Historical Anachronisms from Medieval History Student JaneDrew

JaneDrew, recent winner of Barb Ferrer’s Name That Character contest, is a grad student in medieval/early modern European history, and, as she says, “yes, that DOES make reading historical romances as difficult as it sounds….”

How difficult, I asked? What are you top most egregious historical inaccuracies?

The reply was so funny I had to share with you. Enjoy!

Jane Drew says:

Oh, boy… horror stories of historical inaccuracy…  tricky question; I actually haven’t even tried to read a medieval romance in years; too many attempts to slog through the morass of shiny knights, distressed damsels, oversexed Saxons, and brawny Highland-types with excessively large.. err.. sporrans. 

The main problem is that the vast majority of medieval or Renaissance romance are the Middle Ages filtered through nineteenth century Romanticism (which is basically the actual Middle Ages shorn of all the naughty bits and dredged in sparkles).  So I’ve kind of blocked it all out by sheer force of will, selective amnesia, and the occasional blunt object (of course, now my roommate wants me to start reading them. And blogging about it. But that’s only because she’s evil).


Things that stick in my memory and won’t. go. away. … well, I remember one book where the heroine was the only daughter in a family of boys, and her family was feuding with the family next door, so she basically spent her time running around disguised as a boy, so that nobody would know that she was actually a girl (and thus kidnappable, weddable, beddable, etc.)… except that the hero, who was the oldest son of the family her family was feuding with, sees her in the woods during a skirmish, and immediately knows she’s a girl (and, as I recall, is baffled that the rest of his family is too dumb to have figured this out). So, of course, she gets carried off and married off, and is understandably not happy about any of it. Except that then she falls in love with her husband, and decides to go to the standard crazy old witch-type to get a love potion so that he’ll fall in love with her.  And she gets dressed up for the Special Dinner of Potion-Giving… in a cloth-of-gold dress, the theme of which is MY CLEAVAGE LET ME SHOW YOU IT… which… just… no.  I think hero-boy dumps the “potion” out, but she thinks he’s taken it (because he starts rhapsodizing about the aforementioned cleavage.. the word “melons” is used… it’s all very unfortunate), and then freaks out due to her guilt at forcing him to love her. Cue explanation that he didn’t take the potion, and then they.. um…. get on with the naked, I think. I just remember the dress and the fake potion.

Another scene that will not die is from Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux.. umm. Modern woman gets dumped by horrible boyfriend; her crying calls Elizabethan knight who is about to be executed for treason into the present; he runs around and tries to deal with modern life for a bit, then goes back into the past; she figures out a way to follow him back to before he was arrested, etc.,.. except of course he doesn’t remember her. So she tries to prevent the things that lead to his being executed the first time around (that part was actually interesting). Except that she’s also the sort of modern woman whose reaction to being dumped in the past is “I am modern, enlightened woman and can thus rip my _own_ bodice! *rip!*”… so she gets the stableboys to rig up a primitive shower. In the garden. And she uses it. Every. Single. Morning. And _does not care_ that her object of affection AND THE ENTIRE MALE POPULATION OF THE CASTLE all know. And most of them find reasons to be wandering about the garden in the morning.  And the hero doesn’t care that she’s getting naked in public either.

