frank: I hate the term mistorical. I loathe it, actually. I think it says something about the nature of literature that I deeply object to.

    There. I’ve said it. I’m not very politic.

    I’m at work so I can’t give the LONG (really long) version of why I find the term objectionable. But I’ll give the short one.

    The underlying question is one about representation. What I mean is the question is this: Is good art that which accurately renders reality, whether an historical reality or a contemporary reality? Is good are representative? This is not just a literary question but a question all representational art, whether textual or visual, must address.

    So what is the relationship between history and literature? This is a question that troubled Aristotle (yeah, I’m going there). He said in the Poetics:

    “The poet and historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be species of history, with meter no less than without it. The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen.”

    In applying this to the romance genre, I would say that romance uses history not in order to recreate, render, or represent what was particular or “real” about history. Even when the author is attempting to render or represent history, I do not think that the genre is about representation or accuracy or authenticity. But rather much in the way that fairy tale uses the term “Once upon a time”–romance uses the past to invoke the mythic into material (which is something I got from Ortega Y Gasset, FYI).

    Furthermore, I am not very Platonic. I do not think that the purpose of good art or good literature is to educate, enlighten or ennoble the reader. Nor do I think that the onus of education should be on the author. The reader should be able to use their critical faculties to figure out for themselves what meaning, message and knowledge is worth taking from the story. A well-rendered history may give rise to just as much misinformation as a badly rendered history, depending upon the reader’s interpretation. Which is why I won’t defend or argue according to a reader’s response, as I think it is too variable a measure by which to judge a book.

    Not that I’m saying that people don’t learn things from books. I’m not saying that literature is not enlightening, ennobling or educational: we, of course, learn things from what we read. But what we learn is not always what the author intended to teach us. And what we’ve learned badly, is not always a product of authorship. I’m thinking of the way that Lord Henry’s character corrupts Dorian Gray. Dorian is a bad reader of Lord Henry. He takes wit as wisdom, irony as absolute truth. Art is dangerous precisely because it is unpredictable. Precisely because it is a lie. Precisely because it is inaccurate and unreal. Precisely because art makes us feel something is real, think something is true, when it is fiction.

    I’m wary of the way in which this term privileges history above all other narrative aspects. I am wary of the way that history is being used, intentionally or not, as a way of defining the value of literature. I am wary of the way that the value of literature seems to be about how real it is. Is this not what Plato disliked about art? Have we not moved on from this obsession with the representational? This wariness is not because I don’t think that books cannot educate us, or enlighten us. It is not because I don’t think history is important. It is not because I don’t think that craftsmanship and technical skills are important. But because I believe that this term identifies good literature as that which best represents the real. And I profoundly disagree that verisimilitude is the measure of good literature and art.

    To continue Aristotle’s quote: “Poetry therefore is a more philosophical and higher thing than history, for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular.”

    To my mind, historical accuracy is important insofar as it builds a credible world. Verisimilitude, like good grammar, is not the purpose of narrative or novels or romance, but it is part of the frame that allows for the story to take place. Bad history is like a bad stagecraft. If the stage (I mean the actual stage, the boards on which the actors tread) falls apart mid-performance, you can’t continue the play. But the point of the play, the pleasure of the play is not the stage. The play is not the stage. Do we really want to say that historical accuracy is more important than character? Or plot? Or grammar?

    Why privilege history with a tag? Why not make one for grammar?

    In privileging historical accuracy, we make a statement about the purpose and point of romance as a genre that I am not comfortable making. Namely, that what is literary is that which is either educational or that which most accurately depicts the real.

    And I find both of those definitions of literature inadequate.

    Sometimes the purpose of literature is not to depict what is or was, but what ought to have been, what could be, and what we might wish for. And this drive, like the fairy tale or the myth or the legend or the religious experience, is neither accurate nor educational. At least, not on the surface.

    This “what may” is not simple wish fulfillment, but instead, a way of making real, through storytelling, that which may seem impossible under the limited lens of realism.
    For me the purpose of literature, of art, is to train the imagination. For the imagination is more limited than commencement speakers lead us to believe. If we can train our imaginations to think beyond what is before us, perhaps this is what enables us to make a world different (although not necessarily better) than the one we are given.

    So like Don Quixote, I’m not particularly interested in the historical veracity of romance. What I’ve fallen in love with is its unreality. But a good romance is an unreality that seems like it ought to have been real. And that’s the trick. Do that. Make me believe that what couldn’t have been, was. Make me believe that what isn’t, is. Make me believe that, and I will follow the story anywhere it goes.

    Even if it is a total lie.

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  142. Ridley
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 15:01:46

    @Honeywell: There’s not liking a new feature and then there’s taking a new feature as a personal affront.

    You don’t have to like the tag, but taking it personally by calling the blog authors d-baggy, as though this small move ruins your life, is pink-sequined drama queen territory.

    I mean, shit, until a month ago, the tags were virtually meaningless, they were so haphazard. I fail to see how this alters the fabric of the universe so dramatically. You really have come to depend on the feature that heavily in a single month that this drastically ruins your browsing experience?

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  143. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 15:05:18

    @lazaraspaste: Drinks are on me.

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  144. Jane
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 15:07:45

    @lazaraspaste I believe that is why Robin prefers to use the word “authentic” rather than “accurate”. But by your definition, I would think that any definitional subgenre is an affront as it privileges one such subset of text above others. If the only term that were to be used to describe a book or text was one word, then your privilege argument may work. However, contextually, a tag is just one of many things use to describe the book itself. There is the grade, the text of the review, and all other tags associated with it. One tag does not a privilege make.

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  145. Unbiased Observer
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 15:33:24

    @lazaraspaste: I took the liberty of distilling your argument into a word cloud so it will be easier to digest.

    http://www.wordle.net/show/wrdl/4023761/Treatise_on_Mistorical

    @Jane: Wow, given time to type your reply, it looks like you read lazaraspaste’s entire comment in less than five minutes. I now see how you can read as many books in a month as I read in a year

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  146. Honeywell
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 15:38:30

    @Jane: Thank you for clarifying that. Although, I think a tag that acknowledges a historical that strives to get it “right” would be more helpful for readers I don’t have a problem with a mistorical tag in addition to the actual category any more than I have a problem with the agency tags.

    @Ridley: And there’s reading more into a post then what’s actually there…or intended, which I’ve already stated.

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  147. Sunita
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 15:43:55

    @lazaraspaste: As I read your argument, it focuses directly on the importance and role of history as part of art and literature. And you make some very valid points. But history, and the uses of history, are not only about art, literature, or aesthetic endeavors. And I use only here to mean “to the exclusion of all else,” not “merely.” Because the uses of history in art are extremely important.

    But history is also used to construct social narratives. Historical accounts, both fictional and non-fictional, are used to construct official political doctrine. They are used in the service of material, strategic goals. And they have material, strategic impact on the lives of individuals and communities. Historical narrative and historical memory are extremely powerful social tools. Yes, they speak to the imagination. But in social and political discourse they can also fuse myth and accepted facts together in people’s imaginations to create a new, distinct reality.

    I see a lot of romance readers who seem to agree that the history of women has been badly and incompletely written, and we don’t usually mean only aesthetically, but concretely. Yet if all that mattered were the artistic aspect, the “reality” of it would be unimportant.

    So I grant you your focus and agree that we should value it. Now how about granting me mine: When I read a text that reproduces and valorizes fact and interpretation in ways that are incorrect, insensitive, or insulting, it is within my purview as a reviewer to point that out. I’m not asking anyone to crown me the Queen of Historical Accuracy, or even to care that it matters to me enough to include it in a review. I see it as part of what I do when I evaluate a text that bears on topics on which I have specialized knowledge.

    And if communicating that information qualifies as “paternalistic,” or throws me into “douchebag” territory because I used the mistorical tag to signal that this is a text that set off my intellectual red flags, I guess I can live with that.

    BTW, that wasn’t really Jane’s error in leaving off the “historical” tag in the Spoil of War review, it was mine. I forgot to check to make sure all the tags I’d marked had been added into the list by the software. I don’t see the tags as direct substitutes, but as complementary.

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  148. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 15:49:47

    @Jane: Yes!

    I also want to comment on the edification point that has been raised persistently in this thread, especially in terms of what literature is supposed to do. I don’t actually think literature is supposed to educate, and the educational issues here are not, I repeat NOT, part of my own position. I’ve responded to them mainly because I resent the position that readers are stupid if they expect historical accuracy from historical fiction, and because of the way the onus for that is consistently being placed on the reader.

    In fact, one of my biggest concerns is the way IMO the Romance genre already uses history (or more often faux-history) to inculcate moral lessons (consciously or unconsciously) or perpetuate specific, morally-freighted concepts of gender and sexuality. Not to mention race and culture and all sorts of colonial and imperial power dynamics. That, more than anything, is probably driving a lot of my frustration with the state of HR, and one of the primary reasons I disagree so strongly with @lazaraspaste’s position on the use of history in HR. And it was very much in evidence in the SBTB thread on Heyer and The Grand Sophy, IMO.

