To Be PC or Not PC

From Susan/Miranda:

I’ve enjoyed the comments that have followed Loretta’s last blog, debating whether historical accuracy in vocabulary was a luxury or an obligation, an annoyance or a requirement –– i.e., the battle of “tapes vs. fastenings.” I’d like to continue these thoughts on a slightly different tangent.

As historical writers, we’re all conscientious to make sure the dates for famous events are correct, that our characters are properly clothed and riding in accurate conveyances to the appropriate social event. But what about what’s inside their heads? As readers, how do you feel about characters that think and act like 21st century folk, rather than their own time?

I know there have always been free-thinkers throughout history, women and men who pushed the social and intellectual boundaries of propriety and expectation. I also realize that however hard we try to “get it right” as writers, we’re bound to be tripped up by our contemporary filters. But as a reader, I’m still taken aback by how often (but NEVER among the books of my fellow Wenches! *G*) it seems as if there’s no attempt at all to get inside a character’s, well, character, as well as their time.

Both heroines and heroes in historical romances are often amazingly free of prejudice of any kind. They have a saintly tolerance for those from other countries. They don’t ridicule other races or religions, or use slanderous epithets. They don’t whip their children or their horses, kick their dogs, wager on cockfights or bearbaitings, or drown unwanted kittens. They don’t regard hangings or beheadings as good edifying family fun, like everyone else did. They are always so kind, generous, and understanding towards their servants that the servants are often their best friends and confidants. In fact, these heros and heroines are often such perfect paragons that it’s amazing to realize how seldom they go to church or mention religion (except when the hero, under great peril or duress, will swear), especially when they pretend to live in times when the Church was of enormous importance, as was worrying about Heaven and Hell and which place you’d wind up. But being heroes and heroines, maybe they don’t have to.

In the best historical romances, this doesn’t happen. Characters have real flaws, real challenges born of their times, real problems. But for an increasing number of the books set in the Fantasyland Past, it seems that contemporary morals and beliefs are pasted onto historical bodies.

The most obvious example has to be the haste with which a great many heroines in historical romance tumble into bed. Up until the 20th century or so, most English and American women would have had constant warnings drummed into them against sex outside of marriage, from religious (it’s a sin), moral (you’ll be no better than a whore), economic (no man will marry and support a fallen woman), and biological (without birth control, odds are you’ll get pregnant with an illegitimate child you can’t support, with further unfortunate odds that you’ll have a good chance of dying in childbirth. If your partner’s one of those bad-boy-rakes, odds are also in favor of you contracting a venereal disease that will ultimately be fatal.) For most women, to have sex in such circumstances would be a monumental decision, yet over and over again you’ll find heroines who act like 21st century “Girls Gone Wild”, whooping it up on spring break in Daytona.

So what do you think as readers? Do you want historical characters to act like their time, or ours? Or do you prefer that your “escape reading” escape from that much reality as well?

69 thoughts on “To Be PC or Not PC”

  1. I constantly remind myself this is FICTION. Writers make up their own universes, somewhat anchored in the past but pleasantly free of those pesky restrictions. I really don’t want to read about chamber pot contents dashed on the street or contemplate the hell of a 19th century workhouse. I do find it annoying, however, when the heroine is so “I am Woman, hear me roar” that she is completely unbelievable. I think this must be why so many historical romance writers eventually succumb to the lure of writing contemporaries, which saddens me.

    Reply
  2. I constantly remind myself this is FICTION. Writers make up their own universes, somewhat anchored in the past but pleasantly free of those pesky restrictions. I really don’t want to read about chamber pot contents dashed on the street or contemplate the hell of a 19th century workhouse. I do find it annoying, however, when the heroine is so “I am Woman, hear me roar” that she is completely unbelievable. I think this must be why so many historical romance writers eventually succumb to the lure of writing contemporaries, which saddens me.

    Reply
  3. I constantly remind myself this is FICTION. Writers make up their own universes, somewhat anchored in the past but pleasantly free of those pesky restrictions. I really don’t want to read about chamber pot contents dashed on the street or contemplate the hell of a 19th century workhouse. I do find it annoying, however, when the heroine is so “I am Woman, hear me roar” that she is completely unbelievable. I think this must be why so many historical romance writers eventually succumb to the lure of writing contemporaries, which saddens me.

    Reply
  4. That and vampire mania are why I’m buying three to four romances a month instead of the ten+ I used to average. Sometimes I struggle to come up with four.
    First off – this goes back to the why no early america books – even if you’re in the sainted north you’re going to have to deal with slavery and it being acceptable. But it’s usually a minstrel show in romance, not a real look at colonial life and it’s dependence on slavery in all states.
    Secondly, I can take a lot of the contemporary stuff, but it gets tedious when it’s the same stuff being touted (She’s a radical! She’s read the same feminist book everyone has! She’s a rebel, Dottie! a loner!) or so far out as to make me snicker.
    I think it’s much, much harder to write a book closer to accurate thinking (or even probable) and still make the characters identifiable. I treasure the authors that can and do and revile the readers who say “so she’s a maid, what’s the big deal?”
    It doesn’t make me crazy unless they start using the moral superiority of their characters to pass judgement on the entire time and culture – you know the books that have the cadre of Right People who spend most of the book poking pins in the more accurate non 20th century thinking people. then I’m just like “Why are you bothering? Really? You hate the culture!”
    We have so many imprints for Hawt! Sexxxxyy! books that I think we need an imprint just for romance again. Twice this week people I respect have trotted out the Soft Porn thing and unlike (say) five years ago I couldn’t think of six books to refute it right off the top of my head.

    Reply
  5. That and vampire mania are why I’m buying three to four romances a month instead of the ten+ I used to average. Sometimes I struggle to come up with four.
    First off – this goes back to the why no early america books – even if you’re in the sainted north you’re going to have to deal with slavery and it being acceptable. But it’s usually a minstrel show in romance, not a real look at colonial life and it’s dependence on slavery in all states.
    Secondly, I can take a lot of the contemporary stuff, but it gets tedious when it’s the same stuff being touted (She’s a radical! She’s read the same feminist book everyone has! She’s a rebel, Dottie! a loner!) or so far out as to make me snicker.
    I think it’s much, much harder to write a book closer to accurate thinking (or even probable) and still make the characters identifiable. I treasure the authors that can and do and revile the readers who say “so she’s a maid, what’s the big deal?”
    It doesn’t make me crazy unless they start using the moral superiority of their characters to pass judgement on the entire time and culture – you know the books that have the cadre of Right People who spend most of the book poking pins in the more accurate non 20th century thinking people. then I’m just like “Why are you bothering? Really? You hate the culture!”
    We have so many imprints for Hawt! Sexxxxyy! books that I think we need an imprint just for romance again. Twice this week people I respect have trotted out the Soft Porn thing and unlike (say) five years ago I couldn’t think of six books to refute it right off the top of my head.

    Reply
  6. That and vampire mania are why I’m buying three to four romances a month instead of the ten+ I used to average. Sometimes I struggle to come up with four.
    First off – this goes back to the why no early america books – even if you’re in the sainted north you’re going to have to deal with slavery and it being acceptable. But it’s usually a minstrel show in romance, not a real look at colonial life and it’s dependence on slavery in all states.
    Secondly, I can take a lot of the contemporary stuff, but it gets tedious when it’s the same stuff being touted (She’s a radical! She’s read the same feminist book everyone has! She’s a rebel, Dottie! a loner!) or so far out as to make me snicker.
    I think it’s much, much harder to write a book closer to accurate thinking (or even probable) and still make the characters identifiable. I treasure the authors that can and do and revile the readers who say “so she’s a maid, what’s the big deal?”
    It doesn’t make me crazy unless they start using the moral superiority of their characters to pass judgement on the entire time and culture – you know the books that have the cadre of Right People who spend most of the book poking pins in the more accurate non 20th century thinking people. then I’m just like “Why are you bothering? Really? You hate the culture!”
    We have so many imprints for Hawt! Sexxxxyy! books that I think we need an imprint just for romance again. Twice this week people I respect have trotted out the Soft Porn thing and unlike (say) five years ago I couldn’t think of six books to refute it right off the top of my head.