The most recent brain-searing experience was actually last spring; I was teaching Renaissance Europe, and decided (silly me) to use the film Dangerous Beauty in class—a friend of mine had used it (and she warned me; yes, she did…), and I had good historical documents to pair with it.  Veronica Franco—the real Veronica Franco—was a Venetian courtesan, very famous; wrote wicked poetry and arguments in favor of a women’s right to have an education, was actually tried for witchcraft at one point… so, really, very cool person, historically.  The film Veronica Franco… yeah… so… ok, Veronica Franco became a courtesan after having been married, had two kids, got divorced.  And they turned her into the Gawky Smart Well-Read Virgin who was hopelessly in love with her best friend’s brother, who she of course couldn’t marry due to finances/social politics.  Cue her mother dramatically saying that Veronica can still have him.. she can become.. a Courtesan!!!  So the whole thing is framed around this Hollywood-style star-crossed romance. Including the witch trial, which involves her defending herself by arguing that she’s a lovestruck woman who sleeps around due to being in love with love, and it is her mad sexxoring skillz that bring the boys to the yard, rather than evil witchery.. which is.. umm.. so much better?  (medieval romances love to inflict witch trials on the spunky heroines… or have witches who are crazy old potion-making bats… or witches who are misunderstood proto-feminist wise women… and yet, do the medieval romance witches ever run around stealing men’s penises and hiding them in nests in the woods? No, they do not.. which just proves that romance novel authors have never read the “Malleus Maleficarum”. Heh.)

Now, all of this would have been _fine_ if I’d been watching it at home with friends. Well, possibly not “fine,” because, dear Lord, they had every upper-class man in Venice stand up to admit that he’d slept with Veronica and _everybody was ok with this_, and the Inquisition folks just said, “Dang, you Venetians are way oversexed, but whatever, we do not care and will go back to Rome, la, la, la…”

I, however, was showing this to my class.  Of which I was the teacher. And thus responsible for order, decorum, and not snarking the hell out of something I wanted them to write a paper about.  EVEN the part where Veronica’s mother, after announcing that Veronica shall become a courtesan just as (dramatic pause) she herself had been before, subjects her daughter to a compilation of every bad sports movie/Ugly Duckling story training/prettification montage as Veronica gets her hair done, learns to dress in an elegantly slutty fashion, works on her posture, and endures lectures from her mother on sensual eating (neeeeeehver eating a banana again, ever).

…Although it was almost all worth it for tbe bit where Veronica’s mother brings her into a room with a naked man and proceeds to demonstrate the, err, functioning of the male anatomy.  To which Veronica reacts with an expression of, “Wow! Can it do any other tricks?”

As I said to JaneDrew, I have to confess that I love Dangerous Beauty because it’s so visually beautiful, even if it’s historically nutty.

It fascinates me the way that romance readers can easily – myself included! – participate in selective amnesia about some things, like the disease free hero who has sexed half of London, or the medieval heroine who dresses like a boy and frolics in the woods, and enjoy the historical romance escape.

Meanwhile, there are other historical anachronisms, like the Viscount who marries the courtesan and lives happily ever after (except what about the social ostracizing of their children who are deemed unacceptable because their mama’s a ho?) that some readers – again myself included – can’t overlook long enough to suspend reality and enjoy the drama. We all have different historical inaccuracy buttons, probably based on the areas we know the least about. It never occurred to me to find the shower in Knight in Shining Armor completely over the top, though the giving-his-mama Benadryl scene made me wonder why mama didn’t freak out at the witch’s pills and have her burned alive immediately.

I’m so curious why some authorial liberties with historical accuracy don’t bug some folks in the least while it makes others want to pull their hair straight. But either way, I LOVE hearing what drives some folks bananas about historical liberties, because, well, it’s freaking hilarious.


Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Ciar Cullen says:

    Phew, I’m glad I write fantasies and contemporaries. I loved your post. As an ex-archaeologist (Greek prehistory mostly, but I had to do the other stuff as well), I cannot read anything set in antiquity. Drives me bonkers. Folks, they just didn’t look like Brad Pitt in Troy. I’ve seen the skeletons, and if you could slap flesh on the fellas, they’d probably look like junior high guys to you. The Egyptian stuff is the worst, the absolute worst. No, wait, the “goddess worship” trend that won’t die—that’s the worst. Junk history. For a good part of human existence (until…um…now?) women (and children!) were marginalized. There’s just no way around it. Sure, there were some matriarchical exceptions, but oy, vey.

