Working on “Tom Jones,” trying to write as much like
Fielding as I can has made me aware of a few things more sharply than ever
I always try to keep my historical romances “in period,”
that is, not using anachronistic words. Even if the reader doesn’t know the
words, sometimes it “sounds” wrong, and jars the reader out of the story. I’ve
found some strange things over the years. For instance the phrase “having sex”
is twentieth century in origin! I discovered that one because something about
it chimed wrong for me, so I looked it up. Before the twentieth century, “sex”
meant gender, nothing else. So you can use “her sex” which would mean that
thing that made her female, but not use “sex” for the act.
I learned that if it “sounds” wrong, if your inner ear stops
and thinks, then it most likely is wrong, and needs a bit more research!
One of my words got through me and three editors before one
picked it up. “terrorise” is another twentieth century word, although the word “terror”
has been around a long time. Making a verb from a noun is a relatively recent
habit, so all these are worth closer scrutiny.
Since I was writing an erotic story, I needed sex words. Don’t
worry, no really naughty ones here, you’ll have to buy the book for those! But how
to find the period appropriate ones? Answer; the porn, naughty literature and ephemera
like journals and letters. Pepys’ diary, the poems of Lord Rochester and “Fanny
Hill” helped me a lot there. Plus, they were fascinating reads. Read past the
sexy bits and the accounts of day-to-day life are treasure troves for the
As is, of course, “Tom Jones.” From the foul-mouthed country
gentleman Western, to the genial Allworthy, the range of characters and lives
depicted are not only wonderfully vivid but varied and involving. If I hadn’t
already known about the way they dressed, the food they ate and when, and how
they socialised, I’d have learned from this book.
But it’s dangerous to take research from one source only,
and “Tom Jones” is a vital example of this. Fielding belonged to a group of men
who were, in the more modern parlance, jingoistic. They supported Britain,
England really, hated the French, and the strong influence that French had on
the language and customs. His friends were David Garrick and William Hogarth,
both of whom get a name-check in the book. He regarded himself as a classical
scholar, so the book is peppered with Latin quotations.
The group was very largely of the Country. Town was
represented by the Whigs, the aristocracy, people who admired French and
Italian fashions and art, and their speech was often full of quotations and
phrases from both languages. Not so “Tom Jones.” If, when I’d been inserting my
author bits, I’d have used French and Italian words, or even used words with a
relatively modern French or Italian etymology, it wouldn’t have sounded right,
wouldn’t have worked with Fielding’s more robust language and vocabulary.
Taking part in this project has been a joy, because I have
learned so much. I have been researching the Georgian era since I fell in love
with it at nine years old, and I’m still learning. There will always be new
things to discover, new aspects of living at that time.
So does this make any difference to you as a reader, and do
you really need to know all that?
Labels: Henry Fielding, Lynne Connolly, Tom Jones