    There’s also just the simple principle of the thing. What is to be lost by using researchable, reliable history in HR? If it’s something substantial, then we’re outside the realm of HR entirely, IMO, and into Alternate Historical Romance or Fantasy or whatever people want to call it.

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  149. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 16:00:52

    @Sunita: But history is also used to construct social narratives. Historical accounts, both fictional and non-fictional, are used to construct official political doctrine. They are used in the service of material, strategic goals. And they have material, strategic impact on the lives of individuals and communities. Historical narrative and historical memory are extremely powerful social tools. Yes, they speak to the imagination. But in social and political discourse they can also fuse myth and accepted facts together in people’s imaginations to create a new, distinct reality.

    This is why I keep pointing to that Heyer discussion in SBTB. NOT because I’m worried about everyone thinking Heyer was The Word on the Regency so much as I’m concerned about the ideological implications of that slippage between historical authority in the genre as written by Heyer and as written by actual historians (and in primary sources from the period itself). And I think Heyer is a really good example, because her books are themselves so entrenched in class differences, that it’s been interesting and sometimes problematic to see how her own social narrative has been translated into the Regency Romance subgenre, and how the reconstruction of Heyer’s social narrative in later books is, IMO, anything but aesthetically and ideologically neutral.

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  150. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 16:08:30

    @Robin/Janet: If “education” (including the construction of social narratives based on what one has “learned” from the literature) isn’t one of the purposes of literature, who cares whether the history is accurate or not?

    I just don’t think you can have it both ways, Robin. Either the educational/informative effect is important and therefore the accuracy/authenticity is vital, or there is no educational/informative effect and therefore the accuracy/authenticity is irrelevant.

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  151. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 16:16:14

    @Linda Hilton: I explained above (several times, in fact, including in my response to your comment on the Heyer convo at SBTB) why I think it’s important.

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  152. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 16:21:48

    @Linda Hilton: And quite honestly, it amazes me that any woman wouldn’t think it’s important given the way bastardized/twisted/faux historical narratives have been used to oppress/marginalize/disempower/otherwise demonize our gender. The history of U.S. rape law provides a perfect example of this.

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  153. Patricia Rice
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 16:22:45

    I’ve been writing “historical romance” for 30 years. It’s fiction. I never intended my romances to be schoolbooks. When I first started, I was aware that people used romance as a history lesson, however, and tried very hard to be accurate. That said, it’s difficult to find three history books to agree with each other on almost any given point. And Heyer admitted to making up some of her language (just to prove plagiarism), so she’s hardly a resource. But as time goes on, I have to wonder if history is the point at all. I can make up towns and families and dukes that never existed. Can I make up squares in London that never existed? How far can we push the fiction in any historical fiction book? But I do wish authors would at least attempt to get it right–”bollix” is not a Regency word! Or maybe they can pretend it is because…it’s fiction?

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  154. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 16:34:57

    @Robin/Janet: You wrote, above, I don’t actually think literature is supposed to educate, and the educational issues here are not, I repeat NOT, part of my own position.

    Then you wrote in the next paragraph, In fact, one of my biggest concerns is the way IMO the Romance genre already uses history (or more often faux-history) to inculcate moral lessons (consciously or unconsciously) or perpetuate specific, morally-freighted concepts of gender and sexuality. Not to mention race and culture and all sorts of colonial and imperial power dynamics.

    If that second part doesn’t constitute “education,” what would you call it? And what would you prefer that the Romance genre do? Seriously, I’m not being snarky at all, or at least I’m trying very very hard not to be, because I must have missed something important. I’m confused, because I thought the whole issue with “accuracy” and “authenticity” was so readers wouldn’t get bad information and use it to make bad decisions or continue outmoded attitudes. But if “accurate” history reinforces gender and race and sexuality concepts of a previous time period, wouldn’t historical INaccuracies suggest ways to change?

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  155. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 16:53:00

    @Linda Hilton: But if “accurate” history reinforces gender and race and sexuality concepts of a previous time period, wouldn’t historical INaccuracies suggest ways to change?

    Not necessarily. Take the “virginity was the historical norm” myth. That, IMO, often perpetuates an equivalency of virtue with virginity in Romance (not universally, but often enough that I think it’s problematic). Now there may be certain good storytelling reasons to make the heroine a virgin (and some readers find it romantic), but basing this state on history (which I’ve even see Jo Beverly do in saying that virginity was the historical norm), is REALLY problematic, IMO, and not at all liberating.

    Now I realize that there are people who will argue that everything is ideological and why worry about faux history when history itself is ideologically freighted. But my response to that is why add on another layer, then? Why is history bastardized the way it is in Romance? What purpose does it serve, and is that purpose worth looking at? What do we lose with at more accurate/authentic historicism in HR? No one has really addressed that question yet, although I think it’s just as important as the questions the pro-faux history folks are asking.

    Why isn’t the ideological question one of education to me? Because for me it’s not about teaching a right or wrong way via fiction. For me it’s about multiple things, including 1) the bare principle of the thing: Historical Romance implies that history is a critical, even titular, element of the Romance. So why shouldn’t it aspire to be as authentic as possible?, 2) the ways in which history is already used in Romance and how those uses are being perpetuated without reflection and discussion, and 3) my frustration with the vast range currently called “Historical Romance” and my cynical frustration with books nominally set in the past b/c the subgenre has a certain longevity in terms of sales. FWIW, I got irritated when historical authors felt they needed to do the vamp thing b/c that’s what was selling at the time, too, especially when they tried to combine the two subgenres. I’ve just not read many great books written in that faddish mode, and it aggravates me as a reader.

    I think there was a comment above that implied true history limits the choices Romance authors can make in their text. IME of studying history, the opposite is true — history offers so many wondrous, diverse, and entertaining individuals and events that Romance has only scratched the surface of what the past has to offer in terms of inspiration and context. But not only do readers get extremely limited selections in terms of time and place, but we often get selections that feel recycled from other books. Other historically inaccurate books. That may signal some powerful myth-making, but I’m kind of wary of the myths being made (and perpetuated).

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  156. Courtney Milan
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:03:10

    Here’s what I try to write:

    (a) books that could happen in early Victorian times
    but
    (b) which didn’t

    Occasionally

    (c) I make a mistake on language by accident
    or
    (d) purposefully use more modern language because the period language doesn’t suit

    (e.g.: after my first book, I stopped using period words for sex like “shag” and started using “making love”–because people object to the first on historical basis, but not to the second–this even though the second is in fact historically accurate, and the first was used)

    I make a basic effort to get clothing and decor right, but I notice these things in real life almost not at all, and thus ditto for my treatment in fiction. I do think I work really, really hard on other aspects of the book.

    But I do not, and will not, try to write a book that could have been or would have been written in Victorian England. Specifically: I write about more sex than they would have been able to openly sell in a bookstore without getting thrown in jail.

    My basic problem with the tag is that different people get pissed off about different things. The vast majority of complaints about historical accuracy in my books come about like this: “People did not think about sex this way back then.”

    In the book I’m finishing now, I am certain that some people will complain about the sex. CERTAIN. I’m certain that some people outside of this blog will use the “mistorical” label to mean “this book features a heroine who is happy to have sex outside of marriage.”

    And yet obviously, people had sex outside of marriage before modern times, with varying attitudes towards the practice.

    I’m not trying to denigrate the opinion of people who don’t like that kind of thing.

    In short, I don’t think we need ONE historical accuracy label. I think we need several, to indicate what kind of historically inaccurate behavior people mean.

    Because otherwise, I challenge anyone to find a single book written in modern times that WOULDN’T get the “mistorical” tag from some reader. I can find something inaccurate in any given book.

    It’s just not a one-size-fits-all preference. Historical inaccuracy–and we are *all* guilty of it, in some form or other–comes in many different flavors and sizes.

    I know my flavor of historical inaccuracy, and it’s not the same as other people’s flavor. I don’t care if you call me a mistorical or whatever, but I think it is not labeling like to like to imply that my flavor of mistoricity would be the same as, say, Phoenix Sullivan’s.

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  157. KKJ
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:04:55

    @Sherry Thomas: If you’re talking quality, I prefer white wine or margaritas. If you lean more toward quantity, Bud Light is fine.

    I’ve been lurking here for a few weeks, getting up the courage to post. Not that you people are intimidating or anything, no not at all. And I kinda forgot to look for an “introduce yourself” thread….

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  158. Sunita
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:09:48

    @Linda Hilton: Not Robin/Janet. But since I’m the one who brought up the social construction of narrative: education is one of the blunter instruments. But reproduction and transmission of cultural norms, or the creation of a conventional wisdom, is often accomplished without anything that looks like what most people would call “education.” And it doesn’t have to be one of the purposes of literature to be one of the uses of literature.