    Reply
  7. What bugs me is when they psychoanalyze each other and/or themselves. This seems a very modern way of thinking/being to me. Though thankfully not in a book by any of the Wenches. And I’m in 100% agreement about the Regency virgin hopping into bed as though she were on the pill and had never seen the ravages of syphilis. Heavy petting, fine. But I don’t see a smart, savvy lady of the early 1800s jumping into the sack on whim (and I do see this all too often in books).
    As for the rest, it’s a struggle. I “know” my characters probably had plenty of awful (to the modern mind) things to say about anyone not of their own race, ethnicity, class, etc. I know fortunes were founded on the triangle trade, on pushing native peoples off their land, on oppression. But I think if I wanted to write about those issues (and I probably will someday) that I wouldn’t do it in a romance. Why? Because I have only two options: Heroes who are (IMO) unheroic, or heroes who are such goodie-two-shoes that they’d make me sick (not to mention a book that would feel like a lecture).
    As for the “soft porn” thing, I just don’t bother to fight about this any more. Some books are SEXY and some books aren’t. Who cares? Men unrepentedly buy Playboy, Maxum, etc. Almost no one goes off on what mindless sex-obsessed losers they are for doing so, so these same people can just leave me and my romances alone (or they’ll find themselves on the receiving end of some very pointed comments about their magazine/TV/movie habits).

    Reply
  8. What bugs me is when they psychoanalyze each other and/or themselves. This seems a very modern way of thinking/being to me. Though thankfully not in a book by any of the Wenches. And I’m in 100% agreement about the Regency virgin hopping into bed as though she were on the pill and had never seen the ravages of syphilis. Heavy petting, fine. But I don’t see a smart, savvy lady of the early 1800s jumping into the sack on whim (and I do see this all too often in books).
    As for the rest, it’s a struggle. I “know” my characters probably had plenty of awful (to the modern mind) things to say about anyone not of their own race, ethnicity, class, etc. I know fortunes were founded on the triangle trade, on pushing native peoples off their land, on oppression. But I think if I wanted to write about those issues (and I probably will someday) that I wouldn’t do it in a romance. Why? Because I have only two options: Heroes who are (IMO) unheroic, or heroes who are such goodie-two-shoes that they’d make me sick (not to mention a book that would feel like a lecture).
    As for the “soft porn” thing, I just don’t bother to fight about this any more. Some books are SEXY and some books aren’t. Who cares? Men unrepentedly buy Playboy, Maxum, etc. Almost no one goes off on what mindless sex-obsessed losers they are for doing so, so these same people can just leave me and my romances alone (or they’ll find themselves on the receiving end of some very pointed comments about their magazine/TV/movie habits).

    Reply
  9. What bugs me is when they psychoanalyze each other and/or themselves. This seems a very modern way of thinking/being to me. Though thankfully not in a book by any of the Wenches. And I’m in 100% agreement about the Regency virgin hopping into bed as though she were on the pill and had never seen the ravages of syphilis. Heavy petting, fine. But I don’t see a smart, savvy lady of the early 1800s jumping into the sack on whim (and I do see this all too often in books).
    As for the rest, it’s a struggle. I “know” my characters probably had plenty of awful (to the modern mind) things to say about anyone not of their own race, ethnicity, class, etc. I know fortunes were founded on the triangle trade, on pushing native peoples off their land, on oppression. But I think if I wanted to write about those issues (and I probably will someday) that I wouldn’t do it in a romance. Why? Because I have only two options: Heroes who are (IMO) unheroic, or heroes who are such goodie-two-shoes that they’d make me sick (not to mention a book that would feel like a lecture).
    As for the “soft porn” thing, I just don’t bother to fight about this any more. Some books are SEXY and some books aren’t. Who cares? Men unrepentedly buy Playboy, Maxum, etc. Almost no one goes off on what mindless sex-obsessed losers they are for doing so, so these same people can just leave me and my romances alone (or they’ll find themselves on the receiving end of some very pointed comments about their magazine/TV/movie habits).

    Reply
  10. As I’m sure will surprise absolutely no one who’s read my previous comments, I prefer more realism rather than less. That doesn’t mean I want to wallow in everything about the past that from a 21st-century perspective is gross, immoral, or otherwise offputting, but it seems to me if you’re not going to acknowledge what made the past different from now, there’s no point in writing HISTORICAL romance.

    Reply
  11. As I’m sure will surprise absolutely no one who’s read my previous comments, I prefer more realism rather than less. That doesn’t mean I want to wallow in everything about the past that from a 21st-century perspective is gross, immoral, or otherwise offputting, but it seems to me if you’re not going to acknowledge what made the past different from now, there’s no point in writing HISTORICAL romance.

    Reply
  12. As I’m sure will surprise absolutely no one who’s read my previous comments, I prefer more realism rather than less. That doesn’t mean I want to wallow in everything about the past that from a 21st-century perspective is gross, immoral, or otherwise offputting, but it seems to me if you’re not going to acknowledge what made the past different from now, there’s no point in writing HISTORICAL romance.

    Reply
  13. But I think there’s a difference between acknowledging and highlighting.
    I acknowledge that people didn’t bathe as frequently as we do, but I don’t choose to highlight this fact (esp. since I doubt that they noticed it in the way I would if I was suddenly transported to London c. 1817). I acknowledge that syphilis was common, but I don’t choose to feature this fact prominently. I’m not going to write my own version of THE RAKE AND THE REFORMER where the reform we’re looking for is a cure for the hero’s syphilis. I just don’t see the point. I acknowledge that it’s likely that any wealthy hero is going to have acquired some of his fortune in a way that a modern reader is likely to find offensive or exploitative (slave trade, tenant farmers, factory/mill owner, etc.) . I choose not to go into these details, as they have nothing to do with the romance at hand, and let’s be frank, they’re a bummer.
    I don’t find this “gloss” any different than that which takes place in contemp romances when they don’t go into the geopolitical ramifications of the characters choice of car, or the how guilty they should feel about being white, or American, or college educated, etc.
    I think that one of the reasons romance is so popular is that the reader gets to escape from these types of worries and indulge in a little fantasy. When I want something that shines a harsher light on the world as it is/was I reach for fiction or non-fiction.

    Reply
  14. But I think there’s a difference between acknowledging and highlighting.
    I acknowledge that people didn’t bathe as frequently as we do, but I don’t choose to highlight this fact (esp. since I doubt that they noticed it in the way I would if I was suddenly transported to London c. 1817). I acknowledge that syphilis was common, but I don’t choose to feature this fact prominently. I’m not going to write my own version of THE RAKE AND THE REFORMER where the reform we’re looking for is a cure for the hero’s syphilis. I just don’t see the point. I acknowledge that it’s likely that any wealthy hero is going to have acquired some of his fortune in a way that a modern reader is likely to find offensive or exploitative (slave trade, tenant farmers, factory/mill owner, etc.) . I choose not to go into these details, as they have nothing to do with the romance at hand, and let’s be frank, they’re a bummer.
    I don’t find this “gloss” any different than that which takes place in contemp romances when they don’t go into the geopolitical ramifications of the characters choice of car, or the how guilty they should feel about being white, or American, or college educated, etc.
    I think that one of the reasons romance is so popular is that the reader gets to escape from these types of worries and indulge in a little fantasy. When I want something that shines a harsher light on the world as it is/was I reach for fiction or non-fiction.

    Reply
  15. But I think there’s a difference between acknowledging and highlighting.
    I acknowledge that people didn’t bathe as frequently as we do, but I don’t choose to highlight this fact (esp. since I doubt that they noticed it in the way I would if I was suddenly transported to London c. 1817). I acknowledge that syphilis was common, but I don’t choose to feature this fact prominently. I’m not going to write my own version of THE RAKE AND THE REFORMER where the reform we’re looking for is a cure for the hero’s syphilis. I just don’t see the point. I acknowledge that it’s likely that any wealthy hero is going to have acquired some of his fortune in a way that a modern reader is likely to find offensive or exploitative (slave trade, tenant farmers, factory/mill owner, etc.) . I choose not to go into these details, as they have nothing to do with the romance at hand, and let’s be frank, they’re a bummer.
    I don’t find this “gloss” any different than that which takes place in contemp romances when they don’t go into the geopolitical ramifications of the characters choice of car, or the how guilty they should feel about being white, or American, or college educated, etc.
    I think that one of the reasons romance is so popular is that the reader gets to escape from these types of worries and indulge in a little fantasy. When I want something that shines a harsher light on the world as it is/was I reach for fiction or non-fiction.

