Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Defense of the Wallpaper Historical

I love the wallpaper historical. Don't get me wrong. I love history. I love the details, seeing the the patterns, understanding the flow, recognizing modern repetitions (actually, that last one not so much). But when I'm reading a historical romance, one where I want to be taken to another world, I understand that world is a fantasy. A FANTASY. It never existed. I know most women of those days (whenever those days may be) didn't have rights and that society had different expectations for them, and yet it doesn't bother me to find women with modern sensibilities and attitudes in the historical romance. I think that juxtaposition makes for interesting plots. It's the ultimate "what if".

If I wanted to read history, I would pick up a history book. I know the difference. It doesn't bother me if a heroine from the middle ages uses words that didn't exist until the 1800s. Let's face it; if the author wrote a linguistically accurate novel, you wouldn't be able to understand it unless you knew middle English. Do you find it easy to read Shakespeare? He wrote in modern English.That doesn't mean I expect the heroine to say "dude" or "chillax" (Am I dating myself?), but honestly, I'm reading a fantasy even if it is a historical novel.

Mind you, I also enjoy the rich, detailed historical. I enjoy the density, the obvious knowledge of the author, but I would say the majority of the "wallpaper" authors do their research too. It just doesn't hit you over the head. I have read wildly inaccurate historicals and I will knock those as much as the next person. I read one once that took place in Venice and the author had the characters traveling around the city in carriages and even a coach and four! Ouch. That kind of inaccuracy is inexcusable, but I hold that the majority of authors don't make such errors. But I've read errors in contemporaries as well.

I used to write historicals and I can tell you that I did copious amounts of research, but the bottom line was the story. Yes, my historicals tended to gloss over the bad teeth, open sewers, and body odor of the past. Those are still the historicals I like to read; the ones with the endless number of dukes in England; with the governess who can end up married to the earl; the ones where they can have sex in a carriage because her clothes come off rather than being stuck in the accurate stiff and unyielding corsets and crinoline. Give me the Robin Hood where Errol Flynn can best real life swordsman Basil Rathbone.

Give me the fantasy.

Books I'm reading now: A Regimental Murder by Ashley Gardner


  1. I totally agree. I'm all about the pretty dresses and fancy balls anyway. And I *love* me some carriage sex!

  2. I've always thought that if I can see the history, the author didn't do her job well (except when I'm reading historical fiction--that's a different horse).