  2. 2
    Phyllis says:

    It doesn’t generally bother me too much, usually. There are some books that are so patently anachronistic (and contemporary books that are so blatantly against human nature) that I can’t stay in the story, but mostly, I just read them fast and enjoy them. What a book ‘ho I am!

    But if you mess with the 17th century French playwrights – which no one seems to do anyway, big surprise – I’ll start banging my head against things.

    I have a friend who has a PhD in witchcraft. Oops. PhD in History and her dissertation/specialization is in witchcraft trials. She has had to tell her students several times each semester that the course is not to debate whether there really was any magic going on and if these people really were DA EBIL because all magic comes from DA DEBIL, it’s about the history of the witchcraft trials and who these women and men really were and why. And no, they weren’t all midwifes and healers and independent women. They weren’t all high on—what’s that fungus that grows in rye? I don’t think she reads medieval witchcraft romance novels, though. She has enough to say about the Crucible, that I wouldn’t want to get her started about Diana Gabaldon.

    Her other era is Elizabethan, so movies like Shakespeare in Love and whatever the latest QE #1 flick is tend to drive her batsh**.

  3. 3
    Phyllis says:

    Though, actually, I think I’ll email my friend and ask her what she thinks about Gabaldon…. ;)

  4. 4
    Piper says:

    Ergot is what grows on rye (I saw something on a Channel-don’t remember which-that hypothesized werewolf stories were a result of ergot induced hallucinations).  We actually use a derivative of it to treat severe migraines today.
    My trigger is usually the medicine bits, which in a historical fiction I can usually ignore and go with the flow.  In contemporary TV/movies it drives me bonkers.  Corpses are never pink, yo, and not everyone is going to have straight up blood coming out their mouth.  It should also come out their nose and be a bit foamy and diluted if it happens at all.  Oh, my BP is up just thinking about it…

  5. 5
    MplsGirl says:

    The one thing that gives me pause with almost every historical I read is how easily the clothes come off when the happy couple starts to get it on. If it took hours to dress, with the assistance of a ladies maid or two, how the heck can Mr. Hero undress her without her even realizing it while they are kissing passionately? I just don’t get it.

    Other than that, if the story has me, I will happily ignore the historical inaccuracies, offering only the faintest “yeah, right” under my breath from time to time. I’m reading for escapism, after all.

    The whole garden shower thing in Knight in Shining Armor drove me nuts, and I still think about whats-his-name’s visit to the dentist every time I’m getting my teeth cleaned.

  6. 6
    Charlene says:

    Why didn’t you post this yesterday? I could have beat NaNoWriMo with my reply. I’ll limit it to these four, but I could probably think of a hundred others.

    1. People didn’t have baths in medieval and early modern times, in part because they thought water was dangerous. And you know what? THEY WERE RIGHT. Water spread cholera, typhoid, and all kinds of nasty diseases that could kill if even a drop was swallowed. (They drank boiled water and wine mixed with water, both of which were safer.) No matter what readers think, the hero isn’t going to see the heroine as “clean” or “proper” if she bathes daily. He’ll think she’s batshit insane. Even in Victorian times when bathing became more popular, almost nobody bathed more than once or twice a week because bathing often involved heating the water on a stove and dragging it to the tub. Those lucky individuals in major cities who had hot and cold running water didn’t have the water pressure we had, so it could take up to half an hour to fill a tub to the level of six inches.

    2. Despite this, people’s bodies didn’t actually stink, since they wiped themselves clean every day with a sponge and hot water that usually had been boiled. However, their clothing did stink and was also usually infested by vermin because for the most part it couldn’t be cleaned. Without detergents and dry-cleaning, and with the upper classes (about which most novels are written) normally wearing silk or wool dyed with non-fast dyes, outer clothing could not be cleaned to the level we’d expect it to be. Poor people might smell worse than the wealthy because they didn’t have the tools or time to clean themselves and often didn’t have more than one change of clothing.

