I feel like the Guardian
is just trolling me at this point. Does the paper actually employ anyone who likes
historical fiction? Why historical fiction needs daring and anachronismhttp://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/jun/22/historical-fiction-needs-daring-anachronism
I have nothing against
anachronism per se
- although what Mantel does in Wolf Hall
, the thing that kept me from being able to read it, is to use modern attitudes as a reason for us to side with Cromwell and not the backward-looking More. (I ranted about this a while ago, so I won't do it again here.) I mean, one of my favorite movies is Shakespeare in Love
, which is pretty much wall-to-wall anachronisms. And one of the novels the author of the piece mentions, Viper Wine
by Hermione Eyre, was just coming out as I was in the UK last summer; I saw it for sale in several bookstores, and it looked like a fascinating experiment. (It was also a hardcover book, and I had no room in my suitcase.) But this whole piece is basically like, "people often try to faithfully recreate the past in historical novels, and that's boring
" - as opposed to being a valid choice for a novel, even if it isn't the only possible choice. The article is not really making a neutral statement - "Here are some historical novels that involve anachronism, isn't that a cool choice?" Instead, it's claiming that historical fiction that doesn't
include anachronism is lazy and formulaic. As the author ends the piece, "But, too often, unfortunately, the genre seems to be in stays as constricting and uncomfortable as those worn by its heroines."
…As a person who did a decent amount of reading about Renaissance clothing, back in the day, I think this attitude is itself evidence of why trying to faithfully recreate the past isn't just lazy and formulaic - because the idea that stays were "constricting and uncomfortable" is a modern assumption, not a fact. There is nothing natural about clothing - or rather, a corset would have seemed just as "natural" to the average, say, Elizabethan woman as the lack of one seems to the average modern woman. Today, we make all sorts of assumptions about the ridiculousness and uncomfortableness of the clothing of the past, but those assumptions would not have been shared by the people who actually wore those clothes. Philip Stubbes (writer of The Anatomy of Abuses
) despised ruffs for many reasons - one of which was the accusation that all the starch necessary to stiffen the linen was a huge waste of food resources - but not just because they were inherently dumb. (Stubbes referred to starch as "the devil's liquor"; there's a huge moral and religious dimension to the denunciation of clothing in this period. It has very little to do with mere comfort
.) And thinking yourself into the possibilities
of that mindset (I'm under no misapprehensions that we can actually get the past 100% right) is really, really hard. Engaging in the process of trying to create a vivid and believable version of the past is a serious, deliberate, thoughtful undertaking. It doesn't deserve to be thrown aside and demeaned because it isn't "daring."