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Cliches in Historical Fiction

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DianeL
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Post by DianeL » Tue July 2nd, 2013, 11:41 pm

Stop me if I've done this one before ...

This one may actually get me in trouble, but I am about finished with neopagan proto-feminist Mary Sue characters. Why are they always so pretty? (Avatar for the author much ... ?) Why do their authors always heap abuses upon them from poorly-written, villainous characters?

Why am I so darn cranky? Ah well. Ignore me. :P
"To be the queen, she agreed to be the widow!"

***

The pre-modern world was willing to attribute charisma to women well before it was willing to attribute sustained rationality to them.
---Medieval Kingship, Henry A. Myers

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http://dianelmajor.blogspot.com/
I'm a Twit: @DianeLMajor

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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) » Thu July 4th, 2013, 5:44 am

[quote=""DianeL""]Stop me if I've done this one before ...

This one may actually get me in trouble, but I am about finished with neopagan proto-feminist Mary Sue characters. Why are they always so pretty? (Avatar for the author much ... ?) Why do their authors always heap abuses upon them from poorly-written, villainous characters?

Why am I so darn cranky? Ah well. Ignore me. :P [/quote]
Because the Red Tent is a generally annoying book.
Like most agrarian stories written by authors who have no real idea what an agrarian life lives like, Anita Diamant produces a plot with so many holes that it won't hold water -- or grain, or anything except big, Hollywood-style styrofoam boulders.

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DianeL
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Post by DianeL » Thu July 4th, 2013, 9:46 pm

[quote=""MLE""]Because the Red Tent is a generally annoying book.
Like most agrarian stories written by authors who have no real idea what an agrarian life lives like, Anita Diamant produces a plot with so many holes that it won't hold water -- or grain, or anything except big, Hollywood-style styrofoam boulders.[/quote]

I could actually swallow the inconsistencies/failures in verissimilitude, if it weren't for the fact that (a) I've read better and (b) I feel as much like I'm reading a point being made as a story. That's where I get irritable.

Though, yeah, the stupid fairy tale about synching menses (and the idea that women of that period *had* clockwork-regular, every-single-month periods in the first place) is a pretty big hurdle to overcome. And, as I think you've pointed out before, the whole sitting around on straw for several days every single month is almost wallbanger idiotic.
"To be the queen, she agreed to be the widow!"

***

The pre-modern world was willing to attribute charisma to women well before it was willing to attribute sustained rationality to them.
---Medieval Kingship, Henry A. Myers

***

http://dianelmajor.blogspot.com/
I'm a Twit: @DianeLMajor

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Posts: 3564
Joined: August 2008
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) » Thu July 4th, 2013, 11:19 pm

Actually, the one valid point in the book IS the synching menses. That's been tested with research again and again. I can tell you a couple of personal incidents: when I was in Coast Guard boot camp in the 70's, (when women were first admitted into the 'guard, the last of the armed services to become co-ed) there were only 32 of us on the whole training base. We stayed in the same barracks, altho the women were distributed about 6-10 to the different men's companies. For the first 8 of the 12-week training, none of us had a period. No surprise-- the training was physically demanding, and it's normal to experience amenorrhea under those circumstances.
And then we all started within a period of two days. The tiny store ran out of supplies, so they had to send an officer to escort us over to the civilian supermarket. If we hadn't been so grumpy, it would have been funny.

Only grumpy with each other, tho. I boot camp, you better keep your grumpiness out of view, especially when it's almost all male, and half of them are expecting you to fail.

Also, I have run a transition home for women and children. It takes about two cycles for newcomers to line up to the prevailing household PMS schedule. My poor husband claims that after 8 years he had 'estrogen poisoning.'
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Thu July 4th, 2013, 11:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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DianeL
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Post by DianeL » Thu July 4th, 2013, 11:46 pm

Most of what I have read indicates either that menstrual synchrony is a myth and that studies demonstrating it are flawed, or that at best it's still in question though not proven nor disproven definitively (and laden with a great deal of gender-political assumptions/bias). There does appear to be poor evidence for synchrony occurring consistently for years and years (or, for that matter, generations) on end.

We as humans are attracted patterns, but - if the average maximum of a sample-able sized group of women with demonstrable relationships could *not* be in synch is 14 days a month - synchrony may be less a biological pattern than a statistical accident.

My exception with the novel is its postulation that the synchrony is both regular and perfect - that this familial group of women not only synched, but to the exact days, and every single month. Even with modern health and hormonal regulations in place, not every woman has a period every single month. In a time of compromised health and fertility, the idea of every single woman having a perfectly regulated and perfectly regular period is preposterous. Women through most of history were not that predictable, so this central plot/thematic point is as distracting and irritating as any other anachronism.

Okay, I'll shut up now - my apologies to all for the thread-jack!
"To be the queen, she agreed to be the widow!"