    Reply
  16. “But I think there’s a difference between acknowledging and highlighting.”
    I agree. It’s a balance, and one that’s going to vary from author to author and story to story. I just feel like the genre on average has less and less connection to historical reality over the past few years (with many excellent exceptions, of course). I’m having a harder time finding books I enjoy reading. And I’m wondering if I belong in the genre as a writer at all, which is frustrating, because I love writing love stories–I just like to go kinda gritty in the process.

    Reply
  17. “But I think there’s a difference between acknowledging and highlighting.”
    I agree. It’s a balance, and one that’s going to vary from author to author and story to story. I just feel like the genre on average has less and less connection to historical reality over the past few years (with many excellent exceptions, of course). I’m having a harder time finding books I enjoy reading. And I’m wondering if I belong in the genre as a writer at all, which is frustrating, because I love writing love stories–I just like to go kinda gritty in the process.

    Reply
  18. “But I think there’s a difference between acknowledging and highlighting.”
    I agree. It’s a balance, and one that’s going to vary from author to author and story to story. I just feel like the genre on average has less and less connection to historical reality over the past few years (with many excellent exceptions, of course). I’m having a harder time finding books I enjoy reading. And I’m wondering if I belong in the genre as a writer at all, which is frustrating, because I love writing love stories–I just like to go kinda gritty in the process.

    Reply
  19. I like a character to be living an authentic life in the time depicted, with some degree of accommodation for modern sensibilities (such as frequent bathing). As Susan/Miranda says, there are in history a wide range of possibilities for how a heroine behaves and thinks without having to give her wholly modern sensibilities which ring untrue. I like seeing them go to church, and reacting to the medicine, technology and politics of their times.
    As for falling into bed… I don’t care much for the contemporaries – much less historicals – where the women fall into bed with the same thought and frequency as they go to lunch or buy a pair of shoes. It’s not the world I live in, and I find it difficult to credit a sudden shift from “Sex in the City” to “happy ever after”. Those women (it seems to me) are more likely to become Desperate Housewives. There has to be more character shift than I generally see to make the change plausible. “Sex as snack” is never appealing to me. I realize that’s not true for some women.
    That said, I’ve read quite a few historicals where the heroine plausibly slept with the hero pre-marriage (not necessarily a good choice, but plausible). Usually it’s a variation on, “I’m ruined/not going to marry anyway, and I want something to remember…” It works for me. But the author has to be real about the physical, mental and spiritual implications to her life. Pre-Pill, pre-insurance/welfare, pre-social tolerance of unmarried mothers, it wasn’t just a matter of religion or values. It could literally be a matter of life or death.
    (And I must say, I don’t feel guilty at all about being an educated white American.)

    Reply
  20. I like a character to be living an authentic life in the time depicted, with some degree of accommodation for modern sensibilities (such as frequent bathing). As Susan/Miranda says, there are in history a wide range of possibilities for how a heroine behaves and thinks without having to give her wholly modern sensibilities which ring untrue. I like seeing them go to church, and reacting to the medicine, technology and politics of their times.
    As for falling into bed… I don’t care much for the contemporaries – much less historicals – where the women fall into bed with the same thought and frequency as they go to lunch or buy a pair of shoes. It’s not the world I live in, and I find it difficult to credit a sudden shift from “Sex in the City” to “happy ever after”. Those women (it seems to me) are more likely to become Desperate Housewives. There has to be more character shift than I generally see to make the change plausible. “Sex as snack” is never appealing to me. I realize that’s not true for some women.
    That said, I’ve read quite a few historicals where the heroine plausibly slept with the hero pre-marriage (not necessarily a good choice, but plausible). Usually it’s a variation on, “I’m ruined/not going to marry anyway, and I want something to remember…” It works for me. But the author has to be real about the physical, mental and spiritual implications to her life. Pre-Pill, pre-insurance/welfare, pre-social tolerance of unmarried mothers, it wasn’t just a matter of religion or values. It could literally be a matter of life or death.
    (And I must say, I don’t feel guilty at all about being an educated white American.)

    Reply
  21. I like a character to be living an authentic life in the time depicted, with some degree of accommodation for modern sensibilities (such as frequent bathing). As Susan/Miranda says, there are in history a wide range of possibilities for how a heroine behaves and thinks without having to give her wholly modern sensibilities which ring untrue. I like seeing them go to church, and reacting to the medicine, technology and politics of their times.
    As for falling into bed… I don’t care much for the contemporaries – much less historicals – where the women fall into bed with the same thought and frequency as they go to lunch or buy a pair of shoes. It’s not the world I live in, and I find it difficult to credit a sudden shift from “Sex in the City” to “happy ever after”. Those women (it seems to me) are more likely to become Desperate Housewives. There has to be more character shift than I generally see to make the change plausible. “Sex as snack” is never appealing to me. I realize that’s not true for some women.
    That said, I’ve read quite a few historicals where the heroine plausibly slept with the hero pre-marriage (not necessarily a good choice, but plausible). Usually it’s a variation on, “I’m ruined/not going to marry anyway, and I want something to remember…” It works for me. But the author has to be real about the physical, mental and spiritual implications to her life. Pre-Pill, pre-insurance/welfare, pre-social tolerance of unmarried mothers, it wasn’t just a matter of religion or values. It could literally be a matter of life or death.
    (And I must say, I don’t feel guilty at all about being an educated white American.)

    Reply
  22. “(And I must say, I don’t feel guilty at all about being an educated white American.)”
    Well I sure do. At the same time I feel damn lucky to be me. And in 200 years if someone is writing “historical 21st century romances” don’t you think that being an educated white woman in a western country will pretty much equal “pretty pretty princess”? Just as we take for granted our privileged status and don’t dwell on it, there’s no reason for our historical characters to dwell on the simple facts of their day to day lives. That’s all I meant.
    “As for falling into bed…It’s not the world I live in, and I find it difficult to credit a sudden shift from “Sex in the City” to “happy ever after”. Those women (it seems to me) are more likely to become Desperate Housewives.”
    This is apples and oranges for me. Women who stay “pure” till marriage are just as likely (if not MORE likely from what I’ve seen) to turn into “Desperate Housewives” as the ones who don’t.
    Sometimes sex is just sex, and sometimes it’s something more. And when you go in expecting the one but get the other, it’s fascinating. What I find interesting is to watch characters make that transition. To watch them struggle with the realization. For me it’s not a moral thing, I just don’t like it when the characters’ actions make no sense, or feel unmotivated.
    “But the author has to be real about the physical, mental and spiritual implications to her life.”
    The “real” implications are going to vary by character, by era, etc. What’s “real” for a widow in 1750, an heiress in 1812, a divorcee in 1825, and a ruined vicar’s daughter in 1870 are going to be very different. And if you toss up all the eras and all the different states of life a woman might find herself in you’re going to get a different “real” every time.
    And it’s going to very by author, too. What’s “real” for me in the way I understand the human condition may well by VERY different from what’s real for you, or for anyone else out there. In fact, I can only hope so, otherwise there’s no point in all of us bothering to write.

