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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!