    People learn from stories, whether they mean to or not, whether the author is consciously trying to teach them or not. When you gain information, your brain makes sense of it in terms of what you already know. If you don’t know much about a setting or a culture, you won’t necessarily question what you read, but you’ll probably remember it. This has nothing to do with being stupid or intelligent. It’s just the mind’s tendency to sort and order. It’s one of the reasons stereotypes are so hard to dislodge even when people have additional information and want to incorporate it into their understanding.

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  159. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:19:40

    @Robin/Janet: And quite honestly, it amazes me that any woman wouldn’t think it’s important

    That’s just it, Robin. I’ve never said historical accuracy wasn’t important. I’ve always defended those who point out the errors, and I’ve pointed them out myself when I’ve found them. I can’t read Garwood because of them. I’ve tried, and I value the walls in my house too much to try again.

    And yes, I understand the value to women’s lives and well-being in challenging the gendered status quo that can be depicted in fiction. For a non-lawyer and non-academic, I’ve got a heckuva lot of books on rape in my personal library.

    But I just don’t understand how anyone can take the attitude of recognizing the influence that popular culture can have on real people’s lives, and then just say “I don’t think literature is supposed to educate.” Literature DOES educate, and inculcate and pontificate and fulminate. And I do think accuracy is important, and blatant inaccuracies drive me up the wall. (Maggie Osborne’s “Portrait in Passion” was imho a singularly powerful story of a woman’s emotional and psychological and financial development and it just got fucking ruined when the orchids were flown in from Brazil the night before the New York City party in 1876. . . . and being told years later that it was supposedly an editorial oversight and Maggie was embarrassed by it didn’t change anything.)

    I just think that, as Lazaraspaste said so much more eloquently and learnedly than I can, if the historical accuracy is privileged, via having its own special tag, over other aspects and other accuracies, what message does that send? Marital rape was virtually impossible until the Rideout case; a husband had the legal right to sex with his wife whenever he wanted it whether she wanted it or not. If we write a story set in 1960 or 1860 or 1360, historical accuracy says we can’t challenge that, but 2011 moral choices suggest that maybe we ought to. How do we do that without playing a little bit fast and loose with history?

    Now, I’m gonna stray into territory I’m not all that familiar with, but iirc back in about 1999 or 2000 there was a big academic flap over revelations that Nobel Peace Prize recipient Rigoberta Menchu had kinda sorta fibbed in the book that earned her the prize. She wasn’t exactly the impoverished and oppressed peasant she’d said she was, or something to that effect. And one of the issues brought out in her defense was the tradition of the testimonio or a slightly constructed/construed narrative of what could have happened or maybe should have happened or maybe would have happened, and because it could have, it was more or less deemed to have happened in actuality and therefore was true even if it wasn’t.

    Again, I said I’m probably getting this a bit muddled and mixed up, and there were iirc academics who condemned Menchu and others who defended her.

    My point is, I think the DA tag which was the subject of this thread, may not be the best way to get across the value of historical accuracy in historical romances. I understand the point that’s being made — history is real and it should be respected. But as Lazaraspaste said, maybe fiction is more about what could and should and might have been and might could yet still be.

    I don’t want to lose the wonderment of fiction on the altar of historical accuracy or authenticity, but at the same time I don’t want fiction to present itself as history and then fuck it up. As Patricia Rice observed, even historians can’t agree on everything. I believe it is important for reviewers to cite errors of fact as well as errors of plot logic and inconsistencies of characterization and bad grammar and bad French and bad Spanish and made-up Latin. But I do believe that when one of those bads gets a tag, it says that this particular bad is more bad and more important than any other bad, maybe even to the point of outweighing the good.

    And if I come across as belligerent and flame-warring, I assure you that was never my intent. I’m just trying to understand things.

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  160. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:24:27

    @Sunita: On education — I totally agree with everything you wrote.

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  161. lazaraspaste
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:34:28

    @jane_l You are right. One tag does not a privilege make. What I object to isn’t the category because categories help readers find things they like. What I object to is the principle behind the category. I mean, I think authentic is as loaded a term if not more loaded than accurate. Is an authentic narrative better than an inauthentic narrative? If so, why? And authentic to what? Authentic brings to my mind an association with a state of being and to existentialism that I think is even more complicated than a term like accurate. But of course, I think, too, you ought to tag the reviews in a way you think is useful to readers because that is what reviews are supposed to do: be useful to readers.

    It is just that I think that the need for such a tag points to a way in which a lot of readers think about the value of literature. And what is valuable. And it is there that the privilege lies. And I mean privilege in the sense of privileging a particular angle of interpretation. Which, of course, is sort of the essence of reviewing. And tags and labels and genre names help readers, like reviews, find books they like. So yeah.

    Still, it touches upon issues I see constantly being debated in my other life. And these are issues that are old issues, thus the Aristotle. I don’t have any easy answer to how romance should render history. But I’m not sure that the answer is just to render it better. After all, there are many things that are rendered badly but are still great works of art. Some art doesn’t render at all.

    @Sunita I certainly wasn’t trying to claim that history is not important. Or doesn’t have real world consequences. I think I said that I thought that it did. I believe I said I thought art was dangerous for that reason. Nor did I suggest that mistakes shouldn’t be pointed out. Or call you a douche. I mean, you haven’t popped your collar recently? Or wearing puka shell necklaces, have you? ;)
    Besides, it would be terribly hypocritical because I’ve called authors out for not thinking about the historical context of their work before:

    http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/overall-c-reviews/c-minus-reviews/review-that-perfect-someone-by-johanna-lindsey/

    Uh. Yeah. People still hate me for that one.

    I think that this is a complex subject. Really complex. Which I think is why I don’t like the term. I get why it is useful. But I also think that sometimes a book that is arepresentational and historically inaccurate is doing something with it’s failure to represent history that is interesting and important. To me it is like the difference between this:
    http://museumofbadart.org/coll5/image03.php

    And this:
    http://www.postercheckout.com/PrintImagesNew/NYG/S1334.jpg

    Sometimes, when something is new and pushes our buttons we have a far more difficult time telling what it is trying to do. And if we decided one type of representation is better or more important or just more our thing or whatever, than another we might miss something. Of course, I miss crap all the time. I’ve spent my life belittling Dickens only to fall in love with him this year. I am eating crow.

    @Robin/Janet I guess my reposte to that would be: but does historical authenticity prevent inculcation of morally freighted concepts of gender and sexuality? Or does it prevent it anymore than the ahistorical? Or the inaccurate historical? I mean, Lukacs thought the purpose of the historical novel was to point out that our historical moment changes and loved Walter Scott because he shows the shift between the feudal and the capitalist cultures in the Scottish highlands. But I don’t know if anyone now would call Scott historically accurate (would they?) So is historical inauthenticity all right if it is used for a more progressive or radical politcal ideology?

    I don’t really actually expect an answer to those questions. More, they are meant to point out that my early comment was not meant to express all my thoughts on the matter. Just a sampling.

    @Unbiased Observer–That’s pretty darn cool.

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  162. Jessica
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:35:10

    @Robin/Janet: “But my response to that is why add on another layer, then? Why is history bastardized the way it is in Romance? What purpose does it serve, and is that purpose worth looking at? What do we lose with at more accurate/authentic historicism in HR? No one has really addressed that question yet, although I think it’s just as important as the questions the pro-faux history folks are asking. ”

    I think those are great questions, but I personally would have tried asking them of authors and fellow readers first.

    Otherwise, and I am sure this was not your intention, it looks like you are assuming that there can be no possible justifying purpose, so that widespread and oft replicated inaccuracies and inauthenticities in what is called “historical romance” are the unhappy and accidental result of ignorance and/or laziness on the part of thousands of authors and millions of readers.

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  163. lazaraspaste
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:55:25

    @Sunita YES! Thank you for distinguishing use vs. purpose. I think we agree on that. I think, being literature person, I tend to think of purpose as in: what is narrative? What is story? Why tell it this way instead of that way? Why tell a story at all? What is the relationship of this story with other stories?

    Whereas you, as a history sociology person, think of use: how do people use this? How does this effect attitudes, reinforce norms? How does this diverg or reflect particular attitudes or perspectives of particular moments in time and culture?

    I do not mean purpose in the sense of that literature has one single goal, it is meant to do this and only this. And I do not think you means use in the sense that literature is only valuable because it can be used. That would make us both propgandists, which lord knows we aren’t.

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  164. John
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 17:57:28

    I cannot speak for the rest of DA, or the majority of the readership. I’m in a minority in regards to historical accuracy, but I want to at least give my limited perspective on what this tag is (and isn’t) to me as a reader.

    Mistorical is something that can and will help the general readership, I think. I’ve talked enough with Robin, Sunita,ect. to know that they have a preference for historical romance that is high on the accuracy end of things. I am more than okay with that, and I admire their ability to be able to tell the difference between a novel high in historical accuracy and one that just goes through the motions (or does everything amazingly wrong.) The tag, to them and a good portion of DA readers, will probably be useful in identifying the stories with a plethora of historical inaccuracies.