    Reply
  23. “(And I must say, I don’t feel guilty at all about being an educated white American.)”
    Well I sure do. At the same time I feel damn lucky to be me. And in 200 years if someone is writing “historical 21st century romances” don’t you think that being an educated white woman in a western country will pretty much equal “pretty pretty princess”? Just as we take for granted our privileged status and don’t dwell on it, there’s no reason for our historical characters to dwell on the simple facts of their day to day lives. That’s all I meant.
    “As for falling into bed…It’s not the world I live in, and I find it difficult to credit a sudden shift from “Sex in the City” to “happy ever after”. Those women (it seems to me) are more likely to become Desperate Housewives.”
    This is apples and oranges for me. Women who stay “pure” till marriage are just as likely (if not MORE likely from what I’ve seen) to turn into “Desperate Housewives” as the ones who don’t.
    Sometimes sex is just sex, and sometimes it’s something more. And when you go in expecting the one but get the other, it’s fascinating. What I find interesting is to watch characters make that transition. To watch them struggle with the realization. For me it’s not a moral thing, I just don’t like it when the characters’ actions make no sense, or feel unmotivated.
    “But the author has to be real about the physical, mental and spiritual implications to her life.”
    The “real” implications are going to vary by character, by era, etc. What’s “real” for a widow in 1750, an heiress in 1812, a divorcee in 1825, and a ruined vicar’s daughter in 1870 are going to be very different. And if you toss up all the eras and all the different states of life a woman might find herself in you’re going to get a different “real” every time.
    And it’s going to very by author, too. What’s “real” for me in the way I understand the human condition may well by VERY different from what’s real for you, or for anyone else out there. In fact, I can only hope so, otherwise there’s no point in all of us bothering to write.

    Reply
  24. “(And I must say, I don’t feel guilty at all about being an educated white American.)”
    Well I sure do. At the same time I feel damn lucky to be me. And in 200 years if someone is writing “historical 21st century romances” don’t you think that being an educated white woman in a western country will pretty much equal “pretty pretty princess”? Just as we take for granted our privileged status and don’t dwell on it, there’s no reason for our historical characters to dwell on the simple facts of their day to day lives. That’s all I meant.
    “As for falling into bed…It’s not the world I live in, and I find it difficult to credit a sudden shift from “Sex in the City” to “happy ever after”. Those women (it seems to me) are more likely to become Desperate Housewives.”
    This is apples and oranges for me. Women who stay “pure” till marriage are just as likely (if not MORE likely from what I’ve seen) to turn into “Desperate Housewives” as the ones who don’t.
    Sometimes sex is just sex, and sometimes it’s something more. And when you go in expecting the one but get the other, it’s fascinating. What I find interesting is to watch characters make that transition. To watch them struggle with the realization. For me it’s not a moral thing, I just don’t like it when the characters’ actions make no sense, or feel unmotivated.
    “But the author has to be real about the physical, mental and spiritual implications to her life.”
    The “real” implications are going to vary by character, by era, etc. What’s “real” for a widow in 1750, an heiress in 1812, a divorcee in 1825, and a ruined vicar’s daughter in 1870 are going to be very different. And if you toss up all the eras and all the different states of life a woman might find herself in you’re going to get a different “real” every time.
    And it’s going to very by author, too. What’s “real” for me in the way I understand the human condition may well by VERY different from what’s real for you, or for anyone else out there. In fact, I can only hope so, otherwise there’s no point in all of us bothering to write.

    Reply
  25. “And in 200 years if someone is writing “historical 21st century romances” don’t you think that being an educated white woman in a western country will pretty much equal “pretty pretty princess”? Just as we take for granted our privileged status and don’t dwell on it, there’s no reason for our historical characters to dwell on the simple facts of their day to day lives.”
    Kalen, I’m with you on this.
    I try to view my historical worlds as my characters view them — from inside rather than from the future. Even the best of them are as likely to be alert and active about social equality and justice that they could know about as most of us reading this are today. Not very, even the best of us, I suspect.
    And today, with minimal effort, we can be aware of global problems from famine to slave labor to extreme disparities in income and life comforts.
    But I do often have my characters be unusually aware within their context and do things to help, if only in small ways. That’s because I prefer them to be admirable.
    The limitation to small ways is because I’m writing love stories and so my characters are largely focussed on their own lives and circle. If I wanted to write about social justice and reform, I’d choose another type of fiction and probably a contemporary or future setting. I suspect it’s too easy to write about past problems — eg 19th century African-based slavery — because they’re no longer real, therefore no longer requiring that we DO something.
    Jo

    Reply
  26. “And in 200 years if someone is writing “historical 21st century romances” don’t you think that being an educated white woman in a western country will pretty much equal “pretty pretty princess”? Just as we take for granted our privileged status and don’t dwell on it, there’s no reason for our historical characters to dwell on the simple facts of their day to day lives.”
    Kalen, I’m with you on this.
    I try to view my historical worlds as my characters view them — from inside rather than from the future. Even the best of them are as likely to be alert and active about social equality and justice that they could know about as most of us reading this are today. Not very, even the best of us, I suspect.
    And today, with minimal effort, we can be aware of global problems from famine to slave labor to extreme disparities in income and life comforts.
    But I do often have my characters be unusually aware within their context and do things to help, if only in small ways. That’s because I prefer them to be admirable.
    The limitation to small ways is because I’m writing love stories and so my characters are largely focussed on their own lives and circle. If I wanted to write about social justice and reform, I’d choose another type of fiction and probably a contemporary or future setting. I suspect it’s too easy to write about past problems — eg 19th century African-based slavery — because they’re no longer real, therefore no longer requiring that we DO something.
    Jo

    Reply
  27. “And in 200 years if someone is writing “historical 21st century romances” don’t you think that being an educated white woman in a western country will pretty much equal “pretty pretty princess”? Just as we take for granted our privileged status and don’t dwell on it, there’s no reason for our historical characters to dwell on the simple facts of their day to day lives.”
    Kalen, I’m with you on this.
    I try to view my historical worlds as my characters view them — from inside rather than from the future. Even the best of them are as likely to be alert and active about social equality and justice that they could know about as most of us reading this are today. Not very, even the best of us, I suspect.
    And today, with minimal effort, we can be aware of global problems from famine to slave labor to extreme disparities in income and life comforts.
    But I do often have my characters be unusually aware within their context and do things to help, if only in small ways. That’s because I prefer them to be admirable.
    The limitation to small ways is because I’m writing love stories and so my characters are largely focussed on their own lives and circle. If I wanted to write about social justice and reform, I’d choose another type of fiction and probably a contemporary or future setting. I suspect it’s too easy to write about past problems — eg 19th century African-based slavery — because they’re no longer real, therefore no longer requiring that we DO something.
    Jo

    Reply
  28. From Susan/Miranda:
    The balancing act between real history and historical romance has always been a tricky one, and I think it’s becoming more challenging all the time because of the economics of publishing. Books are much shorter today than they were even ten years ago, and much of what’s been lost is the “scene setting” that used to make earlier historicals so rich.
    Editors believe that more sex sells more, too, so writers are being pressured to add more love scenes, whether they’re appropriate to the characters and time or not. We wiley old Wenches can hold fast, but for newer writers, it can be a tough battle. And if you want to be published, well, often you must do what the market asks.
    I think this is also why you see some of the writers of “old-style” historical romances like Diane Haegar and Karlene Koen (and Edith and me among the Wenches) moving to historical fiction. If you want to write stories with more history, more “reality” to them, you often have to slide sideways like this.
    Not that all that “real” history is fun and games. In DUCHESS, nearly all of my characters were based on historical figures, and even though it was fiction, I couldn’t fudge the facts. So instead of the “happy baby” scenes with which I (and a great many other writers!) like to end my romances, I was faced with writing the harsh reality of Queen Anne’s near-constant stillbirths and miscarriages, and Sarah Churchill’s loss of an infant daughter, and two young sons.
    No wonder that lower infant mortality rates are one part of the 21st century that I’ll happily grant my 18th century romance characters…:)

    Reply
  29. From Susan/Miranda:
    The balancing act between real history and historical romance has always been a tricky one, and I think it’s becoming more challenging all the time because of the economics of publishing. Books are much shorter today than they were even ten years ago, and much of what’s been lost is the “scene setting” that used to make earlier historicals so rich.
    Editors believe that more sex sells more, too, so writers are being pressured to add more love scenes, whether they’re appropriate to the characters and time or not. We wiley old Wenches can hold fast, but for newer writers, it can be a tough battle. And if you want to be published, well, often you must do what the market asks.
    I think this is also why you see some of the writers of “old-style” historical romances like Diane Haegar and Karlene Koen (and Edith and me among the Wenches) moving to historical fiction. If you want to write stories with more history, more “reality” to them, you often have to slide sideways like this.
    Not that all that “real” history is fun and games. In DUCHESS, nearly all of my characters were based on historical figures, and even though it was fiction, I couldn’t fudge the facts. So instead of the “happy baby” scenes with which I (and a great many other writers!) like to end my romances, I was faced with writing the harsh reality of Queen Anne’s near-constant stillbirths and miscarriages, and Sarah Churchill’s loss of an infant daughter, and two young sons.
    No wonder that lower infant mortality rates are one part of the 21st century that I’ll happily grant my 18th century romance characters…:)