    3. Few if any brides wore a whitish dress in the West until Queen Victoria wore cream to her wedding in 1840. Before that date they wore colours – sometimes pastels, sometimes darker colours, and all but the wealthiest brides wore their best dresses (and often in black). Off-white dresses became popular after Victoria’s wedding but they were seen as a display of the family’s wealth, not the bride’s virginity, since it showed they could afford a dress she’d never wear again.

    No bride wore pure white, however, until around the turn of the century. The bleaches necessary to turn silk pure white without damaging it didn’t arrive in the West until then. What’s more, no bride before about 1918 chose white over cream or ivory because she wanted to display her purity. Such an idea would have been considered unthinkably, unspeakably gross and vulgar before the war. (Incidentally, the first British Royal bride to wear pure white was Princess Margaret. Every other royal bride wore cream, ivory, or (before Victoria) colours, just like everyone else.)

    4. Most parents expected to lose one or more of their children in their youth. Losing a child was not at all, AT ALL, considered unnatural or “the wrong way around”: it certainly was considered the most painful thing a parent could go through, but at the same time it was an expected part of life, as much as the sun rising in the east. Most families, even wealthy ones, lost over half their children. Queen Anne lost all twenty of her children; Hester Thrale lost eight out of twelve; the Pepyses lost eight out of eleven. But almost every historical novel I’ve read has every single one of the heroine’s children living to adulthood. Let’s put it this way: the fact that Queen Victoria’s children all survived was seen by some as a miracle, and that was 30 years or more after the Regency.

    Okay, I lied.

    5. The ancient Greek and Roman cultures shared many similarities (as the Romans imitated the Greeks in many areas), but the cultures weren’t identical. Don’t use Greek concepts in Roman times and vice versa. It’s like confusing modern life in Texas with that in 1930s Bavaria.

  7. 7
    shaina says:

    I tend to ignore historicals for the most part these days—unless they’re by a fave author or part of a series—not because of the anachronisms, but because THEY’RE ALL THE SAME! If i have to read another blurb about an innocent/fiesty/tomboyish/independent girl who is forced to marry her father’s (huge, mean [on the surface] and of course gorgeous and man-tittied) enemy and then falls madly in love with him, or the debutante/spinster who thinks she’ll never fall in love til TEH RAKE WHO NEEDS REFORMING comes through the door…*pukes*.
    Anachronisms might make me go “wtf?” but then i’ll just shrug and go on reading, cuz i figure the author must’ve had a reason for writing what s/he did. As far as I know, most authors do pretty extensive research (it always says “thanks” to some expert in suchandsuch a field in the author’s notes) so i like to think any anachronisms were on purpose or something.

    wordverif: within21. why, yes i am within 21! (i’m only 20)

  8. 8
    Nic says:

    I can ignore a certain amount of inaccuracy in historical romance, but I remember tossing one book across the room.  The author had her heroine digging up potatoes in a convent garden.  In the twelfth century – at least 3 centuries before Columbus. 

    I would have been able to ignore it if the author hadn’t previously written a book set in the sixteenth century where potatoes were being introduced and were looked at very suspiciously by the hero and heroine.

  9. 9
    AmandaV says:

    I can handle small historical anachronisms, but other drive me crazy.  I have a BA in history and can’t stand it when certain things are presented as fact.  I really hate names that aren’t historical.  Even worse is when the names are completely made up, such as Allegra.  Most people had names out of a small pool to choose from.  Parents did not go around making up names.  I can handle a few stretches of the imagination, but easily verifiable facts that are wrong are just annoying.  I really hated a lot of the Keira Knightly version of Pride and Prejudice because they changed things and made them inaccurate.  Why was Lizzie running around with her hair hanging all the way down her back?  That movie just bothered me. 

    About Diana Gabaldon, though, I know she does massive amounts of research for her novels and I’ve never encountered anything anachronistic, other than what was supposed to be of course. =)

  10. 10

    I was a history major in college and yet, I love historicals. Even though ballroom scenes make me pause and think, “Stinky!”, I enjoy the escape, the uh, romance of the story.

