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Does Historical Fiction Glorify Racism, Sexism & Discrimination?

A place to debate issues or to rant about what's on your mind. In addition to discussions about historical fiction, books, the publishing industry, and history, discussions about current political, social, and religious issues and other topics are allowed, so those who are easily offended by certain topics may want to avoid such threads. Members are expected to keep the discussions friendly and polite and to avoid personal attacks on other members. The moderators reserve the right to shut down a thread without warning if they believe it necessary.
Stephanie Dray
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Post by Stephanie Dray » Thu October 6th, 2011, 9:52 pm

[quote=""lauragill""]Steven Saylor tackles that very problem in his Gordianus the Finder mystery series. Gordianus himself is an upright, sympathetic character without being anachronistic; it's the people he encounters that engage in the objectionable practices you mentioned. You might want to check out his early novels--Roman Blood, Arms of Nemesis, and Catilina's Riddle, as well as his short stories--to see how he handles the matter.[/quote]

I've read Saylor and enjoyed him, though I admit that I'm a John Maddox Roberts girl all the way when it comes to Roman mysteries ;)
~Stephanie Dray
Author of Historical Fiction & Fantasy
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LILY OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, January 2011SONG OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, Oct 2011
DAUGHTERS OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, Dec 2013

Stephanie Dray
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Post by Stephanie Dray » Thu October 6th, 2011, 9:54 pm

[quote=""MLE""]
What modern readers usually forget is that the horrors of Rome, or the sixteenth century, are still with us. Slavery has not gone away. All of the cruelties man is capable of once, he/she is capable of still. Every person still has a choice to help or to hinder human dignity.
[/quote]

This is so true. And when readers react with such distaste to depraved acts in fiction, I'm often led to wonder if they are objecting to the wickedness of the act or the offense the author has done in forcing them to confront that wickedness.
~Stephanie Dray
Author of Historical Fiction & Fantasy
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LILY OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, January 2011SONG OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, Oct 2011
DAUGHTERS OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, Dec 2013

Stephanie Dray
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Post by Stephanie Dray » Thu October 6th, 2011, 9:56 pm

[quote=""LoveHistory""]
Certain facts about life and history are unpleasant and people don't like to be reminded about them, but if no one ever reminds the world, those atrocities are far more likely to occur again. Pretending that nothing bad ever happened is not only inaccurate, it's a disservice to the readers.[/quote]

This is my belief as well. I was fortunate enough to have chosen a heroine who might have had astonishingly modern ideas about women and social injustice, but I don't feel as if it actually contributes much to the world to create literature that paints over the distasteful parts.
~Stephanie Dray
Author of Historical Fiction & Fantasy
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LILY OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, January 2011SONG OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, Oct 2011
DAUGHTERS OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, Dec 2013

Stephanie Dray
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Post by Stephanie Dray » Thu October 6th, 2011, 9:58 pm

[quote=""wendy""]
If readers want the warm-and-fuzzy unrealistic account, they should choose a romance novel![/quote]

In defense of romance novels, there are quite a few of them out there that are dark, gritty, realistic and painful ;)
~Stephanie Dray
Author of Historical Fiction & Fantasy
Newsletter | Twitter | Website

LILY OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, January 2011SONG OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, Oct 2011
DAUGHTERS OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, Dec 2013

Stephanie Dray
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Posts: 39
Joined: July 2010
Location: Maryland
Contact:

Post by Stephanie Dray » Thu October 6th, 2011, 9:58 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]One of the reasons I like historical fiction is to see how characters cope with and overcome some of the terrible conditions of the past. Vicariously experiencing the lives of characters who deal with issues as bad as anything facing us today can instill a sense of hope in us that we, too, can face similar threats. While we're reading, we don't have to think directly about the many stressful issues of the present day. But after we finish reading, we can look at our own problems with a sense of perspective and the awareness that similarly horrifying problems have been overcome, perhaps not by everyone at every time, but sometimes in some places, and we can learn from that. While no one in the past ever had to deal with the threat of planetary destruction from global warming and massive habitat destruction, some of them did have to deal with the near-total destruction of their homelands.[/quote]

