About war. When writing about the regency, up to 1815, at least, it’s hard not to have a few soldiers wandering in and out of the pages. Over a body of work — say, about 30 books — it’s hard not to write a few heroes who are or have been in the war. I resisted pretty well for quite a while, but eventually the force of reality made me do it.
I have not, however, set any scenes in action in my regencies, and hardly ever in my Georgians. (One novella, in fact, and it’s on a battlefield after battle is done.)
I won’t get into the medievals, which are a whole other thing.
Why this avoidance of military action? Mainly because I find war too weighty to blend with the sort of love stories I want to tell — or read. When I’m reading a romance and find the hero on the battlefield the love story has gone AWOL and I hunt through the pages until I catch it and tell it to jolly well get on with the job. (If I sound a bit strange, I’m listening to Wodehouse and he’s infectious.) I suppose the hero and heroine could be in battle together, but I don’t think I’ve ever read that in Regency, though
I’ve read a through when she’s “following the drum.” That can work.
I’m totally different when I’m reading a historical novel, BTW, whether that makes sense or not. Battle scenes are fine then.
So what are your feelings about romances which include active battle scenes, and how realistic do you like them to be? What about historical novels? Is it different then?
It’s that realistic bit that really interests me. I’m happy to avoid some of the less pleasant aspects of the past. My characters have wonderful teeth and generally robust constitutions. Their infants do not die. They do get rid of bodily waste and, in the case of women, have menstrual periods because I don’t find those unpleasant aspects of life.
But what do we do about war? Seems to me war is an area where it’s particularly easy for the modern, western writer to be, well, very modern and western. This means grim resolution on the field and harrowing memories off it. First person accounts, however, tend to be a lot more upbeat about things, and positively gleeful about killing the enemy and riding off with plunder. Certainly there are gruesome parts, duly recorded and sighed over, but then it’s on to more action. Give us action! they call.
Yes, we can say that they were putting a bright face on it for the recipients, but I wonder. An Arthur Kennedy wrote long letters to his mother describing the actions. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that she might not want them, and perhaps he was correct, but I have trouble imagining her opening the letters at breakfast and declaring to all, “Listen. Arthur’s been in another engagements. He was almost killed and in fact one of his friends was. It was a tremendous slaughter with corpses littering the ground, but he captured five horses!”
Did she really rejoice to know that, “I was so fortunate as to be the first personally engaged with the Imperial Guard.”
From another letter — about Orthez. “Sir Rowland Hill now got around this left flank and, their right being also seriously attacked, about 3 o’clock they gave way in all directions while our guns played among the retreating columns with very great effect and the field was literally strewn with their dead and dying.From one hill to another they retreated and it was a considerable time before any opportunity was offered for the cavalry to take part in this scene of blood and slaughter.“
Obviously much to be lamented.
Another man from the same regiment, the 18th Hussars, who kept a diary, records much the same and ends with, “I was able to have my tent pitched and all the officers came to shelter there. I gave them a good dinner and most slept under cover.”
(All quotes from CHARGING AGAINST NAPOLEON, by Eric Hunt, published by Leo Cooper/Pen and Sword.)
I have found most first person accounts of war from the past much the same. Clear details of the slaughter, but lots of enthusiasm and exhilaration.
So I’m now writing an ex-soldier who is one of these men. Overall, he thoroughly enjoyed his war. I think he’s realistic. But will he be acceptable to the modern reader? He doesn’t actually talk about it much, but it’s clear enough, I think.
As I said, I duck a lot of things in my historicals, but I try to deal with the things I include as honestly as possible and it seems to me that war is one of the most important. I am very interested in the soldier, the warrior, and I think it’s taking away from the courage of soldiers everywhere not to include the zest with the dark.
What do you think?