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Obligations of H.F. Writers to be Factual

For discussions of historical fiction. Threads that do not relate to historical fiction should be started in the Chat forum or elsewhere on the forum, depending on the topic.
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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Tue September 28th, 2010, 7:22 pm

I think, as others have mentioned, that getting attitudes and mindset wrong is more annoying than minor factual mistakes. .My pet peeve is the feisty female heroine, acting as f she lived in the 21st century, with no account taken of restrictions imposed by society on women in the past.
Don't those just drive you up the roof?

Haven't seen the potato review. Something minor like that I might throw up on a status update at Goodreads for a chuckle but to carry on about it for a whole review? I'd have to be pretty ticked overall at the book.
You've hit it exactly. And when the mistakes are just freaking silly as you call it--especially since you can just Google whatever it is and at least get some basic idea what you're talking about--there's just no excuse for it.
Hehe, you remind me of one historical romance set in 1849 San Francisco during. It's well into fall (she'd just arrived via wagon train), and the hero kept carrying on about *buying her a ticket home*. Just how was she supposed to get back to Ohio or whatever it was? Ship? Wagon train over the Sierras in the winter? Airplane?
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
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Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Tue September 28th, 2010, 9:27 pm

[quote=""Misfit""]
Hehe, you remind me of one historical romance set in 1849 San Francisco during. It's well into fall (she'd just arrived via wagon train), and the hero kept carrying on about *buying her a ticket home*. Just how was she supposed to get back to Ohio or whatever it was? Ship? Wagon train over the Sierras in the winter? Airplane?[/quote]

I don't know the particular story, but winter is the best time to head back east if you're sailing around the horn. Because winter in the northern latitudes is, of course, summer in the southern ones.
Although the number of ships that sailed OUT of San Francisco in 1849-51 were about half of the number that sailed IN.

gyrehead
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Post by gyrehead » Tue September 28th, 2010, 9:36 pm

I think an author should feel the obligation to be up front with what is fact and what is fiction. But if they don't feel such, there really isn't anything to do. Especially when most readers simply do not want to be burdened with facts I suspect.

What I do find annoying is that many authors throw in the historical notes at the end and show off what they researched but I tend to find is a smoke screen so they can shrug off criticism. I've found some really odd recent novels that have such but then have huge gaping historical inaccuracies that a true level of research to correctly find point a would have included the grossly inaccurate point b (and in these cases nothing about distorting point b makes sense fictionally and actually is a bit of a joke historically).

Another aspect I find annoying is that some historical research seems to be the excuse for authors using or employing certain elements. Authors that use the extreme exception to the rule to justify using that as the rule in their work.

Or even two books this year where the author essentially says "I couldn't find anything to prove this wrong so I went ahead and used it'. Never occurring to the authors apparently that no one bothered to record a non-event. Or even more important, the reason there was nothing that said such-and-such couldn't have happened was because it was so far from what did that it didn't occur again to someone recording that it didn't happen that way. The justification for some of the most ridiculous plot points is getting rather weird and self-serving. These people write fiction after all. Just admit it is fiction and not pretend there is some six degrees of possibility going on.

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Miss Moppet
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Post by Miss Moppet » Tue September 28th, 2010, 10:19 pm

[quote=""Misfit""]I love Barbara Erskine and she does diddle with history (although she doesn't claim to be writing HF, she's just writing a novel)[/quote]

I wouldn't define HF as narrowly as that. I think Anya Seton's Green Darkness, for example, is great HF, although it has a timeslip element and fictional characters.
Matt Phillips wrote:You should no more tolerate a 20th century manner of thinking and speaking in an 18th century novel than you would 18th century attitudes in a modern-day story.
What about when those attitudes are just plain offensive? As past attitudes to class, race and gender so often are. I've just finished reading Samuel Richardson's Pamela, first published in 1740. Title character is a lady's maid trying to guard her virtue from the lecherous young master. She feels she would rather die than lose her virginity and her parents agree that they would rather see her dead than dishonoured. They are not joking or exaggerating, they honestly feel that female virginity is more important than life itself and they would disown Pamela if she slept with a man before marriage. A son, however, would be treated totally differently thanks to the sexual double standard. How would you make that kind of attitude sympathetic to a modern reader?

