Then and Now

Me.jpg Here's Jo, bringing back John Dierdorf, who has an interesting riff on time and change.

Last time John was here he blogged about period language, and he has a great web site about that here. Today, however, he's bringing interesting thoughts which could be summarized by "Would Tutankhamun be more at home in the American 1890s than our great-grandparents would be now?"

There's a book prize — details below. Tut

It's all yours, John.

John: When we read a Regency novel today, the manners and mores seem almost like Science Fiction, taking place about two hundred years before the present. (250 years for a Georgian.) Everything about that world seems strange and quaint.

The modern Regency romance was more or less invented by Georgette Heyer, and her first book was published in 1921, only a hundred years after the end of Prinnie's regency. In Heyer's early career, there were still people alive who were BORN during the Regency!

Jo: Now that's a thought, John. Just as there are people alive now born before World War I.

Heyer John: Right. To Heyer, the "strangeness factor" of the Regency would have been the same as such a person reading a book today set in the immediate years before World War I. Heyer was born in 1902, the year after Queen Victoria died. In her early years anyone respectable had servants, nobody ever saw a lady's ankle in public, transport was via horses and carriages, and so on.

Jo: So the position of women in society and the sexual mores, especially of the middle and uppper classes, was still Victorian. To the blog readers. It's been suggested that in these respects Heyer's world was based more on that Victorian/Edwardian milieu than on the true Regency, which was pretty racy in the aristocratic levels she portrays. Comments?

John:I used to tell my teenage daughter, who came of age in the 80's, that not only did her generation not invent the sexual revolution, but neither did my generation — the one that came of age in the 60's and may or may not have inhaled while listening to rock'n'roll.

The true revolution had been the generation of my grandmother, her great-grandmother. My grandmother, like Ms Heyer, came of age in the 1920's, and almost overnight became free of corsets, wearing knee-length skirts, smoking and drinking in public, and consorting with the male half of the race without benefit of chaperones, courtesy of Henry Ford. The social change from 1914 to 1924 was almost certainly greater than in the almost 90 years since.

Jo: May I quibble a bit there, John? I wonder if that is a factor of a short time span, so it's a revolution rather than an evolution. I would argue that the change from 1924 to 2004 was as great, but not as shocking, IThat doesn't affect your basic point, however, that the revolution was stunning at the time.

Readers — What shocking differences would a time traveling lady find if she was zapped from 1924 to 2004?

Sorry for the interruption, John. You're stirring all kinds of thoughs. What stimulated these ideas for you?

John: Mary Jo Putney's new YA novel, Dark Mirror — written as M J Putney — which features a teenager jumping in time froDarkMirrorm 1805 to 1940 and being bewildered by everything from fashion to electricity to automobiles to Nazi bombers. The character who first encounters her in 1940 wonders why she is wandering around in her nightgown, when she is wearing a perfectly respectable dress of 1805. It struck me that if her time warp had only taken her to 1910, she would have been right at home. 

That reminded me of a story I used to tell my Computer Science majors: If an Egyptian pharoah of 3,000 BC had been brought forward 5,000 years to the Ohio farm where my grandfather was born in the 1880's, he would have understood almost everything about that farm. The implements in the kitchen and the animals in the barn would have been recognizable, and he would have understood that farmer's way of life as being basically the same as that of an Egyptian peasant of his time.

At most, he would have been surprised that some things that were very expensive in his time, like glass and iron, were now cheap enough that even a dirt farmer could afford them, but otherwise he would have
settled right in, perhaps shaking his head at the incredible artistry of the few family photographs in the parlor.

And yet, my grandfather lived to sit in front of his color television set watching men walk on the Moon. He used to entertain me and his other grandchildren with stories about the first electric light he had ever seen, the first telephone, the first automobile, reading about the Wright brothers in the newspaper, and so on.

The net of this is that if we want to experience the same sensawonder as did Ms Heyer's first readers, we should be reading Edwardian romances, not Regency. And mid-Victorian (1860's) instead of Georgian.

Jo: How interesting, John. I avoid Victorian-set novels because I have an aversion to the Victorian world. Don't ask me why. If there's anything in past lives, I must have had a dreadful one. I do feel it to be familiar, however, in part because I grew up with a lot of Victorian stuff around. My paternal grandmother was thoroughly Victorian, born in 1862, and she lived to 95. She still wore long, vaguely Victorian dresses, and her house was darkly Victorian in decor. My father was also a Victorian, born in 1896, and Victorian stuff, including books, photographs, and knick-knacks were all around.

Thus I automatically went further back in time for anything romantic. The Regency also feels fairly normal to me. It's the Georgian period that's deliciously exotic, and the medieval that's intriguingly alien.

All right, readers, share your thoughts and feelings on the above. You could have a stab at the couple of questions I've asked above.

Do you know at what point in the past the setting becomes very much "not now?" If you want to share your age we can see if there's a pattern. If you were zapped back in time, how far would it have to be for you to feel like an alien?

What part would environment and country play? I can stand on many seashores and see and hear what others would have a hundred, even a thousand years ago. But a city, town, and even village will be an instant shock. Adistmagic

Over to you, and there's a prize for a radomly picked comment — a copy of an earlier time travel romance by Mary Jo — A Distant Magic

Thanks again, John, for a most interesting stream of ideas.

Historical romance is a sort of time travel anyway, isn't it? You can zoom back to the 1760s through An Unlikely Countess, which was out in March, or soon back to the Regency with the reissue in June of Forbidden, in which the very honorable Forbid2011Lord Middlethorpe is forced to jilt a crippled lady because of the wayward ways of the woman he meets on a dark lane.

 

Jo