    However, the one thing I won’t tolerate at all is rape, which means most romances written in the 1980’s are off-limits for me. When I read an early Jude Deveraux, I had to skip through that scenes and continually tell myself, “1980’s. 1980’s. Thank God they’re over!”

    When the hero rapes the heroine, it just turns my stomach. Perhaps I’ve been warped by all of my pro-Feminist professors, but I just can’t believe that a man and woman can go on to have a loving relationship after he forces himself on her. If I were the heroine, I’d go all Lorena Bobbitt on him!

  11. 11
    anu says:

    I’m pretty burned out on historicals because they all feel the same (tho I kept meaning to read another Lydia Joyce, but haven’t since Music in the Night). 

    However, I do *love* to completely fall into a given historical period. And it takes more than costumes and swords to create a specific moment in time. Most often, tho, the inaccuracy that drives me crazy the most is the heroine. Just by being in the story, the heroine is the biggest anachronism of all because she’ll say, do, and think things that she has no business doing, saying, or thinking given the period.

    Characterization will pull me out of a story faster than anything else.

  12. 12
    Lizzie (greeneyed fem) says:

    I think anachronistic language pulls me out of a story more than anything else. (I know it did for the movie ‘Titanic’, fer sure). I can shrug off some before-their-time technologies or beliefs as an author’s ignorance or even a deliberate choice.

    But nothing pisses me off more than to be happily reading my cozy little Regency romance, only to have someone say something like, “Oh, get real, Mary. . .” *record scratches* It just smells so lazy.

  13. 13
    DS says:

    Ok, something that really bugs me is when an author does get it right and people go whaaah—nasty.  It doesn’t have to be really gross.  For instance one of Katherine (AKA Maggie Davis) Deauville’s medievals had the heroine’s backstory to be a series of dynastic marriages which was not at all unlikely given her age at her first marriage and position as an increasingly desirable heiress.  You would have thought from some of the reactions in RT elsewhere that she had been walking the streets.

    I suppose if the author had made her a virgin widow the readers would have been more receptive.  She also had another medieval where the hero was a right bastard but it was a good book because she made it clear why he was that way—remembering also that Stephen, reputed to be one of the most genial of English kings of the period was also despised and ended up fighting nearly his whole reign because he was perceived to be weak.

    Sorry, can’t give the titles except I think that the second one was Crystal Heart.  I am pleased to see that her Medievals are in print again.

  14. 14
    Yvonne says:

    I’m working on my MA in archaeology and I’ve done a bunch of work in Western Europe. I can’t read anything Celtic before the 17th century or anything with Vikings without suspending belief. On the other hand, they can be really laughtastic when I ignore the anachronisms! Vikings mostly did not have horns on their helmets people! Picture being on one of those boats with a bunch of guys wearing big arse horned helmets. You’d be putting each other’s eyes out.

    In a way it would be difficult to get everything right, simply because, in many cases, we just don’t really know for sure how people lived in the past. Even for cultures with documented history, not everyone is represented in the record and we can’t possibly know underlying emotions and behaviors. What the history shows is often what people SHOULD DO, not what they REALLY DO. 

    ‘recently31’ well, not really but thanks for sayin’

  15. 15
    Adler says:

    Whoa—I was going to write a long-winded Angry Archaeologist rant, but a couple of you fine ladies beat me to it!  I love this crowd.  ;)
    On a slightly different note, I remember seeing “Dangerous Beauty” and thinking it was 100% B.S.
    In real life, Veronica Franco did her bit to further women’s education opportunities in Venice, and tried to discourage girls from following the same path she did.  In the movie?  She gets off on every client, because she’s an OMG!NYMPHO.  (Yet—mysteriously—she never catches any diseases off them.  Not once.)  I think it’s horrifying that such a complex, intriguing historical character was reduced to the Happy Hooker stereotype.

