Any moderately well-read Regency reader can spot an anachronism from pages away: A woman who refers to her gown as having an Empire waist, zippers, chocolate, calling people of other nationalities by politically-correct names. Sure, and some of us authors (ahem!) have fallen down on the job of getting titles right, etc.
But what about the more subtle nuances? Or things that seem anachronistic, but aren’t?
For example, this week I watched a Chinese romantic comedy called Needing You. It stars my new favorite, Andy Lau, and the adorably cute Sammi Cheng. They work in the same office, and Lau is Cheng’s boss. The movie was made in 2000, so I was stunned when Lau commented to one of the other women in the office that her outfit would look a lot better if it was lower to show her boobs and the slit in her skirt were higher. Whoa, he said that?!? That would never pass muster in an American-made film, unless later he were forced to wear the outfit in question and go through a cat-call gauntlet. Not to mention it’s illegal in American workplaces to mention anything about appearance (right? I don’t work in a workplace, so I can compliment myself as much as I want, since I’m the only one here).
There were a few other instances of double standards in the workplace in the film, and it was hard for an American woman such as myself to take them in stride. But that reality is their reality, not mine, and if it’s something that rings true to them, so be it. I’m the outsider who has to deal with it.
Another film I saw this week was Inglourious Basterds, where a spy was found out because he made a gesture no German would do. It wasn’t even anything he thought about because it was so subtle, but it was a beacon for the gestapo guy sitting across from him. Societal norms are so strong within each of us that we don’t even think about the way we eat, or hold a pen, or make our “7”s, or wear our jeans–but you can always spot someone who’s not from around your parts by any of those tiny tells.
Then there’s language. Some of our ‘dirtiest’ language has been around for centuries, even though it might seem like a modern invention. So sometimes when it’s used in our books it’s not just for the shock value, but because that’s how they spoke. And, yes, certain sexual acts have been around forever, too, even though once I heard (laughably) an author say indignantly that Regency people didn’t do that. In a pig’s eye, I say; as long as men have had those, and we’ve had all this, all those acts have been done. Just saying.
Of course, that’s not to say Regency authors should worry less about historical and social accuracy, but just to say that there were doubtless exceptions for every accepted fact in our history. Things couldn’t exist that hadn’t been invented, but it is important to remember every Society has its own quirks, even societies existing within the same time period such as my Chinese film above; it’s kinda fun to think about, actually, and makes reading and writing the books even more fun.
What’s the most egregious error you’ve ever spotted? What have you thought was an anachronism that wasn’t? Which anachronisms bother you the most?