Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On Historical Accuracy...

On my main blog yesterday, I mentioned that I'd risen rather vociferously to the defense of the historical romance genre.

In response, Rene said "But not all historical detail is conducive to a good romance. My heroine has all her teeth and smells pretty good. Same with my hero. Would this be likely in reality?" I agree totally with this. It's one thing to mention the refuse in the streets and the stink of the Thames, but morning breath? I don't think so.

For me, historical accuracy is about creating the past as accurately as possible. Note the final two words of my previous sentence. No matter how much research we do, unless we time travel to the past, there's no way we'll ever get things exactly right. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for it.

One of the biggest problems I encounter is writers relying on faulty information. They find something they think is accurate and use it. But if they're not professional historians, they likely have no idea that it's really a good idea to check several sources. And look to primary sources.

My own education has made me take this for granted, but let's face it, many writers aren't as familiar with "the rule of three" (using at least three independent sources) unless they also happen to be journalists. Which is why, when asked, I do give basic research advice which includes tips on how to verify information in history books.

There are those writers, however, who do wilfully ignore history and this does bother me. It's not just a matter of glossing over the less savoury details of life in the past, but moving major events, changing the personalities of historical characters or just plain ignoring the mores of the period. One book I tried to read, but ended up not being able to finish, featured floor to ceiling glass windows in a castle on the border with Scotland in the early 1100s. I'm not kidding. This same book also had me grinding my teeth over the author's portrayal of Mathilde of Boulogne, the courageous, capable and loving wife of King Stephen. I barely recognized her as she'd been transformed into a jealous, evil, scheming, cheating harridan - the stereotypical "other woman". Granted, there's not a lot known about Mathilde, but NONE of the primary sources I've seen have ever even hinted at her being anything but a strong, devoted and faithful consort.

In her comment Melissa said "BTW, I'd LOVE to read his email and your response!!!" - well, Melissa, you can. Go here for the email that set me off and here for my first response. Once you're into the thread, you'll see my other posts on the topic *g*.

Sarah - thanks for explaining Dr M's background. I was so angry I couldn't go and look at the article. Sounds like it's a good thing I didn't. And I'm glad I wasn't the only one who couldn't abide such horrible stereotyping.


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