It’s Not About The Dates

Recently, I asked a much-more-knowledgeable-than-I friend, “Doesn’t it kinda make you sick that I’m writing Regencies, and yet I have no clue about some of this basic stuff?” It was during one of those frequent moments when I feel like a fraud for doing what I love. The plight of a lot of women, but that is not the point of this post.

Her reply, being a friend and all, was that no, it didn’t matter if the writing was good. And knowing me well, she went on to assure me that my writing is good.

And I’ve been thinking about that since, especially since I have asked both her and my dad (my research partner–hi Dad!) to answer some research questions for me: Towns and inns along the Great North Road, titles, Church of England common talking points, and a good first name for my villain (we settled on Elisha).

When I was in college, I took a course titled America Since 1945 (I minored in political science and religion). I came out of high school without a clue as to how to study, so when it was time for the first exam, I frantically memorized dates and events. But when the test came back, I did poorly. Why? Because while I knew the dates, I didn’t understand the why behind the dates. The dates themselves didn’t matter, it was the progression of history and various moments of cataclysm that mattered. I learned a lot that day, which might be why I am so laissez-faire about my own research; yes, getting it right is important if you’re writing historical fiction, but it’s not as important as getting the feeling right.

So while I am occasionally embarrassed about my mistakes, I feel as if I have the tone right, the feeling of the period oozes through every word of my writing. And I might never know the right way to address the daughter of a peer (Lady Megan Frampton, I think, whereas the married-into-it address would be Megan, Lady Frampton), but my characters are inspired by the time, which in my opinion trumps perfect historical accuracy every time.

Of course there are sore points for every reader; I roll my eyes when I read a book where the titled lord can decide to whom his title will fall when he’s dead, like he’s bequeathing a toaster or something (Carla Kelly does this, but I still LOVE HER WRITING). Others can’t deal with marriage details (special license inaccuracies? Guilty as charged).

What are your sore points? Do you fault authors who don’t get it right, or do you turn a blind eye if the writing is good? Have you pre-ordered the fabulous Carla Kelly’s Beau Crusoe yet? And which authors get everything right? Loretta Chase springs to mind; who else?


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Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

Clothes. You blow the basics, and the book’s a wall banger (and by blowing the basics, I MEAN all those corsetless heroines running about Almack’s). I can get over a few slips (such as the common description of a row of tiny buttons down the back of the gown *roll eyes*), but can’t forgive major blunders. I also can’t forgive things like lords bequeathing their titles (as you mentioned), and bastards becoming the heir to the title (outside Scotland, anyway).

One of my favorite WTF moments was a book where the unmarried heroine, who is the ACKNOWLDEGED mistress of a duke, floats about the ballrooms of London worrying about her reputation. What reputation? You’re a mistress. Game over, baby. And how on earth did you get a voucher for Almack’s?

Elena Greene
15 years ago

For me a disregard for the attitudes of the times is far worse than details of dress or title usage. Scenarios such as the one Kalen described, or one story where an opera dancer was mingling openly at a ton party.

NOT that I agree with those who believe no one ever misbehaved during the Regency. 🙂

As far as authors who get it all right, Jo Beverley is one of the best. Though even she admits that her knowledge has grown since her first books. I doubt if any of us are perfect. How can we be, when there are so many gray areas of historical research? And it’s sometimes what you didn’t think to check that bites you.

To me it comes down to attitude. I want to feel that the author loves the period enough to do some research. Even if she gets a few details wrong that passion makes the writing feel authentic.

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

I’ll forgive a lot when I see the effort has been made to make things correct, but I do get very disappointed when some of the basics are ignored. I am definitely not fond of 21st century attitudes in Regency characters. I do understand that some readers love these sorts of books, but it just is not my fantasy of the period.
I love to try to get the history right and at the same time, I know I do not succeed 100 percent.

15 years ago

On the history exam? I feel for you. WOrst comment I ever received on a final exam essay (on the topic of how President Roosevelt dealt with union relations and anti-trust legislation) was, “Wrong Roosevelt.” Gah.

Same exact problem you had–I couldn’t peice together the feeling of the times and WHY someone would act the way they did.

In terms of reading–I’m all about the feeling of the work. Do the characters feel right together? Do the locations feel right? Do the motivations feel right? I wouldn’t know the correct king of a European country if you whacked me over the head with his boots.

Actually, to me the motivations are perhaps the most important part of these tightly constrained works, the Regency novels. Georgette Heyer was very good at this. For the most part, I believed her characters when they were afraid of X or worried about Y or nonchalant about Z. A lot of those motivations have to be grounded in the times (like the expectation that a mistress would worry about her reputation–good example). But overall, I’m not so very interested in the details of the work.

(But if I were writing one? I’d get TOTALLY obsessed with researching every arcane bit. Completely. Obsessive, even.)