    What’s problematic is the fact that, as a reader and reviewer, I wouldn’t use the tag the same way they would. I’m down with whatever decision we make at DA, but I have to admit I find the tag hard to use because I really do not know what constitutes historical accuracy. I’m not even in college yet, and AP History courses don’t cover period detail to the point where you could write a novel set in the time period that is accurate enough for historical reader standards.

    So, what would I constitute as a “mistorical”? Aside from extreme cases like Phoenix Sullivan, I’m not sure. I just read Woodiwiss’s TF&TF, and honestly I only noticed a few historical inaccuracies. Mostly the extreme amount of bathing that went on. But who knows? Maybe baths were common then and I don’t know it. The problem is that each reader not only takes every book differently, but they also have a different understanding of history and what it does and does not constitute in the larger scale.

    While the “mistorical” tag is good for the reviewers that find it useful, the general readership will define things differently. I also think the connection to Sci-Fi someone made a while back is interesting, as I’ve seen that and YA world building being debated a lot in the same vein. I answer it much the same as this: good world building (in this case the world building being historical accuracy) is all well and important, but the reader can garner something completely off base from what the text “intends” and it would still be considered correct.

    So good world building is in the eye of the beholder? What I’m trying to convey is that history (or world building) is sketchy and a lot harder to understand than we can perceive as readers. What one reader sees as a plot hole…another could easily reason out. I find this common when I talk dystopian lit especially with people. Does this mean people should say screw-it to doing a good job? No. But to the readership, I think we need to find a way to encourage historical accuracy without making the connotation that it’s intentionally an author’s laziness or poor research that’s the cause.

    I find the discussion this tag has caused extremely fascinating, really. I’m not sure where exactly I stand on the importance of historical accuracy and what it means, but I do think the tagging is something that’s more fit for DA than an overall sub-genre category based on the response and the way it’s so broad.

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  165. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:00:01

    @Jessica: Well, if you don’t read past the third or fourth paragraph of my post, maybe. And if you ignore most of my comments, especially those where I address the interesting phenomenon of a genre mythology and note the existence of legitimate storytelling aims for that.

    But in any case, I think the entire second half of my post asks all of those questions and more without assuming any of the things you impute to me. And while I keep trying to get a conversation going about that part of my post, it just doesn’t seem to be happening. So for me, this has become The Fourth Wall Redux.

    @Linda Hilton: Every single tag is a “privilege” in those terms, Linda. And I just don’t think we have a responsibility to come up with a tag for every single possible thing of importance to each of us in reviews. Mistorical — like it or hate it — covers a substantial issue across a large subgenre that has been of concern to a number of us, although I can’t imagine Jane would be averse to other tags for other common characteristics.

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  166. Christine
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:04:56

    @Ridley “@Honeywell: There’s not liking a new feature and then there’s taking a new feature as a personal affront.

    You don’t have to like the tag, but taking it personally by calling the blog authors d-baggy, as though this small move ruins your life, is pink-sequined drama queen territory.

    I mean, shit, until a month ago, the tags were virtually meaningless, they were so haphazard. I fail to see how this alters the fabric of the universe so dramatically. You really have come to depend on the feature that heavily in a single month that this drastically ruins your browsing experience?”

    Ridley that was both apt and hilarious. As long as we are all buying drinks for each other I’m totally buying one for you. And I am absolutely stealing …er..borrowing “pink-sequined drama queen territory.”

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  167. Sherry Thomas
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:18:47

    @KKJ: *looking at budget*

    Woot! Enough for both quality and quantity. ;-)

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  168. lazaraspaste
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:19:48

    @Robin/Janet: That’s true. We all got side-tracked.

    In answer to this:
    And yet the sheer depth and breadth of reader investment in Heyer’s books adds another layer to the dilemma of historicism, because in some cases it seems Heyer is not only being invoked as an author, but as a historical authority herself, for her own books and those derived from her body of work. Heyer seems to be both source and author, which shapes not only what is seen as “true” in her books and those influenced by her work, but also what is deemed appropriate in terms of reader response. That is, it seems that Heyer’s influence is influencing not only what we read in Regency Romance, but how we should be reading it, as well. Which for me diverges substantially from the notion and relevance of historical accuracy in the Romance genre as a whole.

    One of the things I find very interesting about genre (I would actually extend that to literature as a whole, but let’s stick to genre), is that often it seems to be in conversation not with the world or reality or the real, but other narratives and stories. What I mean is, that the sacrosanct nature of Heyer’s history has less to do with authors thinking she is historically accurate (although some do, obviously), but that they are interested in telling a story withing the boundaries of Heyer’s history and not the accurate history of our world. I liken it to wanting to go through the Wardrobe to Narnia. You realize, at some point, that you cannot get there in the world. But you can get there by writing another story like Narnia.

    Of course, then the problem becomes whether or not the author is aware of the distinciton between history and Heyer’s history. If the text is using Heyer’s history in full acknowledgment that it is an interpretation of history and not an accurate one, then it is perhaps because the story wants to say something to Heyer’s history which it cannot say to or would be meaningless if said within a real historical context.

    Ugh. That may not have made sense. What I mean is, that often authors write stories in order to have conversations with other stories that they once read. Which may explain the perpetuation of historical inauthenticities. They are less concerned with the acutal history and more concerned with the image or picture of place and period that was evoked in their mind.

    Okay. That may not have made any more sense. I’m giving up for a second.

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  169. Sunita
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:20:08

    @lazaraspaste: Crap, I was hoping no one saw the puka shells.

    No, that part referred to other comments, sorry not to be clear.

    I singled out the social construction part because I think that the literary and sociological dimensions of how history is employed are in tension with each other, and our response to each has the potential to be in tension as well. I think both are important and therefore it’s a tough problem.

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  170. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:31:42

    @lazaraspaste: No, I get what you’re saying and that difference is what I’m trying to parse out. I think you could make an argument (one I likely would not agree with but which I think either of us could reasonably construct) that genre Romance — at least Regency Romance — has created its own form of historical accuracy in a Heyeresque sense. Which is, of course, related to your larger point about texts being in conversation (and the related concept of intertextuality).

    Where I get concerned is in the mimesis of certain perceptions of historicity that isn’t really reflected on. Which is NOT the same thing as saying that authors aren’t thinking about what they’re writing — as you know, these things often occur on a deeper level, and with the genre trending toward shorter and shorter books, we’re seeing more and more shorthand.

    To some degree, that mimesis characterizes the genre, as you know. But past that, to what degree is Regency Romance, in particular (although I think we could extend the convo to other subgenres with other iconic texts), not merely riffing off of other books but deferring to them, as well, as authoritative in a sense that goes beyond the pages of the book itself. Some of that seemed to be happening in that Goldhanger discussion, and I don’t really know what it was all about or how to read its significance. Except that I think it is significant, and I think it’s probably merely a really overt example of something that happens more subtly in different contexts. It’s certainly made me much more self-conscious about my own genre conversations, although, as I said, I don’t have a lot of clarity yet about all the layers of significance.

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  171. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 18:39:35

    @lazaraspaste: Oh, and one more thing. I was deeply disturbed by some of the dismissals of Goldhanger’s portrayal during that Heyer discussion, and at some points I wanted to say, ‘who gives shit if it was common for people in Heyer’s cultural context to be anti-Semitic – in the context of the story, you don’t need a one-dimensional slurred stereotype like that!” In other words, I think the story should have trumped the history in that context.

    Which I’m sure sounds somewhat contradictory to a lot of what I’ve been saying here, but I think it’s more that I see historicity as so deeply entwined with HR as a subgenre that I’d rather look at the uses of history in the time of TGS, not of Heyer’s life.

    And even if it’s historically accurate in the novel’s time, what purpose does it serve in the story? That’s where the authorial voice comes in, of course, but again, to what purpose? For me, it can demonstrate the context in which Heyer constructed that character, but I’m wary of using that to discourage readers from reacting to Goldhanger in a negative way. Not just because Heyer the person and Heyer the authorial voice are distinct entities, but also because it feels like complicity with the Heyer-centric universe of Regency Romance more than a thoughtful intertextual and historically contextualized genre conversation.

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  172. Jane
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 19:00:03

    @lazaraspaste For me, the argument should be framed differently. Can you identify a historical romance that was worse off for being historically accurate or conversely to borrow Robin’s term, historically authentic. We aren’t a genre that is replete with writer scholars and thus the problem in the long period of publishing historical romance isn’t that the books are too accurate or too authentic or that there is some problem from rendering them better. By asking for historicals to be more accurate or more authentic isn’t a desire to strip away the art from the fiction. In fact, part of the art is learning to what to integrate and what to leave out. I see few readers who are avid history buffs asking for books to be filled with more disease, lower birth rates, and less hygiene. The leaving out of those things is part of the art (just like the wet spot is rarely mentioned or morning breath kisses). But also part of the art is the authenticity of the world. You talk about creating a believable world and to me part of that is understanding the period in which the book is set.