    Reply
  30. From Susan/Miranda:
    The balancing act between real history and historical romance has always been a tricky one, and I think it’s becoming more challenging all the time because of the economics of publishing. Books are much shorter today than they were even ten years ago, and much of what’s been lost is the “scene setting” that used to make earlier historicals so rich.
    Editors believe that more sex sells more, too, so writers are being pressured to add more love scenes, whether they’re appropriate to the characters and time or not. We wiley old Wenches can hold fast, but for newer writers, it can be a tough battle. And if you want to be published, well, often you must do what the market asks.
    I think this is also why you see some of the writers of “old-style” historical romances like Diane Haegar and Karlene Koen (and Edith and me among the Wenches) moving to historical fiction. If you want to write stories with more history, more “reality” to them, you often have to slide sideways like this.
    Not that all that “real” history is fun and games. In DUCHESS, nearly all of my characters were based on historical figures, and even though it was fiction, I couldn’t fudge the facts. So instead of the “happy baby” scenes with which I (and a great many other writers!) like to end my romances, I was faced with writing the harsh reality of Queen Anne’s near-constant stillbirths and miscarriages, and Sarah Churchill’s loss of an infant daughter, and two young sons.
    No wonder that lower infant mortality rates are one part of the 21st century that I’ll happily grant my 18th century romance characters…:)

    Reply
  31. I was trying to persuade AOL to let me comment and apparently SS got in there before I could. “G” I have essentially the same take on the genre of historical romance–the market drives it. We have to write to reader expectation. In Historical Romance instead of Historicals, reader expectation is that the couple must have sex.
    Trying to find a historically feasible situation for sex (aside from the marriage of convenience) that hasn’t been done to death (she’s convinced she’s barren; he’s never strayed in his life, etc…) limits our ability to stay real. And once you stray off the path of reality, anything goes.
    Which is why you’ll find such a wide variation of historicals these days, even here among the wenches. We have writers who write pure well-researched historicals, ones who tread the traditional road of research and sex, and those of us who figure if we’re going to write fantasy, let’s write fantasy. “G” That doesn’t mean we don’t do our research since we’re still dealing in historical time periods, but if our characters have sex, we have great new logics for letting them!
    Great post, Susan.

    Reply
  32. I was trying to persuade AOL to let me comment and apparently SS got in there before I could. “G” I have essentially the same take on the genre of historical romance–the market drives it. We have to write to reader expectation. In Historical Romance instead of Historicals, reader expectation is that the couple must have sex.
    Trying to find a historically feasible situation for sex (aside from the marriage of convenience) that hasn’t been done to death (she’s convinced she’s barren; he’s never strayed in his life, etc…) limits our ability to stay real. And once you stray off the path of reality, anything goes.
    Which is why you’ll find such a wide variation of historicals these days, even here among the wenches. We have writers who write pure well-researched historicals, ones who tread the traditional road of research and sex, and those of us who figure if we’re going to write fantasy, let’s write fantasy. “G” That doesn’t mean we don’t do our research since we’re still dealing in historical time periods, but if our characters have sex, we have great new logics for letting them!
    Great post, Susan.

    Reply
  33. I was trying to persuade AOL to let me comment and apparently SS got in there before I could. “G” I have essentially the same take on the genre of historical romance–the market drives it. We have to write to reader expectation. In Historical Romance instead of Historicals, reader expectation is that the couple must have sex.
    Trying to find a historically feasible situation for sex (aside from the marriage of convenience) that hasn’t been done to death (she’s convinced she’s barren; he’s never strayed in his life, etc…) limits our ability to stay real. And once you stray off the path of reality, anything goes.
    Which is why you’ll find such a wide variation of historicals these days, even here among the wenches. We have writers who write pure well-researched historicals, ones who tread the traditional road of research and sex, and those of us who figure if we’re going to write fantasy, let’s write fantasy. “G” That doesn’t mean we don’t do our research since we’re still dealing in historical time periods, but if our characters have sex, we have great new logics for letting them!
    Great post, Susan.

    Reply
  34. Market pressures do require strange bedfellows, sometimes. The Wenches do a great job of making it work.
    Kalen, just to clarify, to me feeling guilty about something means I feel I did something wrong. I was born white, I was born American, I worked hard to be educated. Nothing to feel guilty about. Am I grateful for the blessings that came with being born when, where and who I was? Very much so. Do I feel that I deserve the blessings because I’m either white or American? No. But I don’t deserve them any less than anyone else just because I am those things. I agree that I have a responsibility to help people who, through no fault of theirs, find themselves in worse circumstances than me.
    I appreciate social conscience in fictional characters too – people who are aware of their blessings, who do not feel themselves inherently more deserving than others, and who do what they can within the bounds of their time and society to help others.
    I agree with you, Kalen, that “real” varies greatly from time period to time period, and between different circumstances in the same time period. “Real” also varies from author to author, person to person – as it does between us – but everyone is still bound by the parameters of their times. That’s all I meant.
    Given the shelves of historicals in my home, obviously I’m not extremely picky on that point.

    Reply
  35. Market pressures do require strange bedfellows, sometimes. The Wenches do a great job of making it work.
    Kalen, just to clarify, to me feeling guilty about something means I feel I did something wrong. I was born white, I was born American, I worked hard to be educated. Nothing to feel guilty about. Am I grateful for the blessings that came with being born when, where and who I was? Very much so. Do I feel that I deserve the blessings because I’m either white or American? No. But I don’t deserve them any less than anyone else just because I am those things. I agree that I have a responsibility to help people who, through no fault of theirs, find themselves in worse circumstances than me.
    I appreciate social conscience in fictional characters too – people who are aware of their blessings, who do not feel themselves inherently more deserving than others, and who do what they can within the bounds of their time and society to help others.
    I agree with you, Kalen, that “real” varies greatly from time period to time period, and between different circumstances in the same time period. “Real” also varies from author to author, person to person – as it does between us – but everyone is still bound by the parameters of their times. That’s all I meant.
    Given the shelves of historicals in my home, obviously I’m not extremely picky on that point.

    Reply
  36. Market pressures do require strange bedfellows, sometimes. The Wenches do a great job of making it work.
    Kalen, just to clarify, to me feeling guilty about something means I feel I did something wrong. I was born white, I was born American, I worked hard to be educated. Nothing to feel guilty about. Am I grateful for the blessings that came with being born when, where and who I was? Very much so. Do I feel that I deserve the blessings because I’m either white or American? No. But I don’t deserve them any less than anyone else just because I am those things. I agree that I have a responsibility to help people who, through no fault of theirs, find themselves in worse circumstances than me.
    I appreciate social conscience in fictional characters too – people who are aware of their blessings, who do not feel themselves inherently more deserving than others, and who do what they can within the bounds of their time and society to help others.
    I agree with you, Kalen, that “real” varies greatly from time period to time period, and between different circumstances in the same time period. “Real” also varies from author to author, person to person – as it does between us – but everyone is still bound by the parameters of their times. That’s all I meant.
    Given the shelves of historicals in my home, obviously I’m not extremely picky on that point.

    Reply
  37. In spite of the lack of birth control and the big risk of syphilis, sex happened. For women, it was riskier, but hardly unusual among the upper classes for a married woman to have lovers (preferably after she’d done her duty and produced an heir). The challenge for a historical romance writer is that our heroines tend to be single women, either virgins or widows, because adultery is a hard thing to sell. While widows had a little leeway, virgins basically had none. So yes, the motivation needs to be pretty strong, or the heroine needs to feel confident there’s going to be a wedding ring–or maybe she’s in a state of desperation. So here again, I think, it’s all about character. And it’s also about publishing. It is absolutely true that there is more pressure on us to put more sex into our books.
    As to political correctness–one can find examples of aristocrats and non-blue-blooded rich people who cared about the poor, opposed slavery, founded orphanages and built hospitals. So rather than take my models for heroes and heroines from the more prejudiced or less enlightened segments of Regency society, I look for the enlightened ones. Because in a historical romance, the hero and heroine need to be admirable, fundamentally. And when someone says Larger than Life, I’m picturing a person who, among other things, can rise above the prejudices of his/her times.
    I love Harry Flashman, but it would be a real challenge to make him the hero of a romance. So if I want to go in that direction, it would have to be in the way that other Wenches have: in a historical novel.

