Yesterday Magdalen from Promantica wrote about the difficulties of creating a contemporary romance; today we have Evangeline Holland from Edwardian Promenade here to tell us the pitfalls of writing a historical romance. Evangeline is a writer, scholar, and co-hosted the Downton Abbey twitter party earlier this year. Bonjour, Evangeline!
I not only write historical romance, but sew and wear vintage clothes, run a history blog, obsess over classic cinema, and try my hand at recreations of various historical topics (food, crafts, etc.)--so needless to say, I live, breathe, and eat history on a daily basis. However, until I got involved in the Steampunk community, I rarely reflected on my consumption of history. Of course I was aware of the oppression, racism, sexism, bigotry--and every other type of -ism and -phobia out there--of the past, but reading frothy historical romances and watching the umpteenth adaptation of Jane Austen made it easy to view the past through rose-colored glasses.
This is not to say that I wallow in the doom and gloom of the past, that I only want to read serious books about the iniquities of society, but come on! Not even Jane Austen was the bucolic, ballroom-obsessed lady writer those costume dramas like to portray. Beneath the padded shoulders of Mr. Darcy and the elegant Pump Room at Bath lay Austen's eagle-eyed critique of topics like love, marriage, classism, religion, and even slavery, during the late Georgian Era. The same could definitely be said of the Brontes, Gaskell, Eliot, Dickens, and any other 19th century English writer beloved by producers from the BBC or ITV.
Yet I can understand the desire to look back at the past and recreate it in our personal image: it's fun to imagine dressing for a ball that would end at 3 am, or meeting some of history's most famous (or infamous) characters, or taking part in historical events such as Waterloo or Gettysburg or the Somme. One of the reasons I write historicals is both to show how similar we are to our Edwardian counterparts and to understand what life may have been like when social norms were much stricter and less forgiving than today. And it's always enlightening to see how far we have come as a people, which increases my compassion a tad for people of yesteryear.
A major reason for my enthusiasm over Downton Abbey is the wonderful mix of frothy costume romance+social critique+DRAMA+Edwardian era. I may be biased, but I consider that time period to be one of the few in history that is rife with natural drama and conflict stemming from the social unrest and last heyday of high society. In that short fourteen year period before the outbreak of WWI there was the rise of militant suffrage, the foundation of the Labour Party, the Dreadnought, the birth of the super ocean liners (and the sinking of the Titanic), the rise of hemlines, etc etc! What's not to love about the Edwardian era?
So as I write my books, I remain aware of the pitfalls one can fall into when viewing history through one perspective, yet also give myself tons of leeway since I am, after all, writing fiction! Now my biggest hurdle is actually getting to The End. XD What about you? What draws you to historical fiction of any genre, and if you aren't a fan of the past, why not?
Thank you, Evangeline! It does seem very easy to romanticize the past, even within one's own lifetime.
If you want to more about Evangeline, check out her author website, follow her on Twitter, or like her author page on FaceBook.