Accuracy in the historical romance?
That old discussion topic has emerged yet again. Should a historical romance be as accurate as possible, or doesn’t it matter?
While it’s true that a romance is a romance is a romance (sorry, Gertrude!) there are distinct genres, and historical romance is one of the largest, both in North America and in the UK.
Now what follows is my opinion and my opinion only, but as an avid reader of historical romance, as well as an enthusiastic writer, I do feel entitled to some kind of opinion. Feel perfectly free to disagree!
When I read one of the less accurate romances, I feel cheated. The writer has used the genre to show a fairytale time which I’m not interested in, and the characters do things that they just would not have done in this era. It’s not just mistakes with history, it’s attitudes and ideas that are changed. So I feel I'm not really reading a historical romance.
I’ve read all the following in Regency romances (my favourite genre):
An earl who passes the title to his younger brother, an illegitimate son who inherits a title, and an American who inherits an English peerage. None of these are possible.
I’ve also read books containing these plot points: a peer marries a known courtesan and she becomes a society hostess, an unmarried woman enters society on her own, without a chaperone, a book where a peer is condemned because he is in ‘trade.’ None of these are at all likely, and depict a Regency I don’t know. Literary license is one thing; going against the way people thought and acted is another.
Now the counter arguments I’ve often heard. First the “we don’t want to read a history book, we want to read a romance” one. Writing screeds of history that are irrelevant to the story, instead of an involving story is bad writing, too, in a novel. But the history in the story should, surely, be as accurate as the author can make it.
“We all make mistakes, nobody can get it perfect.” Nobody’s asking anyone to do that. Even the Divine Georgette made mistakes. But she tried very hard not to, and had an enormous library of research books.
And the “Who cares, if the romance is good” argument. Okay, this one has some merit, if you look on romance novels as just entertainment. But I’ve come across readers who know nothing about history, but instinctively sense when something is wrong. It doesn’t help the suspension of disbelief.
May I emphasise that it’s ‘horses for courses.’ I don’t like inaccurate romances, but many readers don’t care. I really don’t want to spoil their reading, but for my own sake, I’d like more attention to detail, because then I’d have more great books to read!
Lastly, I want to tell you the thing that really made my mind up about accuracy in historicals. I wrote a book (it’s not published) using the Battle of Corunna in the opening chapter. I read personal accounts of the suffering the people involved went through, heartbreaking letters and journals, as well as the terrible accounts of the battle and what led up to it in the press and the official records. It was brought home to me that this time was real, these people existed. The Regency isn’t just a playground for me and other writers, it mattered.
So I try to keep my stories as accurate in its historical details as I can as a tribute to them, the people who lived and breathed at that time in history.
Plus, I try to tell an involving, sexy and exciting story!
Lynne Connolly, The Return of the Gothic: Romance with a Dark Edge
SEASON OF STORMS, a new historical paranormal romance from Triskelion Publishing