    Reply
  38. In spite of the lack of birth control and the big risk of syphilis, sex happened. For women, it was riskier, but hardly unusual among the upper classes for a married woman to have lovers (preferably after she’d done her duty and produced an heir). The challenge for a historical romance writer is that our heroines tend to be single women, either virgins or widows, because adultery is a hard thing to sell. While widows had a little leeway, virgins basically had none. So yes, the motivation needs to be pretty strong, or the heroine needs to feel confident there’s going to be a wedding ring–or maybe she’s in a state of desperation. So here again, I think, it’s all about character. And it’s also about publishing. It is absolutely true that there is more pressure on us to put more sex into our books.
    As to political correctness–one can find examples of aristocrats and non-blue-blooded rich people who cared about the poor, opposed slavery, founded orphanages and built hospitals. So rather than take my models for heroes and heroines from the more prejudiced or less enlightened segments of Regency society, I look for the enlightened ones. Because in a historical romance, the hero and heroine need to be admirable, fundamentally. And when someone says Larger than Life, I’m picturing a person who, among other things, can rise above the prejudices of his/her times.
    I love Harry Flashman, but it would be a real challenge to make him the hero of a romance. So if I want to go in that direction, it would have to be in the way that other Wenches have: in a historical novel.

    Reply
  39. In spite of the lack of birth control and the big risk of syphilis, sex happened. For women, it was riskier, but hardly unusual among the upper classes for a married woman to have lovers (preferably after she’d done her duty and produced an heir). The challenge for a historical romance writer is that our heroines tend to be single women, either virgins or widows, because adultery is a hard thing to sell. While widows had a little leeway, virgins basically had none. So yes, the motivation needs to be pretty strong, or the heroine needs to feel confident there’s going to be a wedding ring–or maybe she’s in a state of desperation. So here again, I think, it’s all about character. And it’s also about publishing. It is absolutely true that there is more pressure on us to put more sex into our books.
    As to political correctness–one can find examples of aristocrats and non-blue-blooded rich people who cared about the poor, opposed slavery, founded orphanages and built hospitals. So rather than take my models for heroes and heroines from the more prejudiced or less enlightened segments of Regency society, I look for the enlightened ones. Because in a historical romance, the hero and heroine need to be admirable, fundamentally. And when someone says Larger than Life, I’m picturing a person who, among other things, can rise above the prejudices of his/her times.
    I love Harry Flashman, but it would be a real challenge to make him the hero of a romance. So if I want to go in that direction, it would have to be in the way that other Wenches have: in a historical novel.

    Reply
  40. From Sherrie:
    It drives me nuts when a historical author makes her characters so PC that they lose their historical identity and frame of reference and become sanitary copies of 21st Century Man.
    As far as chamberpots and other Reality TV issues, I don’t think it’s necessary to get so painfully detailed about such things unless they’re germain to the story. I read historical romances for the emotional experience, and while historical detail adds an extra layer of richness to a story, it doesn’t have to be History 101.
    Re premarital sex: I used to write a regular column about old-time medicine for a historical research magazine. While looking up statistics on pregnancy in America during Colonial times, I discovered that the late 1700s and early 1800s were notable for a high incidence of premarital sex. Records indicate that around 1800 over one-third of New England brides were pregnant when they married (and this, despite laws against fornication). *g*

    Reply
  41. From Sherrie:
    It drives me nuts when a historical author makes her characters so PC that they lose their historical identity and frame of reference and become sanitary copies of 21st Century Man.
    As far as chamberpots and other Reality TV issues, I don’t think it’s necessary to get so painfully detailed about such things unless they’re germain to the story. I read historical romances for the emotional experience, and while historical detail adds an extra layer of richness to a story, it doesn’t have to be History 101.
    Re premarital sex: I used to write a regular column about old-time medicine for a historical research magazine. While looking up statistics on pregnancy in America during Colonial times, I discovered that the late 1700s and early 1800s were notable for a high incidence of premarital sex. Records indicate that around 1800 over one-third of New England brides were pregnant when they married (and this, despite laws against fornication). *g*

    Reply
  42. From Sherrie:
    It drives me nuts when a historical author makes her characters so PC that they lose their historical identity and frame of reference and become sanitary copies of 21st Century Man.
    As far as chamberpots and other Reality TV issues, I don’t think it’s necessary to get so painfully detailed about such things unless they’re germain to the story. I read historical romances for the emotional experience, and while historical detail adds an extra layer of richness to a story, it doesn’t have to be History 101.
    Re premarital sex: I used to write a regular column about old-time medicine for a historical research magazine. While looking up statistics on pregnancy in America during Colonial times, I discovered that the late 1700s and early 1800s were notable for a high incidence of premarital sex. Records indicate that around 1800 over one-third of New England brides were pregnant when they married (and this, despite laws against fornication). *g*

    Reply
  43. “I discovered that the late 1700s and early 1800s were notable for a high incidence of premarital sex. Records indicate that around 1800 over one-third of New England brides were pregnant when they married.”
    Thanks! That’s a cool fact.

    Reply
  44. “I discovered that the late 1700s and early 1800s were notable for a high incidence of premarital sex. Records indicate that around 1800 over one-third of New England brides were pregnant when they married.”
    Thanks! That’s a cool fact.

    Reply
  45. “I discovered that the late 1700s and early 1800s were notable for a high incidence of premarital sex. Records indicate that around 1800 over one-third of New England brides were pregnant when they married.”
    Thanks! That’s a cool fact.

    Reply
  46. Sherrie, in your research did you run across or read “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary 1785-1812” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich? I read it years ago so pardon me if my memory isn’t perfect–but I found its picture of life in rural Maine in that period fascinating! Martha delivered over 1,000 babies over that time and never lost a mother to childbirth (I think one died afterwords of puerperal fever)–and if I remember right, only lost a few babies. Premarital sex does seem to have been more common than we imagine in that time and place. Women pregnant out of wedlock were expected to name the father both before a magistrate and again during labor (the thought being that no one could lie in a time of such duress!). Martha describes getting married in a ceremony as being different from “going to housekeeping”–setting up house together–people would marry and then live separately until they could afford to move out of their parents’ homes. Martha attends an autopsy of a family member. And she is one of the first to respond to a scene of mass murder (a resident murdered his whole family and himself with a knife).
    IMHO historical women were amazing–what they considered ordinary we would consider extraordinary–so I don’t think there’s a need to make fictional historical women “outstanding” in a 21st century way as well (famous painter, famous scholar, etc etc etc). There’s a story of one woman migrating westward on the Oregon Trail who went into labor in a terrible rainstorm. The wagon flooded so they put her bed up on four chairs for the delivery. Now that’s pretty amazing–imagine the strength of spirit that women and her attendants must have had. Might make a great scene in one of those American romances that never get written any more, too!

    Reply
  47. Sherrie, in your research did you run across or read “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary 1785-1812” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich? I read it years ago so pardon me if my memory isn’t perfect–but I found its picture of life in rural Maine in that period fascinating! Martha delivered over 1,000 babies over that time and never lost a mother to childbirth (I think one died afterwords of puerperal fever)–and if I remember right, only lost a few babies. Premarital sex does seem to have been more common than we imagine in that time and place. Women pregnant out of wedlock were expected to name the father both before a magistrate and again during labor (the thought being that no one could lie in a time of such duress!). Martha describes getting married in a ceremony as being different from “going to housekeeping”–setting up house together–people would marry and then live separately until they could afford to move out of their parents’ homes. Martha attends an autopsy of a family member. And she is one of the first to respond to a scene of mass murder (a resident murdered his whole family and himself with a knife).
    IMHO historical women were amazing–what they considered ordinary we would consider extraordinary–so I don’t think there’s a need to make fictional historical women “outstanding” in a 21st century way as well (famous painter, famous scholar, etc etc etc). There’s a story of one woman migrating westward on the Oregon Trail who went into labor in a terrible rainstorm. The wagon flooded so they put her bed up on four chairs for the delivery. Now that’s pretty amazing–imagine the strength of spirit that women and her attendants must have had. Might make a great scene in one of those American romances that never get written any more, too!

