Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Items Learned While Lurking

It's been a while since I've visited my own blog, and I fear the holidays are not the things to blame. No, poor health is the culprit this time. Interesting that my last post was on the Black Plague since  I've been down with some disease nearly as awful ever since Christmas Eve. "It's just a cold," they told me when I went into the doctor two days ago. Then why does it feel like a knife in the ribs every time I cough? And why am I too dizzy to do anything besides sit or lie down? Fortunately, David's still on break from school this week and lots of kind relatives have been helping out with the twins. So, I've had ample time to lay about and convalesce and lurk to my heart's content on the Internet. There have been some interesting discussions of late on the Historical Fiction groups that I frequent, and I have three items to draw to your attention.

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Item #1: "Downton Abbey." It's a show that I haven't yet had the opportunity to watch, but there has been some controversy lately in regards to its historical accuracy. According to a recent news article:
Historian Jennifer Newby said the servants in the country house drama, created by Oscar winner Julian Fellowes, look too clean and were too friendly with their employers. She said: ''I find it infuriating to watch, it sets my teeth on edge. The relationship they have with their employers is totally wrong.''
Which brings up the question: is historian Jennifer Newby right? Her complaint resonates with how history is popularly portrayed. Most people are far readier to believe that the lower classes of the olden days were dirty and downtrodden than that they were happy and hygienic. Marx's narrative of how the world works seems to have infected everyone's perceptions.

But are the Marxist eyeglasses the only ones worth looking through? Historical novelists Katherine Ashe and M. M. Bennetts made some insightful comments about this over on the English Period Authors Facebook group. And since Katherine Ashe re-posted the conversation on her own FB page in case others were interested, I'm going to take the liberty of quoting a couple of her comments on my blog:
Regarding the Downton Abbey review: I'm sure some servants were filthy and sullen, others tidy and cheerful, with a great many in between. The reviewer reveals more of her own sullen politics than any overriding historical truth. A household, like a corporation, has a certain spirit and those who are part of the household will reflect it according to their individual characters (I'm saying the obvious -- for any historical novelist.) It is well to remember that historians are as much twisted by current political spin as novelists may be.... 
The problem with certain 20th - 21st century historians is the desire to make the past seem virtually unlivable: dominated by inept rulers and their noble, worthless toadies. This reflects the political spin that has been with us, more or less, through much of the 20th century and has a distinctly pro-proletariat, anti-bourgeoise/aristocratic/monarchic leaning with a strong message of how people were abused by the holders of power and privilege. To a certain extent it's true, but it's overdone.

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Item #2: "Heaving Bosoms or Chaste Kisses." This is an article that was posted yesterday on the Affaire de Coeur blog. As the title implies, the article deals with the divide between "steamy" historical romances and "clean" historical romances. Apparently, the clean romances are making a comeback.

This topic seems to be a favorite with readers and writers of the historical genres. Do you or don't you like your historicals with a tinge of eroticism? To me, the interesting thing is watching the way people phrase their comments, especially those who don't like the steamy side of things. "I'm no prude, but I just prefer to keep the story clean." Or, "To me, the sex scenes just get boring and take away from the storyline." Everything is couched carefully in terms of preference. No one objects to overt eroticism from a moral standpoint because that would stir things up a bit too much. That would require stepping on somebody else's toes. That would mean someone was in the right and someone was in the wrong.

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Item #3: "Writing Historical Fiction Simplified for the First-Time Author." This last item is a bit of humor for your delectation. Author Debra Brown gives some tongue-in-cheek advice on how to get into the historical fiction biz. Here are the first three items on her list of sixteen suggestions:
1) Set aside some years for research and sign up for NetFlix. You will need both streaming and physical DVDs for this tedious process. 
2) It costs money to make money. If you are not working, take your Mastercard and buy a good supply of popcorn. Microwave popcorn is preferred as you have your work cut out for you. (Use your lowest interest card- it might be a while before your first check.) Few are able to research well without chocolate, but you will have to ration it to maintain your current weight, as you will not be getting any exercise. Do not cheat on the rations. (Under no circumstances should you set the portions so low as to injure your self-esteem. You must be able to say, truthfully, “I am, indeed, a person who never cheats.”)
3) Have your spouse take the children and raise them somewhere else....
If you want to see the rest of her suggestions, be sure to click over to the article. I must admit that item number three did occasion the most laughter for me. "Have your spouse take the children and raise them somewhere else...." Well, David HAS been taking care of the kids a lot this week, but I don't think we've come to quite such a pass.

Thanks for listening in on the items I learned while lurking this week. If boy number three doesn't make an early appearance (due date is January 31), I hope to cease lurking and resume living sometime in the near future. Happy New Year!


  1. Hi Rosanne, glad to see that you enjoyed the post. Here I was, thinking of the mothers of one-at-a-time kids, and I think the blue ribbon will be going to you! I cannot, in my wildest imagination, figure out how you can raise twins with one in the basket as well- and still write. Anyway, I am glad we've gotten acquainted, and I send my best wishes for you to be completely well by the time #3 makes his appearance.

  2. I'm sorry you've been sick. :( Also, Downtown Abbey is very fun. I enjoyed it just purely from the fact that there aren't many portrayals of that time period in movies... Also, I enjoyed lurking on forums about the costumes in that movie. :D But anyways, talking about the servants reminds me of a book we have of interviews with old slaves... At each extreme you had slaves who hated their masters or who loved slavery, and most were in the middle; it was a way of life, they got along with their masters and they weren't particularly thrilled to be on their own. At least that's what I remember. ;) And I think that pretty much holds true for anyone working anywhere. :)

  3. --> Debra, thanks for the kind wishes! I should have mentioned my other favorite part of your article: "Having watched all the movies of the period, you are ready to begin thinking up your own story. Many people cannot, and must rewrite or extend something of Jane Austen’s. (Whoops?) I do not recommend doing further research as it will only confuse you." :-)

    --> Sara, somehow I knew that Downton Abbey would be a favorite of yours! I mentioned your comment to David comparing servitude with slavery. And he had an interesting comeback--that even though you could have some slaves who hated their masters or loved slavery, the institution itself was still morally wrong, whereas with servants in England, the rightness or wrongness of the relationship all depended on how the servants were treated. An interesting thought....

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