Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Should we care about anachronisms?

There has been quite a lot of controversy about accuracy in historical romances, and it’s been an interesting discussion.

Recently, many of the historical romances set in the Regency by have been light on the history. While there is no real problem with that, the historical content has become progressively less and less in some books, so that the books are little more than stories about modern people in pretty clothes.

There have been versions of TV dating games in “Regency” set books, for instance, stories about notorious courtesans becoming duchesses and leading society, and other such plots which could never have happened in the historical period.

Sometimes it’s become difficult to tell what period the book is supposed to depict, the descriptions are so vague.

There have always been books like that in the past, but there were always more rigorously accurate books to balance them, so that the reader looking for a good historical romance set in a recognisable and reasonably accurate period could find them. But that has become more difficult recently, with the death of the “traditional” Regency lines.

And it seems a section of the historical romance reading public is growing increasingly unhappy with the selection. There is no one place to go where the accuracy of the historical is guaranteed.

I want to emphasise that there is nothing wrong with the “frothy” Regency and no reason why it shouldn’t be published and sold to readers who want that. The market is limited to the USA, though. Several efforts have been made to sell that kind of book elsewhere, but it hasn’t worked. It’s not that the British public is highly keyed-up and knows its history, it’s that the books don’t “feel” right. They are highly American in tone.

A few days ago I asked an editor at a big publishing house about the accuracy in the historicals. “It’s entirely up to the author,” she said. It’s just as well that other matters like grammar and spelling aren’t!

A mega-thread at “Dear Author” had most of the participants asking for a distinction between the lines, so they knew if the book they were buying was a “history-lite” or “wallpaper” book or one where the author has worked hard and diligently to re-create a time and place in history. That seems good, as long as neither of the terms are perjorative. So that those who truly love them can have their Regency spies and dukes who choose their successors, and others can have the Battle of Waterloo and the dilemma of the lack of male heirs.
While the discussion can be more complex than this, that’s what it boils down to – giving people what they want and fulfilling expectations.

Me? I think anyone who writes historical romance has a duty of care to get as much as she can right. But that’s just me.

Lynne Connolly


Carolb said...

I'd like to know before I buy that a romance has been written 'history lite'.
I usually find them less than satisfying because they stretch believability much too far and sometimes I even give up reading them.
Personally I try for a middle ground in my writing- bearing in mind the facts and how I present them, but able to bend and flex them (to assist my characters) where it is possible to do so in the circumstances.

Julie said...

I agree with you, Lynne. I pick up a historical over a contemporary for a reason. I feel cheated when I pick up a US historical and it's riddled with modern language and anachronisms. I've grown very wary of buying books that have been recommended as usually they are not to my taste because the obvious anachronisms pull me out of the story immediately.

I've noticed "history-lite" stories by Julia Quinn, Elizabeth Hoyt and Eloisa James being published in the UK. It would be interesting to see how successful they would be with a British audience.