    Reply
  48. Sherrie, in your research did you run across or read “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary 1785-1812” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich? I read it years ago so pardon me if my memory isn’t perfect–but I found its picture of life in rural Maine in that period fascinating! Martha delivered over 1,000 babies over that time and never lost a mother to childbirth (I think one died afterwords of puerperal fever)–and if I remember right, only lost a few babies. Premarital sex does seem to have been more common than we imagine in that time and place. Women pregnant out of wedlock were expected to name the father both before a magistrate and again during labor (the thought being that no one could lie in a time of such duress!). Martha describes getting married in a ceremony as being different from “going to housekeeping”–setting up house together–people would marry and then live separately until they could afford to move out of their parents’ homes. Martha attends an autopsy of a family member. And she is one of the first to respond to a scene of mass murder (a resident murdered his whole family and himself with a knife).
    IMHO historical women were amazing–what they considered ordinary we would consider extraordinary–so I don’t think there’s a need to make fictional historical women “outstanding” in a 21st century way as well (famous painter, famous scholar, etc etc etc). There’s a story of one woman migrating westward on the Oregon Trail who went into labor in a terrible rainstorm. The wagon flooded so they put her bed up on four chairs for the delivery. Now that’s pretty amazing–imagine the strength of spirit that women and her attendants must have had. Might make a great scene in one of those American romances that never get written any more, too!

    Reply
  49. Sherrie — thanks for speaking up for hot-blooded New Englanders! *g* Still, those statistics have to be taken with a grain of salt.
    Yes, like every other post-war society in American history, the social and moral conventions were in flux, with a lot of convenient “live for today” mentality. I know I’ve read somewhere that the era with the highest rate of illegitmate births in America was 1770-1790, beating out the 1970s!
    But those “statistics” are hard to qualify. They’re based on church records and midwives’ reports, and are in no way inclusive. They often don’t factor in new immigrants to a community, non-English speaking individuals, servants, slaves, Native Americans, or indentured servants. Some parishs kept excellent records; some didn’t keep any at all. So it’s one of those historical “statements” that gets frequently tugged back and forth by historians.
    But regardless, I wrote over a dozen historical romances with 18th century NE settings, and I am happy to report that all those heros and heroines did in fact have pre-marital sex. *VBG*

    Reply
  50. Sherrie — thanks for speaking up for hot-blooded New Englanders! *g* Still, those statistics have to be taken with a grain of salt.
    Yes, like every other post-war society in American history, the social and moral conventions were in flux, with a lot of convenient “live for today” mentality. I know I’ve read somewhere that the era with the highest rate of illegitmate births in America was 1770-1790, beating out the 1970s!
    But those “statistics” are hard to qualify. They’re based on church records and midwives’ reports, and are in no way inclusive. They often don’t factor in new immigrants to a community, non-English speaking individuals, servants, slaves, Native Americans, or indentured servants. Some parishs kept excellent records; some didn’t keep any at all. So it’s one of those historical “statements” that gets frequently tugged back and forth by historians.
    But regardless, I wrote over a dozen historical romances with 18th century NE settings, and I am happy to report that all those heros and heroines did in fact have pre-marital sex. *VBG*

    Reply
  51. Sherrie — thanks for speaking up for hot-blooded New Englanders! *g* Still, those statistics have to be taken with a grain of salt.
    Yes, like every other post-war society in American history, the social and moral conventions were in flux, with a lot of convenient “live for today” mentality. I know I’ve read somewhere that the era with the highest rate of illegitmate births in America was 1770-1790, beating out the 1970s!
    But those “statistics” are hard to qualify. They’re based on church records and midwives’ reports, and are in no way inclusive. They often don’t factor in new immigrants to a community, non-English speaking individuals, servants, slaves, Native Americans, or indentured servants. Some parishs kept excellent records; some didn’t keep any at all. So it’s one of those historical “statements” that gets frequently tugged back and forth by historians.
    But regardless, I wrote over a dozen historical romances with 18th century NE settings, and I am happy to report that all those heros and heroines did in fact have pre-marital sex. *VBG*

    Reply
  52. RevMelinda–
    I LOVE Laurel Thatcher Ulrich!! She’s really proof that history can be every bit as engrossing as fiction. A while ago, PBS did an adaptation of the Martha Ballard book that was good, but not quite up to the impact of the woman’s own words. You’re right: the things our ancestors lived through are the stuff of the best heroines.
    Two other nonfiction books with good info about sex in colonial NE:
    Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699, by Roger Thompson
    and
    Sexual Revolution in Early America, by Richard Godbeer
    Both are more “academic” than Ulrich (maybe becaues they’re written by men *g*) but it’s still fascinating to learn how there’s really nothing new under the sun…
    And yes, can you tell that just as you wish publishers were interested in Western romances, I wish they’d still consider Yankee ones as well? *g*

    Reply
  53. RevMelinda–
    I LOVE Laurel Thatcher Ulrich!! She’s really proof that history can be every bit as engrossing as fiction. A while ago, PBS did an adaptation of the Martha Ballard book that was good, but not quite up to the impact of the woman’s own words. You’re right: the things our ancestors lived through are the stuff of the best heroines.
    Two other nonfiction books with good info about sex in colonial NE:
    Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699, by Roger Thompson
    and
    Sexual Revolution in Early America, by Richard Godbeer
    Both are more “academic” than Ulrich (maybe becaues they’re written by men *g*) but it’s still fascinating to learn how there’s really nothing new under the sun…
    And yes, can you tell that just as you wish publishers were interested in Western romances, I wish they’d still consider Yankee ones as well? *g*

    Reply
  54. RevMelinda–
    I LOVE Laurel Thatcher Ulrich!! She’s really proof that history can be every bit as engrossing as fiction. A while ago, PBS did an adaptation of the Martha Ballard book that was good, but not quite up to the impact of the woman’s own words. You’re right: the things our ancestors lived through are the stuff of the best heroines.
    Two other nonfiction books with good info about sex in colonial NE:
    Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699, by Roger Thompson
    and
    Sexual Revolution in Early America, by Richard Godbeer
    Both are more “academic” than Ulrich (maybe becaues they’re written by men *g*) but it’s still fascinating to learn how there’s really nothing new under the sun…
    And yes, can you tell that just as you wish publishers were interested in Western romances, I wish they’d still consider Yankee ones as well? *g*

    Reply
  55. I’m pretty much in the centre on this – I don’t write so much reality that it turns off the reader, but I try not to go to the PC extreme either. My heroines have pre-marital sex – two are widows and one is a time-traveller, while in my current historical, the heroine has her own reasons for never wanting to marry. Plus she’s living during the French Revolution, a time when people seemed to do a lot of things they wouldn’t normally dream of doing. As I understand it, in times of war and uncertainty, many people tended to live like there was no tomorrow.

    Reply
  56. I’m pretty much in the centre on this – I don’t write so much reality that it turns off the reader, but I try not to go to the PC extreme either. My heroines have pre-marital sex – two are widows and one is a time-traveller, while in my current historical, the heroine has her own reasons for never wanting to marry. Plus she’s living during the French Revolution, a time when people seemed to do a lot of things they wouldn’t normally dream of doing. As I understand it, in times of war and uncertainty, many people tended to live like there was no tomorrow.

    Reply
  57. I’m pretty much in the centre on this – I don’t write so much reality that it turns off the reader, but I try not to go to the PC extreme either. My heroines have pre-marital sex – two are widows and one is a time-traveller, while in my current historical, the heroine has her own reasons for never wanting to marry. Plus she’s living during the French Revolution, a time when people seemed to do a lot of things they wouldn’t normally dream of doing. As I understand it, in times of war and uncertainty, many people tended to live like there was no tomorrow.