This is just a fantastic comment. I want to marry it.
~Stephanie Dray
Author of Historical Fiction & Fantasy
Newsletter | Twitter | Website

LILY OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, January 2011SONG OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, Oct 2011
DAUGHTERS OF THE NILE -- Berkley Books, Dec 2013

rebecca
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Post by rebecca » Fri October 7th, 2011, 4:33 am

I think when it comes to enjoying HF it is down to the reader and what they put their emphasis on whether it be in favour of a good story where absolute accuracy is not needed or if the reader is a purist when it comes to accuracy.

An author is never going to be able to please all of the readers all of the time.

One of the things that I find irritating is, for an example if a novel is set in the middle ages and one of the female characters is wondering if she loves the man she is about to marry--As if she had a choice!

When I am reading about a particular Era I want it to be set in the Era and not be a mixture of middle ages/feminism/Political correctness etc.

I hate it when the PC machine is in control and a book is set in the past whether it be Roman, Dark Ages, Medieval, Victorian etc and yet it is written for 21st century sensibilities.

If we start going down that track, then one day will Hitler become snow white?

If a writer sets their story in Roman days then the reader must accept that life was cheap in those days and brutal things happened and yes, the innocent suffered and it was a bloody time. It is not the age of 'Little Women.'

I remember belonging to a reading group and a woman upbraided me for daring to say I liked Gone with the Wind, stating that it was a 'racist book'...Just because you love a particular book doesn't mean you approve of the characters and the ways they use to survive.

I read for enjoyment. I don't want to be lectured. It is fiction after all, and the author should dare to write with courage and conviction of the said times and not try and sanitize a particlar period in time because some might find it offensive, if that's the case it is the readers problem and not the authors.

Bec :)

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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.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Fri October 7th, 2011, 5:48 am

The only thing that surprises me is that anybody should feel any angst over this. I may live in a bubble (which includes historical re-enactment) but I have never even heard anybody complain about 'glorifying brutality' in HF. I have heard complaints about sugar-coating, anachronism, modern-day sensibilities, and the like, but never one about accurate historical portrayals.

Either way, it's entertainment. People pick and choose their entertainment according to their tastes, and if they don't like it, they don't have to read it.

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Madeleine
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Currently reading: "Longstone" by L J Ross
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
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Post by Madeleine » Fri October 7th, 2011, 8:54 am

Well said both Rebecca and MLE - if people don't want to read about times where violent things happened that makes them feel uncomfortable or upset when reading it - fair enough, it's obviously not for them. But history shouldn't be airbrushed, even in fiction, to suit the PC mob.
Currently reading: "Longstone" by L J Ross

Ash
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Post by Ash » Fri October 7th, 2011, 1:15 pm

Well, I have criticized glorification of violence in books (and not just HF); but it has more to do with the author's writing than the actual act. Case in point: Ken Follets Pillars of the Earth. He took rape and torture to new levels in his book, to the point where I had to wonder about this author's fantasies! Other writers are able to describe these horrible acts without going on and on for pages and pages, when it ceases to be part of the story. As violent as Bernard Cornwell's books can be, I've never felt that way about his writing.

rebecca
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Post by rebecca » Sat October 8th, 2011, 1:37 am

I enjoyed 'Pillars of the Earth' but I also skip past scenes if they are too violent or the sex scenes are too graphic. But I also skim past chapters where there is too much clothes description etc. I think it is up to the individual what they are prepared to read or not. I have only just bought Cornwells Arthur trilogy so I can't compare him with Follet yet.

But in some of these books I would be careful if a child or teen wanted to read them, but that's up to parental control.

Other than that it is down to personal taste and what the reader can enjoy without the squirm factor.

Bec :)

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