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

I also nitpick clothes, often thinking, “Wait, that’s not right. Kalen would HATE this.” 🙂

But my particular thing is military details. Describe a man as fighting under “Wellington” back when he was still Wellesley or as fighting on the Peninsula years before that campaign started, or have soldiers who would’ve carried muskets armed with rifles, and the book hits the wall HARD. (All errors I have seen more than once in published works.)

I know that’s not quite fair of me. Just because I have ambitions to follow in the footsteps of Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O’Brian doesn’t mean I should expect EVERY author to be a military history geek. But it pulls me out of the story nonetheless.

I’ll forgive errors if they’re peripheral to the story (e.g. a military error that’s part of the hero’s backstory and only mentioned once is fine, but if you’ve set your story at Waterloo, I expect a little more).

I’m also a lot more forgiving of an error on page 200 than one on page 2. In the first chapter, I’m not really committed, so if anything pulls me out of the story, I’m happy to toss it into the library donation bag and move on to whatever’s next in the TBR. But if I’m halfway through the story, it’s a lot harder to abandon it. Also, when an author who in general gets things right makes an error well into the story, I think, “Oh well–honest mistake.” But when there’s a big goof early on, it makes me wonder if the author did any research at all.

I try to keep my history geek nitpicking to myself and avoid naming names, though, because I know that if/when I’m ever published, there will be errors in my books, too, no matter how hard I try to avoid them. So I’m trying not to store up too much bad karma!

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

Ok, I love love love Heyer, but many of her books FEEL very Victorian to me (esp after reading novels of the era, such as Austen’s and Burney’s).

15 years ago

I think for me to get annoyed with a historical mistake, it would have to be a huge, glaring one. Maybe something like a character saying that is so cool, and not talking about the weather. (Alas though, that hasn’t happened, thankfully. LOL)

I figure that since I’m not a history or English major and I don’t work and am surrounded by the history and details of something like the Regency period, I probably won’t notice most mistakes. But also too, I figure it’s fiction, and there is a reason why someone wants to change the rules for the story. But I guess it doesn’t bug me because I’m not like you guys and really, truly know this stuff. 🙂

However, I do know what you mean with the whole idea. . . I might be a huge Star Trek and Star Wars fan, but outside of that, I really can’t watch all that many space program related scifi movies. I just get very annoyed with what they might make stuff do. Like the Roger Moore Bond movie Moonraker. I kept yelling at the darn tv when I saw it — they kept making the space shuttle do things it is in no way capable of doing. Got me so mad. Even though I know it’s a darn fiction movie. Yet, I was perfectly fine and simply loved the Meg Ryan/Tim Robbins movie from the 90s I.Q. where she is Albert Einstein’s niece and he and his scientist friends are trying to help Tim Robbins get together with her. Never read anywhere where Al had a niece that was staying with him at any part of his life, but I still loved it.

Go figure. 🙂


PS – wonder if someone’s trying to tell me something when the first few letters of my word verification thingy is l-o-o-n-y. 😉

Cara King
15 years ago

Oh, but how about Tom and Jerry, Kalen? A lot of Heyer always feels very Egan to me — more so the comic stuff, and the early stuff, of course, but still…

BTW, if anyone’s imagining the cartoon Tom and Jerry, I actually mean The Pierce Egan characters:

Tom & Jerry

As for what gets me — quite a lot, I’m afraid. Title errors (e.g. Sir Thomas’s daughter, Lady Patricia). Firearm errors (rifles everywhere, pistols that don’t need reloading, etc.) Military errors (twenty-year-old running away to sea and buying a commission in the navy). Major costume errors.

Horses that gallop for ten hours, going 15 miles an hour the whole way. Households running without servants. Characters talking as if they’ve read Freud, or watched Oprah. Contraception that is non-scandalous, easy to get, and is more reliable than what we have today. Characters with modern morals, ideals, and ideas. (Unless there’s good explanation in the text.)

So though I care a lot about the correct feeling of the time, I think the details are important to me too… Partly because it’s all part of the same thing. If the author doesn’t understand enough of the details of Regency life, she may not really understand the period as well as she thinks.

As for authors who are exceptionally reliable as far as historical accuracy? I too will name Jo Beverley. Also, Emily Hendrickson. And I’m sure there are many more!


Cara King
15 years ago

Oh, Lois, I love the movie IQ too! IMHO, it’s a hidden gem. I saw it the way I see “Shakespeare in Love” and “Impromptu” — they’re fantasies, and are in no way claiming that these things happened, or could have happened… They’re just light-hearted, silly fun!

(Then again, who knows — if I knew more about Einstein, maybe I wouldn’t like the movie as well!)


Margaret Evans Porter
15 years ago

Once upon a time, an editor’s change to my manuscript introduced an egregious anachronism which subsequently appeared in print. Upon the novel’s publication, I was relieved that only one person commented on it. I offered up no defence, laid no blame in the appropriate quarter because really, what’s the point of moaning over spilt milk? Besides, I try to protect my readership from the seamier side of publishing.