    If the historicity of the period is of no matter, then why, as you ask, is this setting used? Why Regency and not Georgian? Why early Victorian versus late Victorian? In the podcast interview I did with Stephanie Laurens she said she was reluctant to write the 2nd generation of Cynsters because that bled into an early Victorian time period when women’s rights were further repressed and she didn’t think she could write the types of heroines she wanted in that restrictive time period. Author Amanda Scott told me that the reason she loves writing about Scottish historicals (apart from being a British scholar herself) that Scottish women had rights that women in most other areas in Europe did not possess. They could own land; the title could run through them; they were chieftans in their own right; they could refuse to marry. They were largely Catholic, of course, and so were raised to honor their fathers, but still, the right existed.

    There are a couple of other reasons to champion those that try to render history better. First is that it honors those authors who are really efforting to provide that authentic experience for the reader. Second is to honor the people about whose history the authors are choosing to write. I’ve seen more than on British or Scottish reader disgusted by the licenses that are taken. Again, I think the problem in the genre, currently, is not books that are attempting to render historicity better, but honoring historicity at all.

    For reviewing, the problem is that everyone is going to have a different privileged viewing angle. You and Sunita, for example, talk about historicity from a different point of view, each position no less valid but merely different.

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  173. Jill Sorenson
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 19:04:23

    I’m trying to follow this discussion but so many big words are being used. Mimesis? Impute? I don’t even know what historicity means. You all go ahead without me.

    The only thing I can offer is a suggestion. Why not do a for/against poll? If the majority is in favor, bring on the mistorical tag. If not, perhaps rethink it.

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  174. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 19:12:01

    @Robin/Janet: Well, yeah, it is contradictory, and I would almost go so far as to call it mental gymnastics. I don’t think it’s possible to draw such a clear distinction between Heyer the person and Heyer the authorial voice. There has to be some crosspollination, if you will. Heyer the person created that character of her own free will I suppose, and I think it’s quite all right to say, “Look, I love Heyer and I love this book, but I just can’t ignore the vicious anti-Semitism in the characterization of Goldhanger.” Hey, nobody’s perfect.

    But the point is, if it’s all right to say 2011 social attitudes should trump historical accuracy in Heyer because anti-Semitism is so repugnant, you’re only arguing a matter of degree and justification, not from a standard of historical purity. There are many people today whose attitudes and beliefs are no different from that illustrated by the characterization of Goldhanger.

    So is historical accuracy only a good thing when it advances progressive or liberal or (insert ideology of your choice) values? Or do we get to pick and choose? If we get to pick and choose, then the suggested tag is a bit unfair. IMHO. It’s still a value judgment, and I haven’t seen any other tags that are.

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  175. eggs
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 19:29:29

    Confession: I don’t even read the tags. I just read the reviews and comments and decide if it sounds like a book I’m interested in reading or not.

    I read very broadly in romance. It’s all good to me – a long as the romance is good. From the discussions on this board, however, it’s clear that some other readers have VERY specific sub-genre tastes, and I see the tags as being for them, the exclusive readers. If a reader’s taste is for ‘historical’ and ‘historical accuracy’, why not use a tag that helps them find it?

    Personally, the one sub-genre I don’t enjoy is menage. Others like to read it exclusively. I’m sure, if I cared enough, I could use the tags to avoid reading reviews of menage books. As it is, I read the reviews anyway, even though I don’t read the books. I don’t understand how tagging a book ‘historical’ and ‘mistorical’ is any different to tagging it ‘historical’ and ‘menage’ to help people find the books they’re interested in reading (or avoiding).

    The tags are just a sorting mechanism for people who have very specific tastes, so why all the emotion from people who don’t have such specific tastes? Just ignore the tags and read the review. It’s not hard.

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  176. KKJ
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 19:31:38

    @Sherry Thomas: Woot! Enough for both quality and quantity. ;-)

    Sherry, you are now officially at the top of my TBR list. Throw in some good chocolate and you’re an auto-buy.

    Other authors, take note: I’m a compulsive romance buyer and I respond well to bribery.

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  177. Jessica
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 19:44:20

    @Robin/Janet: “@Jessica: Well, if you don’t read past the third or fourth paragraph of my post, maybe. And if you ignore most of my comments, especially those where I address the interesting phenomenon of a genre mythology and note the existence of legitimate storytelling aims for that.

    But in any case, I think the entire second half of my post asks all of those questions and more without assuming any of the things you impute to me. And while I keep trying to get a conversation going about that part of my post, it just doesn’t seem to be happening. So for me, this has become The Fourth Wall Redux.”

    I did read all of those things. But, because I am easily confused, I just reread your post and all of your comments. And, I am sorry to report that I do not see any place where you seriously try to think of reasons why smart capable women — authors and readers — might want to write and read “mistoricals”. In the end, those reasons might not be defensible, but let’s give some credit to people we disagree with.

    Of course there might be problems with particular books that perpetuate certain pernicious myths. But the problem in those cases is that they perpetuate certain myths which are pernicious today, not the inaccuracy per se.

    You keep mentioning the discussion of Heyer and how Heyer has become canonical for later romance writers. Well, I never heard of Heyer before I got online and started reading Dear Author and I bet the vast majority of romance readers have never heard of Heyer, either. Sure, it is interesting to think about the effect Heyer may have on some readers and writers, but I see that as a separate issue. And maybe the reason many commenters have not taken you up on the Heyer thing is not ignorance or fear, but the fact that it *IS* a separate issue. We’re not willfully refusing to discuss it. It’s just not relevant.

    As far as your claims about what many romance readers think (i.e. that historical romances are accurate history), I have to take those with a huge grain of salt. There are millions of romance readers, and I am not sure why you think what are essentially personal anecdotes amount to data. I can argue the other way from my own armchair, based on my own experiences as a reader and blogger, and we really won’t get any closer to the truth about how most romance readers use the “history” in historical romance.

    You keep saying “this is the fourth wall discussion all over again.” Who are you talking to when you say that? And what is meant by the comment? It reads to me like you are looking to the sky and rolling your eyes at everyone who disagrees with you.

    Well, maybe it *is* like the Fourth Wall discussion, but not in the way you intend. I thought major parts of your argument were pretty weak in that case, and I think so in this one as well. And I think other commenters in both threads have done a good job of trying very hard and very patiently to explain to you why.

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  178. Sunita
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 19:53:04

    @Linda Hilton: I wrote a post here at DA a little while ago on the author v. the authorial persona. Obviously they overlap, but for me it’s important to note that they are not identical.

    As for Heyer, she made choices. As I wrote on my blog, she featured several different Jewish characters, and she approached them in different ways. In one case she presented the anti-Semitic observations through the other characters; in another the moneylender was off-page and not characterized in anti-Semitic terms.

    But the idea that all Jews (or all Jewish moneylenders and businessmen) conformed to her characterization, in the Regency or in 1950, is just wrong. They were not all oily, greasy, grasping, obsequious, etc. You only have to look at the accounts of the time (and later scholarly work) to determine that. So yes, she made choices as an author. Were they “historically accurate?” Maybe; I’m not sure. Were they uniformly true? I’m almost positive they were not.

    So to me, pointing out the choices she made as an author, as demonstrated in her books, is not rewriting history to make it more palatable. It is showing that the characterizations she chose were drawn from a richer and more diverse palette than we might realize.

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  179. Lynn S.
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 19:53:51

    I’ve had more time to think about this and the argument here is merging with issues raised in the debate over at SBTB regarding The Grand Sophy, specifically the back and forth on Heyer’s writing being viewed through the lens of her life and times and the argument there moved outward to include her contemporary mysteries not just her historical works (specifically The Grand Sophy). Historicism applies to present day history also and to me that would mean that any book written this year, regardless of genre, setting, reality, research, etc. is a work of contemporary fiction for the reason that the author is writing it in 2011. Meaning, all good intentions aside, an author cannot cast off the time in which they live their life no matter how deeply they research or how passionate their interest is in the history of the time in which their work of fiction is set. You will always bring yourself, your thoughts, your experience, your purpose, and your modern identity to the writing. It is hubris to think otherwise. You can’t divorce the writer from the writing and I question why anyone would want to.

    Heyer/Austen as historical resource is muddled for the reason that, after all the arguments have been waged, the end result is they were writing fiction. Believing that what is written in fiction of any genre is accurate doesn’t mean a person is dumb, simply naive about the underlying nature of fiction. A fiction either works for the reader or it doesn’t and no amount of labeling is going to cover every reader’s preferences, pragmatism, or level of knowledge. To think the mistorical term is going to stay as a nice little tag within the Dear Author landscape is also naive. Wallpaper historical started with one person and, while it isn’t known by everyone, it is a widely acknowledged term in the community of romance commentary. What about the wider question of general historical fiction, shouldn’t it also be called out as mistorical?