    Reply
  58. “Sherrie, in your research did you run across or read “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary 1785-1812″ by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?” (RevMelinda)
    You know, I may have that book in my research library! (As yet unread, if I do) If I don’t, it sounds like a must-have. Thanks for mentioning it, RevMelinda.
    And Susan S, you are so right about taking statistics with a grain of salt. I’m a statistic freak, but I have learned for every statistic that proves something, you can usually find another statistic that shoots it down. Still, I love stats. I just look for the ones that agree with me and use them. *g*

    Reply
  59. “Sherrie, in your research did you run across or read “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary 1785-1812″ by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?” (RevMelinda)
    You know, I may have that book in my research library! (As yet unread, if I do) If I don’t, it sounds like a must-have. Thanks for mentioning it, RevMelinda.
    And Susan S, you are so right about taking statistics with a grain of salt. I’m a statistic freak, but I have learned for every statistic that proves something, you can usually find another statistic that shoots it down. Still, I love stats. I just look for the ones that agree with me and use them. *g*

    Reply
  60. “Sherrie, in your research did you run across or read “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary 1785-1812″ by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?” (RevMelinda)
    You know, I may have that book in my research library! (As yet unread, if I do) If I don’t, it sounds like a must-have. Thanks for mentioning it, RevMelinda.
    And Susan S, you are so right about taking statistics with a grain of salt. I’m a statistic freak, but I have learned for every statistic that proves something, you can usually find another statistic that shoots it down. Still, I love stats. I just look for the ones that agree with me and use them. *g*

    Reply
  61. After all, Pride and Predjudice must be a contempory romance. How could the author put such a modern sensibility into her characters? After all, Elizabeth and Darcy don’t ridicule other races or religions, or use slanderous epithets. They don’t whip children or their horses, kick their dogs, wager on cockfights or bearbaitings, or drown unwanted
    kittens. They don’t regard hangings or beheadings as good edifying family fun, like everyone else did. Elizabeth doesn’t spend much time in church, yet lives in a time when the Church was of enormous importance. Nor does she worry about Heaven and Hell. I guess Jane Austen is alive and well and living in contempory England– and I wish she would write a few more novels while she’s at it.
    No offense meant– I’m not usually sarcastic. The point is that in every place and time people vary tremendously, and that what we think of as modern may not be so modern. Even when we learn about a time, it’s almost impossible to imagine all the different ways that people of that time may have thought.
    Merry

    Reply
  62. After all, Pride and Predjudice must be a contempory romance. How could the author put such a modern sensibility into her characters? After all, Elizabeth and Darcy don’t ridicule other races or religions, or use slanderous epithets. They don’t whip children or their horses, kick their dogs, wager on cockfights or bearbaitings, or drown unwanted
    kittens. They don’t regard hangings or beheadings as good edifying family fun, like everyone else did. Elizabeth doesn’t spend much time in church, yet lives in a time when the Church was of enormous importance. Nor does she worry about Heaven and Hell. I guess Jane Austen is alive and well and living in contempory England– and I wish she would write a few more novels while she’s at it.
    No offense meant– I’m not usually sarcastic. The point is that in every place and time people vary tremendously, and that what we think of as modern may not be so modern. Even when we learn about a time, it’s almost impossible to imagine all the different ways that people of that time may have thought.
    Merry

    Reply
  63. After all, Pride and Predjudice must be a contempory romance. How could the author put such a modern sensibility into her characters? After all, Elizabeth and Darcy don’t ridicule other races or religions, or use slanderous epithets. They don’t whip children or their horses, kick their dogs, wager on cockfights or bearbaitings, or drown unwanted
    kittens. They don’t regard hangings or beheadings as good edifying family fun, like everyone else did. Elizabeth doesn’t spend much time in church, yet lives in a time when the Church was of enormous importance. Nor does she worry about Heaven and Hell. I guess Jane Austen is alive and well and living in contempory England– and I wish she would write a few more novels while she’s at it.
    No offense meant– I’m not usually sarcastic. The point is that in every place and time people vary tremendously, and that what we think of as modern may not be so modern. Even when we learn about a time, it’s almost impossible to imagine all the different ways that people of that time may have thought.
    Merry

    Reply
  64. I think Merry has a valid point, though Jane Austen was a writer of contemporary fiction looking at her own world and cleaning it up, rather than an author looking back at an earlier time period. Smoothing or eliminating extraneous detail is necessary in fiction, depending on the novel. If it’s biting social commentary, grisly detail has a place; if it’s romantic fiction, “reality” gets polished up. Distracting detail can yank the reader away from the ambience and the goal of the story.
    Modern historical romance authors have to view other time periods through modern filters, it’s just a natural hazard. The author has to decide how to handle the grittiness of real life in an earlier time period — some detail works for seasoning, and a lot of it just has to stay out. Historical writers have to bridge a gap between modern readers and historical time frame, and cleaning up everyday detail also helps keep the story and characters on course (and limits the word count!).
    True, we can’t always know how people felt in another time period. Sometimes we get lucky because they left copious diary and journal entries, as Lady Sarah Churchill did. Susan Miranda had another set of parameters for DUCHESS because it wasn’t romance fiction, and she did a great job with including just enough grit and sleaze to suit the time period and paint those word-pictures. Not too much, just right for the sort of novel it is.
    🙂
    ~Susan Sarah

    Reply
  65. I think Merry has a valid point, though Jane Austen was a writer of contemporary fiction looking at her own world and cleaning it up, rather than an author looking back at an earlier time period. Smoothing or eliminating extraneous detail is necessary in fiction, depending on the novel. If it’s biting social commentary, grisly detail has a place; if it’s romantic fiction, “reality” gets polished up. Distracting detail can yank the reader away from the ambience and the goal of the story.
    Modern historical romance authors have to view other time periods through modern filters, it’s just a natural hazard. The author has to decide how to handle the grittiness of real life in an earlier time period — some detail works for seasoning, and a lot of it just has to stay out. Historical writers have to bridge a gap between modern readers and historical time frame, and cleaning up everyday detail also helps keep the story and characters on course (and limits the word count!).
    True, we can’t always know how people felt in another time period. Sometimes we get lucky because they left copious diary and journal entries, as Lady Sarah Churchill did. Susan Miranda had another set of parameters for DUCHESS because it wasn’t romance fiction, and she did a great job with including just enough grit and sleaze to suit the time period and paint those word-pictures. Not too much, just right for the sort of novel it is.
    🙂
    ~Susan Sarah

    Reply
  66. I think Merry has a valid point, though Jane Austen was a writer of contemporary fiction looking at her own world and cleaning it up, rather than an author looking back at an earlier time period. Smoothing or eliminating extraneous detail is necessary in fiction, depending on the novel. If it’s biting social commentary, grisly detail has a place; if it’s romantic fiction, “reality” gets polished up. Distracting detail can yank the reader away from the ambience and the goal of the story.
    Modern historical romance authors have to view other time periods through modern filters, it’s just a natural hazard. The author has to decide how to handle the grittiness of real life in an earlier time period — some detail works for seasoning, and a lot of it just has to stay out. Historical writers have to bridge a gap between modern readers and historical time frame, and cleaning up everyday detail also helps keep the story and characters on course (and limits the word count!).
    True, we can’t always know how people felt in another time period. Sometimes we get lucky because they left copious diary and journal entries, as Lady Sarah Churchill did. Susan Miranda had another set of parameters for DUCHESS because it wasn’t romance fiction, and she did a great job with including just enough grit and sleaze to suit the time period and paint those word-pictures. Not too much, just right for the sort of novel it is.
    🙂
    ~Susan Sarah

    Reply
  67. I have to chime in here again, because I totally agree with Susan/Sarah–especially about DUCHESS. You did an amazing job of taking me into Sarah Churchill’s world. I am so looking forward to interviewing you about this book.

    Reply
  68. I have to chime in here again, because I totally agree with Susan/Sarah–especially about DUCHESS. You did an amazing job of taking me into Sarah Churchill’s world. I am so looking forward to interviewing you about this book.

    Reply
  69. I have to chime in here again, because I totally agree with Susan/Sarah–especially about DUCHESS. You did an amazing job of taking me into Sarah Churchill’s world. I am so looking forward to interviewing you about this book.

    Reply

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