***

The pre-modern world was willing to attribute charisma to women well before it was willing to attribute sustained rationality to them.
---Medieval Kingship, Henry A. Myers

***

http://dianelmajor.blogspot.com/
I'm a Twit: @DianeLMajor

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Fri July 5th, 2013, 5:18 pm

[quote=""DianeL""]And, as I think you've pointed out before, the whole sitting around on straw for several days every single month is almost wallbanger idiotic.[/quote]

Just finished a collection of myths, folktales and oral history by elderly First Nations women from the Northwest (primarily Vancouver). In it they say the women repaired to sacred houses during their menses where they "gave their blood back to the earth" by sitting on moss--usually three to four days. They also claim some synchronicity and the women used this time for story telling. Don't know how truthful this is...just sayin' why would they make this up? ;)
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3564
Joined: August 2008
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 July 5th, 2013, 5:59 pm

[quote=""fljustice""]Just finished a collection of myths, folktales and oral history by elderly First Nations women from the Northwest (primarily Vancouver). In it they say the women repaired to sacred houses during their menses where they "gave their blood back to the earth" by sitting on moss--usually three to four days. They also claim some synchronicity and the women used this time for story telling. Don't know how truthful this is...just sayin' why would they make this up? ;) [/quote]

One aspect rarely touched on is that there wouldn't actually be very many menses, except for the unfortunate women who were infertile or unmarried. I have three kids spaced two years apart, all of which I breastfed an average of 14 months each--which meant that for seven years I went without a period. If a woman marries as soon as she is fertile (the age of puberty has been creeping downward for the last century) and nature takes it's course until menopause, the number of periods in her life might actually be quite few.

One of the noblewomen my guild re-enacts had 22 surviving children. Only one set of twins. How many periods do you think she had in her lifetime?
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Fri July 5th, 2013, 6:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Sat July 6th, 2013, 8:05 pm

[quote=""MLE""]One aspect rarely touched on is that there wouldn't actually be very many menses, except for the unfortunate women who were infertile or unmarried. I have three kids spaced two years apart, all of which I breastfed an average of 14 months each--which meant that for seven years I went without a period. If a woman marries as soon as she is fertile (the age of puberty has been creeping downward for the last century) and nature takes it's course until menopause, the number of periods in her life might actually be quite few.

One of the noblewomen my guild re-enacts had 22 surviving children. Only one set of twins. How many periods do you think she had in her lifetime?[/quote]

Yeah, I'm aware of that aspect in societies where women are kept constantly pregnant. There was a poignant moment on "Call the Midwife" where the main character asked a patient with twenty-some kids when was her last period and the women said, "I've never had one." Mostly I read about that phenomenon in the contraception literature where using a patch or implant is considered better for a woman's body (only one period a year), because we didn't evolve to have periods each month.

However, contraception is an ancient, if not precise science, and where women had the education and the choice, they usually chose to limit their pregnancies. Barrier methods (everything from beeswax to camel dung seems to have been tried) and pre-or post-coital douches have been used forever. In historical times there are ample writings about "herbs" that prevent or terminate pregnancies. Augustus offered bribes (tax breaks) to families with more children. He (and numerous other Roman rulers) considered the low birth rate a national problem and created legislation to boost it. Those Roman women must have been doing/using something to reduce their fertility and having periods when they did. Plus there are all the categories of women who didn't (or weren't supposed to) have sex: sacred virgins/nuns (many women entered religious life (of all brands) to escape the constant round of pregnancy and childbirth), unmarried girls (not all societies married them off the second they became fertile), widows, etc.

Then there's the tragic situation when nearly the entire (of age) male population goes off to war. I doubt all the women left behind in Sparta or Rome played around with the slaves, old men and young boys. (Visions of Bette Davis singing "They're Either Too Young or Too Old" is dancing in my head.) In modern times, the UK had a name for all the unmarried women after WWI, but I can't recall what that is. They had between 6-7 million serving during the war and lost nearly 900,000 husbands/potential husbands.

Again, not arguing that entire villages of women met in the metaphorical red tent to goof off every month, but I'm sure in any significant population there were a few menstruating women and there seems to be enough oral evidence from different societies that there were rituals around this physical state. Some saw this time as defiling and the women had to be kept in isolation so they wouldn't "pollute" a man. Others saw it as a sacred time and the women met to celebrate it. In either case, there must have been a basis for the rituals. Why create rules for something that never happens?
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DianeL
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Post by DianeL » Sat July 6th, 2013, 11:20 pm

The lack of constant monthly periods was sort of what I meant to be saying, my apologies for not expressing that well. :)
"To be the queen, she agreed to be the widow!"

***

The pre-modern world was willing to attribute charisma to women well before it was willing to attribute sustained rationality to them.
---Medieval Kingship, Henry A. Myers

***

http://dianelmajor.blogspot.com/
I'm a Twit: @DianeLMajor

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