    Given the jesting comments of other suggestions besides mistorical, I’m still finding the term a bad idea and especially after Jane’s use of it in conjunction with Connie Brockway. The thought that a reader would miss out on the opportunity to experience the delicious writing of Brockway for no other reason than that they avoid anything with a mistorical label is upsetting to me. Exclusionary terms rarely help and some of the arguments being made on behalf of mistorical are patronizing. Since when does an arbitrary authority need to protect me, or any other reader, from myself or from books? If the reasoning is going to be about author or publisher claims regarding the history in the book (which I concede is a valid point), shouldn’t the tag refer only to unjust claims of historicity and be labeled as misrepresented, informationally inaccurate, does not meet historicity standards, proceed with caution, watch out for fresh paint…. it is an endless problem because who is then going to check the fact checker. If the book isn’t sealed for my protection, why would I assume that the review is? No offense meant to anyone and I actually enjoy and respect Robin/Janet’s reviews given her fierce love of historicity and her desire for authors to make better use of the vast historical landscape available to them but the trend that this particular tag represents disturbs me.

    @lazaraspaste: I’m not a drinker, but I love what you had to say. And it made a beautiful autumnal word cloud.

    @Jane:

    For me, the argument should be framed differently. Can you identify a historical romance that was worse off for being historically accurate or conversely to borrow Robin’s term, historically authentic.

    Not lazaraspaste, but I think that what Julie Anne Long accomplished in What I Did for a Duke would have imploded if historical authenticity had been applied to it.

    @Jackie Barbosa: To end things on a lighter note, how about contemperroneous.

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  180. DM
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 20:38:51

    @Linda Hilton

    “Space opera” is a classification by type, not by quality. For a reviewer to sneer at an author’s latest offering as “space opera” might suggest the subgenre doesn’t merit a second glance, but it doesn’t in and of itself imply the writing (research, characterization, the actual science) in that particular book is faulty. One could (and can) write a “space opera” masterpiece or just more “space opera” dreck.

    Unfortunately, like some historical romance authors, you failed to check your facts. And you didn’t need to look far. Space opera has its own page on Wikpedia. If you’d bothered to google, you would have discovered that:

    The phrase “space opera” itself was coined in 1941 by fanwriter (and later author) Wilson Tucker, in a fanzine article,[2] as a pejorative term. At the time, serial radio dramas in the US had become popularly known as soap operas because many were sponsored by soap manufacturers. Tucker defined space opera as the SF equivalent: a “hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn, spaceship yarn”.[3] Even earlier, the term horse opera had come into use as a term for western movies. In fact, some fans and critics have noted that the plots of space operas have sometimes been taken from horse operas and simply translated into an outer space environment.

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  181. Janine
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 20:45:40

    @Linda Hilton:

    It’s still a value judgment, and I haven’t seen any other tags that are.

    We’ve had tags for “good dialogue” “good description” “good narration” and I think “good characterization” here at DA dating back to 2006 (the year DA was founded) or 2007. We also have a tag called “real people” which I would submit is a value judgement as well since I’ve used it to tag reviews of books in which the characters felt real to me.

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  182. DM
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 20:47:42

    @Las

    Your comparison to science fiction doesn’t work for me, because I’m pretty sure no one reads SF expecting scientific accuracy.

    Analogies only work if you understand both of the terms being compared. In this case, I see that you aren’t familiar with the terms hard and soft science fiction. Again, this information is easily available. From the Wikipedia entry on hard science fiction:

    Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific or technical detail, or on scientific accuracy, or on both.[1][2] The term was first used in print in 1957 by P. Schuyler Miller in a review of John W. Campbell, Jr.’s Islands of Space in Astounding Science Fiction.[3][4][5] The complementary term soft science fiction (formed by analogy to “hard science fiction”[6]) first appeared in the late 1970s as a way of describing science fiction in which science is not featured, or violates the scientific understanding at the time of writing.

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  183. Mireya
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 20:52:04

    @Janine: I am on exactly that same boat as it pertains to contemps. I barely read any unless it’s an over the top semi-campy comedy a la Sandra Hill, in which case I know beforehand it’s not to be taken seriously AT ALL.

    Contempowrongy … I luvs that.

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  184. Janine
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 20:59:37

    @Jane:

    For me, the argument should be framed differently. Can you identify a historical romance that was worse off for being historically accurate or conversely to borrow Robin’s term, historically authentic.

    Isn’t “worse off” in the eye of the beholder? Last month I visited my mother-in-law who is a huge (I mean huge) Meredith Duran fan. I brought her a copy of A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal. She read it and liked it but didn’t love it as much as Meredith’s others because the depiction of the heroine’s poverty was difficult for her to read about.

    Since Meredith is one of my CPs and I am prone to second guessing myself, I thought about whether I should have encouraged Meredith to soft-pedal the disparity in wealth and power between the classes. I had not done so because I myself loved that aspect of the book. But also, it is not something I would do because in the course of researching my own novel I read about conditions in Bethnal Green in 1888 and I felt that to soft pedal them would do the truth of what they had been a disservice.

    Still, if you look at reviews and discussions of the book in various places online, it’s apparent that there are other readers who felt the way my mother-in-law did. Perhaps to those readers, the book is worse off for its historical authenticity, at least in regard to the way it depicts life in Bethnal Green during the late Victorian era.

    If so, I don’t agree with them, but I still want to see their opinions weighed and considered.

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  185. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 21:10:53

    @DM:

    DM –

    I overlooked this the other day, but I’m not going to this time.

    My
    Name
    Is
    Linda
    Hilton
    H – I – L – T – O – N
    and you don’t even have to look it up in Wikipedia.

    It’s on my post, it’s on my blog, it’s on the covers of my novels, it’s on my driver’s license, it’s on the deed to my house, it’s on the title to my car.

    I AM NOT LINDA HAMILTON.

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  186. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 21:11:14

    @Linda Hilton: So is historical accuracy only a good thing when it advances progressive or liberal or (insert ideology of your choice) values? Or do we get to pick and choose?

    But, see, it’s the picking and choosing I have an issue with. In other words, it’s one thing to say that we understand how Heyer’s own views might permeate her characterization, but it’s another thing, IMO, to say, ‘we need to cut her characterization some slack because in her own time it was understandable if she was prejudiced in X way.’ It’s the use of Heyer’s own historical context to direct how her characters are read that I think can be really problematic.

    Of course, as you and @Lynn S. have said, there is always a necessary look-back in historical fiction, because we’re viewing the past through the lens of the present. But I don’t think that makes it impossible for us to render the past as a different frame of reference. Sometimes, as @Courtney Milan pointed out, there is some cross-over, and those places can provide an opening for HR novelists. But I still think we need to be cautious about distinguishing the authorial voice from the person of the author. Because I’ve read numerous characters that I’d consider to be really stereotypically problematic, and yet the author as a person may not — in her whole, real life personhood — be that way at all. But how voice gets constructed on the fictional page can move in all sorts of directions not intended consciously by the author.

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  187. Anu
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 21:19:32

    On a practical level, this tag has pretty minimal impact. As best I understand, “mistorical” will be added as a tag only if the review *already* mentions inaccuracies. If it’s not in the review, it’s not in the tags.

    DA reviews *already* describe inaccuracies to the best of the reviewer’s knowledge – they already break down the inaccuracy’s nature, extent, and impact on the overall story and reading experience as understood by the reviewer. That is part of what a responsible review should do regardless of the tags applied. So those offended by mentions of inaccuracies or inauthenticity have already lost that fight. The tag merely points interested readers in the right direction.

    And that direction actually tells readers very little, but simply adds another search term. There will be mistoricals that get As, those that get Cs, those that get DNFs. As mentioned earlier, Hoyt’s Raven Prince gets “mistorical-ed” the same as Phoebe Sullivan’s book.

    The label says nothing about the quality of the story or the role of the inaccuracies in the story.

    For that, readers must still do the work of actually reading the review to decide for themselves. Readers still have to figure what the inaccuracy was, whether it would affect them as it did the reviewer and to what extent. IOW, readers should do what they’ve always done and judge the thing for themselves.

    Hardly paternalistic, as a post accused upthread.

    I get that the term itself is pejorative. But you know what’s truly pejorative? The grades D, F, and DNF. Those letters tells you a lot more than one term that indicates one data point that may or may not have affected the final score.

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  188. Cas
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 21:26:22

    I really don’t understand why this is such an issue. The word “historical” in regards to Historical Romance simply means that the romance is set in a historical time, not that it is a historical text with a romance thrown in. Am I mistaken in thinking that we are talking about romance, about a fictitious story?

    In having said that, I will qualify that if one is writing in the Regency period, for example, there is a certain expectation of the author to produce descriptions of dress, architecture, customs and “common” language that are relevant to the time. To give her story an authentic feel. I have no beef with that expectation. If they write about an historical figure their information should be true. I don’t think this is an expectation that cannot be met.

    I feel that readers who take an author to task because she describes the heroine as picking a flower that was not common to the area she is in (but could have grown there for all we know) or which does not flower until a few weeks later to be just nit picking (what if it was warm that year and they bloomed early?). They are ruining their own enjoyment of the book.