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Tue September 28th, 2010, 10:19 pm

[quote=""MLE""]I don't know the particular story, but winter is the best time to head back east if you're sailing around the horn. Because winter in the northern latitudes is, of course, summer in the southern ones.
Although the number of ships that sailed OUT of San Francisco in 1849-51 were about half of the number that sailed IN.[/quote]

I'm sure you don't know the book. Even if he could have gotten her a "ticket" on a boat that could get out, where the h*** would it have left her and how would she get back to Ohio without any family? It was just such a stretch.
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Lady of the Forest
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Post by Lady of the Forest » Tue September 28th, 2010, 11:09 pm

[quote=""MLE""]By 'obligation' do you mean legally, morally, or for commercial practicality?[/quote]

By the word obligation I was thinking of the obligation of the author to the readers.
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Lady of the Forest
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Post by Lady of the Forest » Tue September 28th, 2010, 11:26 pm

[quote=""annis""]I think, as others have mentioned, that getting attitudes and mindset wrong is more annoying than minor factual mistakes. .My pet peeve is the feisty female heroine, acting as f she lived in the 21st century, with no account taken of restrictions imposed by society on women in the past.[/quote]

I think though the use of the feisty female heroine as you put it, are there to be more relatable to the reader, while the way they behave may not be accurate for what the standard norm is, I have to admit I myself get rather annoyed with female characters who come off as being meek, or with a martyr complex, or who who are weak willed and weak minded.

And while even if I recognize that that is the standard of behavior fro the time period being portrayed, I do not find those kind of characters engaging within a story.

Also there are examples even in classical literature and in stories that were created within the time period that do display women in a way that would be against what that society would normally expect.

I am reading The Oresteia right now, a Greek Tragedy about the story of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra and within the play Clytaemnestra is portrayed in a way that would go completely against how women were perceived and expected to act at that period of time.

Jane Austin's herons also act in a way which challenge the accepted role of women within the society at that time period.

And I think the Woman of Bath in Chaucer's tales acts in a way which seems to really go against the grain of what one would expect from women in that period of time.
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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Tue September 28th, 2010, 11:45 pm

Women in ancient Greece were actually allowed a great deal of freedom, depending on the city-state.

Austen's heroines did not act outside of convention, or challenge the standards and expectations for young ladies of their time and social class, except in the movie versions.

As to how much fiction versus fact, everyone has their own preferences. I like to be able to learn something from a book but my primary goal in reading is to be entertained. That said there are some things that jump out at me from a book as being
"just wrong," and I'm not a historian at all, so that has to be some really bad research. Depending on the quality of the story, I may or may not continue after such a moment.

I would allow more leeway for an author who has invented their characters than an author who is using real people in their work. The more recognizable the real character, the greater the burden for accuracy. I would say the same for the time period. Those that are more recent can be easily researched so there is no reason for an author not to use facts unless facts will not support the story, in which case they should consider calling it fantasy rather than HF.

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Lady of the Forest
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Post by Lady of the Forest » Wed September 29th, 2010, 2:26 am

[quote=""LoveHistory""]Women in ancient Greece were actually allowed a great deal of freedom, depending on the city-state.

Austen's heroines did not act outside of convention, or challenge the standards and expectations for young ladies of their time and social class, except in the movie versions..[/quote]

In Sparta women did have more freedom than in Athens, but within the play itself Clytaemnestra is described as having the mind of a man, and she does rebel against the status qu of the society and to justify her actions, she uses arguements in which she points out the double standards that exsisted between men and women.

In regards to Austen, Austen does challenge her societies views upon women and marriage within her books. Maybe they don't do anything outrageously extreme but I disagree that her heroines within her books were completely conventional to societies expectations.
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M.M. Bennetts

Post by M.M. Bennetts » Wed September 29th, 2010, 6:58 am

[quote=""Miss Moppet""]I wouldn't define HF as narrowly as that. I think Anya Seton's Green Darkness, for example, is great HF, although it has a timeslip element and fictional characters.



What about when those attitudes are just plain offensive? As past attitudes to class, race and gender so often are. I've just finished reading Samuel Richardson's Pamela, first published in 1740. Title character is a lady's maid trying to guard her virtue from the lecherous young master. She feels she would rather die than lose her virginity and her parents agree that they would rather see her dead than dishonoured. They are not joking or exaggerating, they honestly feel that female virginity is more important than life itself and they would disown Pamela if she slept with a man before marriage. A son, however, would be treated totally differently thanks to the sexual double standard. How would you make that kind of attitude sympathetic to a modern reader?[/quote]

How would I make that sympathetic to the modern reader? Very very carefully. But I don't think that Richardson was the sole voice of the age. Fielding got his housekeeper pregnant and then married her. And in 1786 something like 58% of first births don't correspond to the correct nine months since the "I do's".

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