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Cliches in Historical Fiction

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Antoine Vanner
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Location: South-East England

Post by Antoine Vanner » Mon March 4th, 2013, 6:41 am

Major concern about realism: lack of portrayal of ignorance on subjects we take for granted.

Examples include:

Disease: Where does it come from? The concept of Bacteriological infection came about only in the 19th Century. The vector for Malaria and Yellow Fever was only discovered towards the end of it.

Hygiene: Difficulties of ensuring it mentioned by several contributors, but the importance of it was not understood

Epidemics: Common - not just as major events like Black Death but on a smaller scale, irregularly but frequently.

Malaria: Common in many areas e.g. parts of Northern Europe, in which bit is absent today

Teeth: Few people had them all, or indeed any, for most of their lives, and this included the rich and royalty

Severe Pain as inescapable for just about everybody: Until the invention of Anesthetics in the mid 19th Century just about everybody encountered agony at some stage, even if for something as relatively minor as tooth extraction. And don't forget childbirth and interventions for "the stone", cancers etc. The mind recoils from thinking much further

Geography: Until quite recently most people had no idea of where they were in teir own countries much less in thr world. Maps were few and of questionable quality and known only to a few. The concept of distance was limited to measures fo a day's walk and large numbers of people never went further.

News: the concept didn't exist in any form we recognise until the early 19th century. Most people, including rulers, had little or no idea of what was going on even close to them.

Prejudice: about just about every topic, worth a library in its own right. Bigotry, as we wold see it, was the norm.

annis
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Post by annis » Mon March 4th, 2013, 6:57 am

Posted by emr
They had to share rooms. They had to share beds. Even with people of the opposite sex. I remember reading many years ago a medieval manual on how to behave in all the cases
That sounds like fun :) Love those old manuals! Here's some hilariously helpful advice on how to sleep correctly from The fyrst boke of the introduction of knowledge made by Andrew Borde, of physycke doctor.

To slepe grouellynge vpon the stomacke and bely is not good .... To slepe on the backe vpryght is vtterly to be abhorred: whan that you do slepe, let not your necke, nother your sholders, nother your hands, nor feete, nor no other place of your bodye, lye bare vndiscouered. Slepe not with an emptye stomacke, nor slepe not after that you haue eaten meate one howre or two after. In your bed lye with your head somwhat hyghe, leaste that the meate whiche is in your stomacke, thorowe eructuacions or some other cause, ascende to the oryfe of the stomacke.

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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Mon March 4th, 2013, 4:05 pm

[quote=""Antoine Vanner""]Major concern about realism: lack of portrayal of ignorance on subjects we take for granted.

[/quote]

Great examples. I get frustrated with authors who love to wear their research on their sleeves and inappropriately shoehorn the technology into their story. Just because a technology existed doesn't mean it was ubiquitous or even accessible for a vast majority of the population. As an example, I recall a Victorian novel where the characters talked about the telephone as though it was common. Had me gritting my teeth!

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Margaret
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Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
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Post by Margaret » Tue March 5th, 2013, 6:59 am

We could use a few ugly female protagonists in fiction.
My favorite unattractive protagonist is Susan Rose in The Wet Nurse's Tale by Erica Eisendorfer.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

rebecca
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Post by rebecca » Wed March 6th, 2013, 12:37 am

[quote=""Margaret""]My favorite unattractive protagonist is Susan Rose in The Wet Nurse's Tale by Erica Eisendorfer.[/quote]

I get annoyed with too much description of clothes from the top of their heads to the tip of their toes....And then in the next chapter, yes, the character has changed clothes and so begins another description!

Another pet peeve is that villains are often ugly or fat while the main characters are always perfect and beautiful without blemish...It seems no-one has a bad hair day back in the day before 'de-friz' was invented(and yes I have to use De-friz :p or my hair looks like I've put my finger in a socket!).

I recall a Victorian novel where the characters talked about the telephone as though it was common. Had me gritting my teeth!

Yes and many Victorians also thought that electricity would harm you through the vapors....But I agree with the majority of posts below.

Bec :)

rebecca
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Post by rebecca » Wed March 6th, 2013, 12:38 am

[quote=""rebecca""]I get annoyed with too much description of clothes from the top of their heads to the tip of their toes....And then in the next chapter, yes, the character has changed clothes and so begins another description!

Another pet peeve is that villains are often ugly or fat while the main characters are always perfect and beautiful without blemish...It seems no-one has a bad hair day back in the day before 'de-friz' was invented(and yes I have to use De-friz :p or my hair looks like I've put my finger in a socket!).

I recall a Victorian novel where the characters talked about the telephone as though it was common. Had me gritting my teeth!

Yes and many Victorians also thought that electricity would harm you through the vapors....But I agree with the majority of posts below.

Bec :) [/quote]

*er above* lol

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Wed March 6th, 2013, 12:52 am

[quote=""rebecca""]I get annoyed with too much description of clothes from the top of their heads to the tip of their toes....And then in the next chapter, yes, the character has changed clothes and so begins another description!
[/quote]

This. I recall one book that shall not be named that spent pages upon pages of a royal princess's morning toilet and dress.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Wed March 6th, 2013, 12:21 pm

I think the dress description item is a bit more nuanced than just a cliche. It's the kind of thing where there's a division in the readership. Many readers buy the books with the expectation and even enjoyment of reading about the clothes. They get a real buzz out of the sumptuousness and the imagined feel and texture, especially when it's the garments of the court. I would say it's part of the fabric (pun intended) of HF. Done well it's fabulous. Just put out there as a list and doing nothing to enhance the story then it can be a bore, especially for readers not into that aspect of HF.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Wed March 6th, 2013, 1:24 pm

[quote=""EC2""]I think the dress description item is a bit more nuanced than just a cliche. It's the kind of thing where there's a division in the readership. Many readers buy the books with the expectation and even enjoyment of reading about the clothes. They get a real buzz out of the sumptuousness and the imagined feel and texture, especially when it's the garments of the court. I would say it's part of the fabric (pun intended) of HF. Done well it's fabulous. Just put out there as a list and doing nothing to enhance the story then it can be a bore, especially for readers not into that aspect of HF.[/quote]

I actually enjoy reading about dress descriptions (among other minor details), it's when it is overdone to to mind numbing proportions it becomes a problem.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

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Lisa
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Favourite HF book: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
Preferred HF: Any time period/location. Timeslip, usually prefer female POV. Also love Gothic melodrama.
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Post by Lisa » Wed March 6th, 2013, 1:55 pm

[quote=""Misfit""]I actually enjoy reading about dress descriptions (among other minor details), it's when it is overdone to to mind numbing proportions it becomes a problem.[/quote]
Same here - I don't like when it's overdone, but I do like to know what the characters are wearing, especially if it's set in a time period I'm not very familiar with.

An example that stands out in my mind is Druid Sacrifice by Nigel Tranter. I enjoyed the story, and the descriptions of the geography were amazing, I could picture everything. However, he didn't give any description of the characters' clothing, and I remember feeling frustrated by that as I did wonder what these folks in Central Scotland in the early 6th century were wearing. Were they warm enough? How did Thanea, the main female character, manage to do so much horse-riding and wandering about the countryside, even when pregnant? Did she have to ride side-saddle because of her skirts? Did they even have saddles?? And so on. I do like plenty of detail, but it seems there's a fine line between giving the right amount, and totally overdoing it.

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