    I find it interesting that readers demand text book accuracy in their Historical fiction but also expect an author to produce at least a book a year if not 2. And yet, an historian can spend years and years pouring over texts to produce a book once every 5 or 10 years and maybe only once.

    I think the main thing to remember is that authors are people, they make mistakes. None of us are perfect, nor have photographic memories. Romance writers write about romance, historical romance writers write about romance in a historical setting. They are expected to keep the historical side of things to the background and make the romance the most important thing in the story. Therefore I find wallpaper historicals perfectly acceptable. If you want more history go for historical texts and or perhaps Historical Fiction – where the story is based on actual historical figures and the history is the story.

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  189. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 21:31:32

    @Robin/Janet: If you have “an issue” with the picking and choosing, are you for it or against it? Both? Neither? Is it all or nothing, or are you willing to cut some authors some slack if the inaccuracies advance your particular favored ideology, such as maybe the destruction of the “all the brides were virgins” trope?

    Let me state up front that I tried to read The Grand Sophy and it bored me right into sleep after about two pages. And it’s not because Heyer was writing in a different age, because I cut my historical romance teeth on the HR writers of her generation and earlier. I just plain didn’t like her style in that book, and I’ll probably never try another. Life’s too short and all that.

    But if one is going to use a label to denounce books and/or authors who don’t meet one’s standards of historical accuracy, is one going to be absolute in the application of that denunciation, or only when it suits one? If some books/authors are inaccurate but advance one’s chosen ideology, are they justified in doing so? If some books/authors are historically authentic but use that authenticity to advance an ideology contrary to one’s, does one give them a pass?

    What happens when the history is itself controversial or problematic or unknown and an author takes what is known and speculates on the rest? How much lattitude is allowed for speculation and imagination?

    Again, seriously, I’m not being snarky. I’m posing questions in maybe a devil’s advocate way as a means to explore what the proposed tag will really mean.

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  190. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 21:32:20

    @Jessica:

    And, I am sorry to report that I do not see any place where you seriously try to think of reasons why smart capable women — authors and readers — might want to write and read “mistoricals”.

    Well, maybe you would not consider me a “smart capable woman,” but I offered one reason I read them right in my post:

    All that said, I do not think that historicity can save a bad story (and again, see Sunita’s review of Spoil of War for an example of this), or that its lack can ruin a masterful one. An example of the latter can be found in the long discussion pursuant to my review of Julie Anne Long’s What I Did For A Duke.

    Good story. I’m sure there are others, but that’s a big one for me.

    Well, I never heard of Heyer before I got online and started reading Dear Author and I bet the vast majority of romance readers have never heard of Heyer, either.

    Actually, I think that “the vast majority of romance readers” probably know a shitload more about Heyer than I do. But that’s probably one of your “grain of salt” moments that I can only offer it as anecdotal evidence.

    Well, maybe it *is* like the Fourth Wall discussion, but not in the way you intend. I thought major parts of your argument were pretty weak in that case, and I think so in this one as well. And I think other commenters in both threads have done a good job of trying very hard and very patiently to explain to you why.

    Thus the beauty of argument and opinion. I admit I’ve gotten frustrated with all caps and multiple exclamation points, claims of douchebaggery, and having motives and reasons I did not articulate nor intend projected on to me. And I apologize for that frustration. But short of saying, “Of course you’re all right and I’m wrong!!!” I’ve tried to engage objecting comments seriously and at length. Including yours, which contains more than a little IMO uncalled for snideness.

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  191. Susanna Kearsley
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 21:37:15

    @Robin/Janet: “Which I’m sure sounds somewhat contradictory to a lot of what I’ve been saying here, but I think it’s more that I see historicity as so deeply entwined with HR as a subgenre that I’d rather look at the uses of history in the time of TGS, not of Heyer’s life.”

    I don’t think it’s at all contradictory. Heyer’s story did not need to “rise above the history”, it needed to adhere to it. I would argue that Goldhanger is not an historically accurate portrayal of a Jewish man of the Regency period. The anti-Semitism of the society he exists in may be accurate, but he himself is no more than, as you point out, “a one-dimensional slurred stereotype”.

    Look, George Eliot wrote Daniel Deronda in 1876, for heaven’s sake, and managed to accurately portray her own late Victorian society’s prejudices while still creating a cast of complex characters both Jewish and non-Jewish (the hero is himself half-Jewish).

    While Heyer’s cartoon-villain Goldhanger is “a thin, swarthy individual, with long greasy curls, a semitic nose, and an ingratiating leer”, George Eliot (writing 74 years earlier than Heyer), chose to introduce her character Mordecai with this description: “the thought glanced through Deronda that precisely such a physiognomy as that might possibly have been seen in a prophet of the Exile, or in some New Hebrew poet of the mediæval time. It was a fine typical Jewish face, wrought into intensity of expression apparently by a strenuous eager experience in which all the satisfaction had been indirect and far off, and perhaps by some bodily suffering also, which involved that absence of ease in the present. The features were clear-cut, not large; the brow not high but broad, and fully defined by the crisp black hair. It might never have been a particularly handsome face, but it must always have been forcible…”

    The first is caricature. The second is character.

    Sure, as writers we’re all influenced by our own times, but I can’t believe George Eliot’s time was more enlightened than Georgette Heyer’s.

    Writers make choices.

    The book I’m currently working on features several historical characters, both real and invented, who are Catholics. Most of the primary documents I’ve been using for my research, and a large number of the secondary sources written by British historians over the years, are heavily critical of and prejudiced towards these people because of their religion. In telling my story, I’d be whitewashing history to leave out those very real social prejudices. But that doesn’t mean that I simply create characters who conform to those prejudices. Doing that would not only be shoddy history, it would be a dishonour to the memory of the women and the men I’m representing in my fiction. I prefer to do my research, read their letters and their diaries and let them have the voices that the history books denied them.

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  192. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 21:40:27

    @Linda Hilton: As for what the tag will mean, for me it will simply refer to a book that I found historically inaccurate enough to be notable. That won’t mean the book won’t earn a high grade, because as I’ve pointed out several times now, a great story can trump historical lack.

    But if one is going to use a label to denounce books and/or authors who don’t meet one’s standards of historical accuracy, is one going to be absolute in the application of that denunciation, or only when it suits one?

    This is the crux of our problem right here. You see the tag as “denounc[ing] books and/or authors,” and I see it as marking a book as notably lacking in historicity. Sometimes that may translate into a low grade, but the reasons aren’t going to change if I don’t use the tag – I mean, my review and grade are still going to stand with all the reasons I did or did not find a book good.

    In regard to the Heyer thing, there are two issues there. One is the question of historical accuracy in Heyer in regard to Goldhanger. Sunita kind of covered that one, so I won’t repeat her response. For me, telling a reader she shouldn’t be offended by a Jewish slur in a Heyer book isn’t about historical accuracy in the same way. It’s about using the author’s personal history to dictate the way the book should be read.

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  193. Sunita
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 21:57:50

    @Jessica:

    Well, I never heard of Heyer before I got online and started reading Dear Author and I bet the vast majority of romance readers have never heard of Heyer, either.

    That’s an empirical question. Here’s my evidence:

    DA did not elevate Heyer. In fact, DA didn’t talk much about Heyer in the early years, relatively speaking. Neither did SB. AAR was the Temple of Heyer, if any online site was.

    For (non UK, since they kept Heyer in print continuously) readers who either started reading romance after the US pubs killed the trad Regency, or who didn’t have mother/sisters/femalerelatives to introduce them, maybe they didn’t run across The Great Georgette. But everyone else? How could you miss her? She was a guaranteed steady seller in hardcover, so every public library bought her (including university libraries). UBS bookstores had her books. Regency trad authors put Easter Eggs in their books in reference to her work. There are many many online sites dedicated to her work, and some of them have been there for quite some time. And lots and lots of people (not just online) talked about her.

    So no. That I cannot buy. Sorry.

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  194. Sunita
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 22:17:42

    @Anu: Fuck the “I’ll buy you a drink” reward. I’m upping the ante. The bar is yours.

    That is, with the caveat: As soon as @Susanna Kearsley: stops drinking on my dime.

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  195. KKJ
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 22:34:48

    OK, now to address the actual topic….

    I think a “mistorical” tag would be useful for later comparison purposes. After few months or so, go back and review all the mistoricals to compare their strengths/weaknesses.

    The “hmm, it’s not as bad as I first thought” ones can be assimilated back into the Bosom of Romance Society – maybe throw in a few Almack’s vouchers as appeasement.

    The truly horrible dreck can be eternally reviled as standard-bearers for the Legion of Bad Historical Writing.

    God, I love mixed metaphors. I am on a ROLL. Plus, I know how to use the verb “revile” correctly and I don’t even have a master’s in English.

    As for Heyer as historical reference, I think it’s perfectly fine for Regency authors to be influenced by her, just as Jean Plaidy (in all her incarnations) is the untouchable queen of straight historicals and several other genres.