  16. 16
    Dr. Stangelove says:

    I sympathize with Jane Drew.  Man, I can not read a romance where one of the characters is a brilliant doctor that has actual hospital scenes in it.  For Hippocrates sake I can guess the diagnosis based on the Wikipedia description tossed in faster than the so-called genius doc.  And I’m still a med student.  Also hospitals are generally icky and crawling with superbugs which does not lend itself to me suspending reality for the nooky.  Not to mention your beeper would go off way before you got the strings on those saggy, sexy scrubs unknotted.  And then just imagine what’s been onthose scrubs all day. . .  Not sexy.

  17. 17
    Gill says:

    The girl-in-disguise, feuding family book? “The Conquest,” by Jude Deveraux. One of her earlier, not as successful efforts, IMO. Somehow the shower scene in “Knight in Shining Armor” never bothered me. As I remember it, the heroine thinks no one knows about her shower, since she’s surprised when the hero joins her there near the end of the book.

  18. 18
    Pandora says:

    “Even worse is when the names are completely made up, such as Allegra.”

    Allegra isn’t a made up name. Claire Clairmont’s daughter, whose father is usually assumed to have been Lord Byron, but could have been Percy Shelley, was named Allegra:


    I only know that the name is Italian, so I’m not sure when it first came into usage, but I would find it believable enough for a character in an 18th century (at the earliest) or 19th century setting.

    Honestly, I don’t know why anyone would think it was made up. Is it because there’s a brand of allergy medication with this name?

  19. 19
    jessica says:

    I love historicals but really get bothered by the whole bathing thing. People they did not bathe. And everything smelled, when the author writes something about the place smelling nice, I just have to laugh. It was filthy, mice and rats and who knows what else running around.

  20. 20
    Lorelie says:

    Yeah, I don’t remember the chick in Knight in Shining Armor as knowing the men are watching her the whole time.  Though once the hero tells her *every*one watched, she’s all “Naughty boy!” w/out even a slap on the wrist.  I found myself thinking “Okay exhibitionist.”  But that works for me.  ;)
    But the thing that gets me in historicals is when the guy strokes her smooth legs.  :::eye roll:::  And then in writing a short story set in 1873, I used the same phrase.  Sigh.  Edit away!

  21. 21
    AmandaV says:

    I shouldn’t have said made up.  I know it is used as a name in Italian, but struck me as out of place in an English regency.  I guess I just prefer the old standards when reading historicals.  Amanda, wouldn’t be appropriate for most historicals, either.  There are others, I just can’t think of them now.  Not a big deal, but I guess we all have things that bother us.

  22. 22
    Liv says:

    I think an interesting thing about historical inaccuracies is that it’s often more about what *feels* accurate or inaccurate, rather than what really is. 

    As one poster pointed out – Allegra *felt* made-up, but wasn’t.  Also, the Keira Knightly version of P&P was totally correct in showing Lizzy with her hair down.  That was a popular style in the 1790’s (when this movie was set).  But it *felt* wrong to the poster above.

    I also remember an author talking about how she was taken to task by a contest judge because her historical contained the word “technology,” which the judge confidently pointed out was an anachronism.  Except is wasn’t.  Technology was first used in the 1800’s in relation to science and mechanics.  But it *felt* wrong and no reader would accept it.

    I guess the point is things we think we know about the past are sometimes wrong – and that sometimes we don’t even want strict accuracy.  We just want things that *feel* accurate.

  23. 23

    The thing about the smells way back when doesn’t bother me, because it would have been normal to people in that time and place.  Your nose becomes acclimated to your daily smells and blocks them.  That’s why you can’t smell your own perfume as well as someone else can smell it, and why a hunter smells an animal’s musk over his own musk.

    Blatant anachronisms can yank me out of a story, but if the narrative’s good enough, I’ll accept almost anything.

  24. 24
    Chrissy says:

    Liv, preach on… excactly correct!  We want to read romance, and escape.  So we are willing to go Coleridge and suspend disbelief til it makes that break-screach sound because it feels wrong.

