History shimstory! What makes a book unreadable, and who says that we have a right to judge?
Accurate or Inaccurate ?
by Kelly Ferjutz
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The key word here is 'little', but it can cause immense problems to a writer or a reader of fiction. Readers of historical fiction, and Regency novels, in particular, are known to be nit-picky. Are they/we/me too picky?
While the internet has been a terrific boon to writers and readers alike, it has also caused intense battles between various groups of readers and writers, especially regarding historical authenticity. Certainly, one does not want photographs in a Regency novel. Or phonographs, either, for that matter. Fabrics that were not yet invented would be as out of place as other later inventions. Geography is pretty well established, so as a rule, does not present great problems. Probably the most annoying uncertainty currently is the dispute between 'Grillon's' and 'Grillion's'—a famous hotel in London.
I've seen it both ways a number of times, and don't really get all that uptight over it, but curiosity drove me to do a web-search the other day. Google provided me with examples of both spellings, but apparently the founder's name was Alexander Grillion. With the second 'i' in place. Well. That seems pretty conclusive to me, barring further disclosures.
The words 'hypnosis' and 'hypnotize' however, on the same first page (along with Grillon) of a new Regency novel, really set me to wondering. I was given a Tenth Edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary last year, and it's truly wonderful, for among other things, it gives dates of word origins. Hmm. 'hypnosis' dates from 1876. 'hypnotic', on the other hand, as a noun dates from 1681, whereas the adjective form was from 1625. 'hypnotism' is from 1842, and 'hypnotize' from the very next year – 1843.
Now then. Do I let this dilemma interfere with my reading and possible/probably enjoyment of this book? I'm not sure, especially as it was written by Martha Kirkland, whose books I've enjoyed on a very consistent basis. This time around, however, I'm also reading it as a reviewer, which requires other standards to be used.
I believe a reviewer must look at whatever is being reviewed—whether it is a book or movie or concert or football game—from a different angle, in fact, many different angles. There is certainly a place for personal comment about the event itself. Personal animosity or degeneration into nastiness has no place in a review that is intended to be taken seriously. If it's to be a satire, it should be clearly stated as such. Personal preference, however, is an entirely different matter. As long as the reviewer's preferences are noted, and readers realize this and understand it, personal preference may be as important a part of the review as the actual thing being reviewed.
As a small example: I, personally, do not care for movies or theater productions that have excessive profanity, violence or sex in them. If these elements are simply gratuitous, then my displeasure is more than doubled. Knowing this, I'd not be a very good choice to review such a movie or play. Actually, I probably wouldn't even attend such a event, in the first place. But since almost everyone who knows me knows of this personal foible, my credibility in such a case would probably be on the minus side of the ledger.
A person who doesn't like fantasy, for instance, should probably stay away from novels with that element as part of the plot. A reader who finds the greatest enjoyment in inspirational novels would hardly be the best choice to be a reviewer of erotica. Etc., etc.
I do think it's fair to quibble with an author about the various ranks of the peerage in a Regency novel, or the succession of such. This is such an integral part of the fabric of the genre, that it's really inexcusable to be incorrect. But even saying this, there is still usually a way to be found to get around this situation, if the plot depends on it. The letters patent determining the peerage can be twiddled with, for instance, unless one is talking about a Royal Dukedom or similar unyielding rank. This is one area that has benefitted greatly from the internet—these mistakes are far fewer now than just ten years ago.
I'd have no problem with a previously unknown manuscript—whether words or music or both—being discovered, even it if was by Shakespeare or Beethoven, or Mozart, for that matter. I do object to Chopin playing anything or anyone else playing anything by him in a Regency setting, however, considering that he wasn't born until 1810.
For me, contemporary language in a Regency novel is a warning sign. Our speech is so much less formal and civilized than it was then. Just re-read any of Jane Austen's books to see for yourself. I don't automatically condemn any contractions, but some of them certainly do jar. (verb, 1526, according to Webster.)
While I'm always willing to try a book from a new author, I'm not always willing to continue reading that author if the first efforts are less than enjoyable. Which is why I happily accepted the Martha Kirkland book to review. I'm still only on page two. I'll read it, and write a review of it, though, and let the chips fall where they may. I'm only human, as is Ms. Kirkland. We're all subject to foibles—chief among them being personal preference. To deliberately seek out something to criticize, or to re-read an author one doesn't particularly care for, only for the sake of continually writing nasty reviews, or plain old nit-picking, ought to be banished from the field.
|Celeste Bradley||accuracy in the Regency-set novel||2003-05-19|
I enjoyed reading the views of a reviewer on this topic. As a published author of Regency-set historicals, this is a topic near to my heart--but not for the reasons you might think.
I see the Regency setting used by American romance novelists as a fantasy world that has very little to do with the real England. There is so very MUCH inaccuracy, from the greats on down, that at this point it seems silly to quibble on the type of carriage driven when there are few definitive sources on such a thing anyway. Historical times lacked the homogenous nature of our world today. There was no international media to keep everyone simultaneously informed of changes in fashion and politics. To say a word was not used is very difficult, when to be entered into such a definitive source as you named in your article, it would have to be both widely used and generally understood, a process of many years in such a communications-limited time.
So I do not worry myself over what I consider rather tiny inconsistencies. I could spend my life doing dubiously accurate research to please the nit-picky, when I'd much rather use it writing killer stories for the rest of us, who simply want to fantasize a bit while we are entertained.
I hope you appreciate a dissenting point of view! :) CB
|Abigail||Mary Jo Putney||2003-12-04|
|Very insightful article, and good counter-point as well. I think that authors should try to be as accurate as possible. Any really glaring errors just seem to reflect laziness to me. I recently read a book by Mary Jo Putney (whose title I can't recall, nor can I find the book), whom I normally enjoy, that seriously annoyed me. In it, one of her characters spends a significant amount of time wearing basically modern hooker gear: black stilleto lace-up boots, black stockings, even a black teddy. NONE of these things existed at the time. Thinking about it now, it still drives me crazy.|