    However, using Heyer (or any other fiction author) as a historical source is just plain lazy. If you want to be taken seriously as a Regency writer, do your own damn homework and quit invoking Heyer as an excuse for perpetuating misconceptions.

    If an author’s blog or Goodreads profile doesn’t mention any other acclaimed historical writers (Seton, Du Maurier, Sutcliff, Dunnett, Lofts, Stewart, Pargeter), any non-Austen/Bronte classics (Burney, Braddon, Gaskell, Scott), or any non-fiction historians (Fraser, Foreman, Weir, Erickson) as influences, I’m not going to be inclined to trust their historical accuracy and intent. If an author doesn’t enjoy READING history, why in the world are they WRITING about it?

    I just noticed I mentioned only one male author in my name-dropping above. Interesting. I will admit I purposely left out Starkey as a historian (and sold all his stuff to Half-Price Books) because he’s a misogynistic crank. I’ll add Derek Wilson to the list instead.

    ANYWAY, I’d like to see the “mistorical” tag to be weighted toward:

    - Multiple, glaringly obvious errors that could/should be easily identified and corrected by simple fact-checking in a few reference books or, god help us, Wikipedia.

    - Books that have a historical veneer so glossy and thin and brittle that it’s obviously just a marketing ploy. Unfortunately, a LOT of Regencies fall into this category.

    - Books where any decent history is overwhelmed by bad or pretentious writing, e.g., info-dumping or gratuitous use of phonetically-spelled dialects.

    - Books where the author relies on fictional or unsubstantiated sources, or provides no sources, to back up their “quit picking on me” blather.

    On the flip side, I fully expect the reviewer to thoughtfully explain why they used the tag, which the DA reviewers are awesome at. Casual anachronisms, occasional misuse of titles or fashion terms, or Ph.D.-level nitpicking should NOT be criteria. If the reviewers start sounding like my Civil War re-enactor BIL at a Ken Burns Festival, I’m taking my big pile o’ books and going back to my own sandbox.

    If you’re put off by a pejorative, keep in mind that it’s a just blogging tag. It’s not a Library of Congress classification, Act of Congress or Papal Bull. Bloggers are SUPPOSED be subjective and opinionated and button-pushing. That’s why we keep coming back here.

    Almost forgot – @Linda HILTON, awesome job with the devil’s advocacy, and be assured the poke above is not directed at you personally. I don’t happen to agree with you, but I love reading your rebuttals, which is exactly why blogs have comment features. It also makes me trust that you’re a writer who takes her craft seriously. I’ll even share some of the drinks Sherry’s paying for with you. Thanks for taking it on the chin for the other team.

    OK, I’m done now. Carry on.

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  196. Linda Hilton
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 23:00:14

    @KKJ: You’re welcome.

    And yes, I really do try to be a devil’s advocate and sometimes I’m good at it and sometimes not. Sometimes I win and sometimes I lose and sometimes it’s not even a matter of winning but of getting the crucial ideas and concepts out there in the open even if everyone hates me for it afterward. I just felt — and still feel, for whatever paltry value it might have — that the tag itself hasn’t been adequately defined other than a subjective pejorative, even if it was touted somewhere upthread as being itself a definition.

    It’s kinda like Pamela Regis setting out with “This book defines the modern romance novel” like she’s the unchallenged expert of experts who knows everything there is to know about the subject and has compressed this encyclopedic knowledge into one slim volume with wide margins and lots of blank pages, and in the next paragraph she misspells Catherine Coulter’s name. I mean, seriously, WTF?

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  197. Robin/Janet
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 23:18:21

    @Susanna Kearsley:
    The first is caricature. The second is character.

    Thank you for the Eliot comparison, because I think you helped me think more about how the historical accuracy issue intersects the caricature issue.

    I was thinking, for example, about how Twain wrote so many of his white female characters as without any visible sexuality. Many of them are caricatures. And it’s interesting, especially when you compare them to his black female characters. And, of course, there is a lot of historical freight in that difference, and it matters, I think, in terms of how those portrayals reflect on race and gender *in the books themselves.*

    In the Heyer book, there is already so much emphasis on social rank and class, that the caricature of the Jewish moneylender takes on a certain significance, within the historical context of the book’s setting. Differentiating that from whether or not we should find such a caricature offensive or not is easier for me to talk about when I think about it in those terms. In one case, the historical context of the book’s setting is important in analyzing the way a caricature functions in the novel. In the other case, the historical context of the author’s life becomes important in analyzing the way a caricature functions in the mind of the reader, outside the context of the novel.

    This is a simplification, of course, and I’m not characterizing the entire Goldhanger conversation in these terms, but I do see a distinction between historical context as a textual element and as an extra-textual element. And I wonder which is more influential (and in what ways) in shaping the textual authority of the novel in later works and interpretations.

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  198. Janine
    Sep 07, 2011 @ 23:38:03

    @Sunita:

    @Anu: Fuck the “I’ll buy you a drink” reward. I’m upping the ante. The bar is yours.

    That is, with the caveat: As soon as @Susanna Kearsley: stops drinking on my dime.

    Hey there! No horning in on my turf! Susannah Kearsley’s drink is on me, as per comment #133.

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  199. Linda Hilton
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 00:02:46

    @Robin/Janet: You wrote: . . . I’m not characterizing the entire Goldhanger conversation in these terms, but I do see a distinction between historical context as a textual element and as an extra-textual element. And I wonder which is more influential (and in what ways) in shaping the textual authority of the novel in later works and interpretations.

    Here’s the thing — I have a feeling most readers of Heyer or of any other HR ( or even CR) novel may not understand 99% of what you just wrote. They’re going to read TGS and come upon that depiction of Goldhanger and not analyze it; they’re just going to react. It may enter their subconscious or it may not. They may be disgusted by it or shrug it off. The SBTB discussion showed that there are a lot of different opinions from people who had read it and dismissed it as well as those who read it and were disgusted.

    But I’m trying to reconcile all that with your earlier comment: For me, telling a reader she shouldn’t be offended by a Jewish slur in a Heyer book isn’t about historical accuracy in the same way. It’s about using the author’s personal history to dictate the way the book should be read.

    I **think** what you’re saying is that historical accuracy in and of itself should not be used as a “get over it” tool. In other words, it’s okay to be offended by the Heyer depiction of Goldhanger because, well, it’s offensive, and the historical accuracy of it doesn’t — or shouldn’t — automatically mitigate the reader’s disgust and offense if in fact that’s the reader’s reaction. If it’s not the reader’s reaction, whether they see nothing wrong with the depiction or they take it as part and parcel (accurate or not) of the times, that’s well and good too.

    But what I’m not clear on is the meaning of the latter part of your statement. Are you saying that the author’s personal history SHOULD “dictate” the way the text is read, or should not? What happens if the reader doesn’t know the author’s personal history? It seems to me that the discussion of Heyer’s background, the time in which she wrote the book, etc., still led people to differing opinions regarding the characterization, often based on THEIR personal history, so how can knowing the author’s personal history be said to “dictate” anything.

    -OR- are you saying that it’s wrong to expect a reader to read and/or react to something in a book in a specific manner based on the author’s personal history? In other words, readers are still entitled to their own opinions regardless what interpretation another reader may put on the passage because she/he has been influenced by what she/he knows of the author’s personal history?

    I think I phrased this all wrong. The day job is getting to me.

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  200. Robin/Janet
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 00:34:06

    @Linda Hilton: I **think** what you’re saying is that historical accuracy in and of itself should not be used as a “get over it” tool. In other words, it’s okay to be offended by the Heyer depiction of Goldhanger because, well, it’s offensive, and the historical accuracy of it doesn’t — or shouldn’t — automatically mitigate the reader’s disgust and offense if in fact that’s the reader’s reaction.

    Yes, I am saying that.

    Are you saying that the author’s personal history SHOULD “dictate” the way the text is read, or should not?

    IMO it should not. Or at least one reader should not be able to tell another reader that they should not be offended by something in the book based on the author’s personal history.

    But even more generally I’m wary of biographical criticism. Let me give you an example that hopefully will clarify what I mean here. I was reading a discussion of a book in which the reader indicated that she found one of the characters that was portrayed as a feminist as not particularly feminist. The author chimed in to say that of course she was a feminist and she wrote her characters to reflect her own personal viewpoints. The implication being that the reader mis-read the character. I think that kind of thing is really problematic.

    However, I also know that in the age of social media, readers are learning more and more about the personal lives of authors, and that for some readers, this can get in the way of the books. Some people can’t read Orson Scott Card, for example, because of his personal beliefs. Some people can’t read Marion Zimmer Bradley. I’ve seen authors blog about personal issues that then show up in their characters. And I think that can be dicey in terms of readers maintaining clear separations between the author and the book. Ideally, for me, there is a clear dividing line, because no matter what the author’s real life history is, creative works have a life of their own that isn’t easily (or often wisely) compared to the author’s own life.

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