    For me, I think the error is not in bathing everyone constantly (which is an error) but in failing to think about how people AT THE TIME reacted to others.

    If everyone is slightly gamey because their clothing has bugs and dust, everyone has become accustomed to it over time and doesn’t notice it.  So a hero making note of a lady’s cleanliness bugs me, too.  But a hero noting her scent—rosewater or lavender, for example—makes perfect sense.

    As a witch—I’m less offended by bad research than idiots pretending witches ONLY exist in fiction and treating some beliefs that deserve respect like they are fantasy and nothing more.  Make up magical stuff like JK Rowling and I’m cool.  Tinker with actual ritual without showing respect and I’ll be very angry. 

    I don’t like people tinkering with other people’s faith, either.  Make it pure fantasy or pick on something else.

  25. 25
    Lucy says:

    For me, it’s the dialogue that drives me batty. I’m willing to overlook historical inaccuracies in a romance novel (they’re not meant to be textbooks, after all). BUT PEOPLE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY DID NOT SAY “OKAY.”

  26. 26
    DS says:

    There’s not much excuse for out of period names.  There are lots of lists on the internet—google 18th century nicknames and there is a library who has a page of 18th and 19th century American names.  There are also lots of lists divided by sex (although names can “change” sex, see Shirley and Beverly) including some good ones published on the web by SCA and Renn Faire groups. 

    I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash at Allegra in someone born early to mid 18th century on due to the Italianate craze.  17th century had some great female names such as Aphra (Behn).  No Heathers need apply.

  27. 27

    I used to love to read the historicals about various native tribes, etc.  Until I did my thesis on the Dakota and got a stiff dose of reality that could never be scrubbed away.  In the same way, I just can barely stand to watch any show on television that highlights a social worker.  Rarely are they portrayed (and yes I know about Tyne Daly) as anything but people who remove children from the home.  Puh-leeze!

    That said, the one “historical romance” movie that I had high hopes for in its own comic way was A Knight’s Tale, and boy did they fuck that one up.  That young woman would have been locked in a room for the rest of her unmarried life walking around showing so much skin!

    An aside:  I looked up a fave romance writer yesterday: Pamela Morsi.  She used to write really quirky stories with really quirky characters.  The sex was hot and there was plenty of tension galore.  Then she just stopped and started writing contemporary women’s fiction.  I asked her why in an e-mail yesterday.  She responded!  Apparently, her contract was dropped because the romance genre was losing ground and she wasn’t able to find another publishing house that would pick her up.  I wonder if one of the reasons that romances have become so formulaic is because there are fewer good writers finding publishers for their historic stuff?

  28. 28

    Oops, that should have said up there: “because the historic romance genre was losing ground.”

  29. 29
    sandra says:

    Sometimes anachronisms really bug me.  I once tossed a medieval (reign of Richard the Lion Hearted, I think) because a Scottish guy who was probably the hero showed up on page 6 wearing a kilt and a plaid.(He also had a fur hat with horns.) I screamed “The kilt and the plaid did not become seperate garments until the 19th Century!” as it hit the wall.  I don’t know why that bothered me so much, as I’ve encountered worse anachronisms without wincing, but it did.

  30. 30
    Brandi says:

    To elaborate on Darlene’s comment: it’s not just personal smells but ambient ones as well. I think if we were taken back to pre-combustion engine times, we’d be struck by the strong smell of horse poo being cleaned up—and someone from the past brought to now would probably be taken aback by the pungent reek of gasoline.

    Aside: there was a great exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, waaaay back in 1987, called “Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film” that showed how then-contemporary aesthetics often influenced costumes above and beyond historical considerations (the two Cleopatra costumes, the one from the 1934 Claudette Colbert film and the one from the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor film, really rammed this home).

    The exhibition catalogue is still available at Amazon.com.

    [design25—how oddly appropriate.]

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