But to you I can admit, I still haven’t fully recovered.

I would probably mount a defence if someone cited me for making an error when I really didn’t. But perhaps I wouldn’t. I dislike putting my readers in the wrong, and even more than that I don’t care to appear thin-skinned.

As for other authors…if caught up in a good story well-told, I tend not to be greatly annoyed by very minor mistakes, especially if they aren’t repeated.

Major ones distress me to the point I can no longer enjoy the book…though I usually finish reading it anyway.

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

Cara, you are my queen. I agree about the horse stuff. I see SOOOOO many mistakes about horses.

I’m probably guilty of flouting your rules for contraception, but I did research my methods pretty darn carefully (and none of my heroines would ever make it past the doors of Almack’s). I pretty much figure that contraception can be as effective—or ineffective!—as I need it to be. *grin* Especially considering that some women are freaken fertility goddesses, while others have to go through all kinds of machinations to conceive.

Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

I don’t get upset about little stuff usually (“That china pattern was not in production until 1831! Off with their heads!”), because, well, we can’t know everything. I read a LOT and feel like I know nothing at all. But a weird, off in its own Regencyland story like the one Kalen mentions (and which luckily I have never come across!) would really, really bug me.

15 years ago

Just chiming in to say that I have read (er–devoured) Carla Kelly’s Beau Crusoe and I really enjoyed it. My only critique might be that with each book she seems to try to outdo her last one in the Horrible Things That Have Happened to the Hero (or heroine) department. (Does anyone remember the Essex?) It has the trademark Kelly secondary characters and dialogue, and thematically and structurally I thought it was very well crafted–a lot of fun, with sweetness and some sorrow mixed in–and themes which include appetite, hunger, and redemption.

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

I started Carla’s book last night. I’m thrilled she was snapped up by Harlequin Historical!

I really do feel upset when authors make a mistake unnecessarily, when just a bit of tweaking could have made the bit historically accurate, especially when the correct information is easily obtained.

I do also have a thing about Regency heroines who never worry about pregnancy.

I do suspect that most readers don’t really care, though. If the story is good and the set up seems plausible, I suspect they simply enjoy the read!


Megan Frampton
15 years ago

Worrying about pregnancy is something I always have my heroines do, Diane; one of my pet peeves, I guess.

Thanks for the feedback, all.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
15 years ago

My one of my biggest pet peeves is getting titles wrong, primarily because in an artistocratic society, a title meant something in a country with such a strong class system. And it’s the easiest thing to check with Debrett’s and Burke’s peerage readily available on-line. But I’m more concerned with characters and dialogue that reek of the 21st century. If you can convince me that your characters belong in the Regency World, I’m willing to nitpick less on the historical accuracy question.

15 years ago

I lived at 14 North Parade, Bath, for a number of months. I read a book that listed an address of the heroine as 15 North Parade, Bath. This is a house that does NOT exist. It drove me simply nuts. Mention an address without giving the number! Or not give an address. Besides that, it wasn’t a fashionable address at that time. Sure it looks pretty, but…

If you go into details, I want them to be correct. Otherwise, gloss, gloss, gloss. And yes, a period attitude/tone is important to me.

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

I can explain the author’s thinking. I’m suspecting she invented 15 Parade Street because it didn’t exist! The very reason it annoyed you.

I often make up towns that don’t exist, because I can’t possibly know the history of the town and I do not want to get it wrong, so I’d rather invent something of my own, mimicking a real place.

If the area was not fashionable at the time and the author used it, I might forgive her, if that information was not easily available. But!! I would LOVE knowing the real history! I’d LOVE to know Bath so well that I’d know there wasn’t a number 15 Parade Street or that this or that neighborhood was the “in” place to be. You lucky ducky!!!

Diane (who once almost housed her titled people in a London mews)

15 years ago

My pet peeve: modern language in a Regency or any other piece. Done often enough in a book and I can’t finish it cleanly (read I’ll skip around and skim).

15 years ago

My pet peeve: putting contemporary beauty standards into historical times. A book set in the late Victorian era was nearly ruined for me when the heroine’s “TRAGIC BACK-STORY” involved her being called a cow, and her feeling self-conscious about her “curvy” figure.

Wrong!! This book was set around the time when the horribly exaggerated bustle of the 1880s had disappeared and the ideal figure was womanly.

Another pet peeve: having heroines be militant suffragists(suffragette wasn’t coined until 1905!) when the militant stance hadn’t gained momentum until ca 1908.

One more peeve: London. It irritates me to no end in books where “London” is really a homogeneous blob under the title “Mayfair”(when it seems that a lot of people don’t even know where Mayfair is in London).

*g* Can you tell I have a lot of peeves about people getting my chosen time period (1880-1914) wrong? That’s why I vent my frustrations in a history blog. lol

Megan Frampton
15 years ago


All your peeves have bothered me at one point or another, too.

Especially the curvy woman thing.

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