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Tag Archives: historical accuracy

carriageI was down much of this week due to a stomach bug, but I’ve had a great time catching up today.  What an interesting week we’ve had at the Riskies!

Diane started out with Real Research? a discussion of whether it’s OK to base one’s research on that of popular authors in your genre. Then Amanda posted on Real Things (objects from Jane Austen’s life), Carolyn posted an Interview with Susan Broadwater of the Regency Library and Janet brought us the fascinating story of Anne Lister in Same Sex Marriage, 1834.

Diane’s original post reminded me of a recent writers’ loop discussion of historical accuracy. Some people were shocked when I put forward my belief that HISTORICAL ACCURACY IS NOT IMPORTANT when it comes to having a successful career writing Regency era romance.

I’ve read enough bestsellers, RITA finalists and even RITA winners in the genre that include errors of title usage, people traveling from London to Cornwall in the matter of a few hours, horses galloping for hundreds of miles without dropping dead, etc… to know this is true. Their popularity proves that there are vast numbers of romance readers out there who don’t care much about such things.

I don’t even mean this as a criticism of these authors. Not at all. Their popularity proves that they are consummate professionals. They are providing good entertainment for their loyal readers, they are supporting themselves, putting their kids through college, etc… All things I want to do. And they’re doing it by writing good STORIES.

The lesson I take away is that the story (in this case, the romance) comes first.

Does this mean I don’t research any more? Not at all, for several reasons. First, why annoy the smaller percentage of readers who are knowledgeable enough to be annoyed by things that can be checked relatively easily?

But the main reason I research is because it’s part of my process. It helps ME write MY stories. I have never gotten reader mail complimenting me on my meticulous research (and heck, I make mistakes too). But I have gotten mail and reviews saying my stories were a bit different, in a good way.

The point is, research inspires me.

I’m feeling more inspired this week, having added some books to my TBR list and resolved to subscribe to the Regency Library!

What inspires you?


First, a quick apology for the inherent bias in this question. It’s so unfair, yet I’ve noticed that readers who complained about too much sex in my books always castigated the heroine. “Ladies didn’t do that during the Regency” was a comment was directed at a heroine who dared have sex with her husband.

OK, I won’t debate that one 🙂 but these readers have a point, skewed as it is. Historically, women paid the highest consequences for sex, biological and social.

I love SEX AND THE CITY. In all the sexual exploration the four main characters go through, they are searching for something, even if they’re not sure what it is. And when they find it, it’s LOVE. BUT I think it’s dodgy to translate their attitudes to women of the early 19th century. Not that they didn’t have sex–and sometimes outside the rules–and sometimes enjoying it! 🙂 But they were living and loving in a different world, with different stakes.

I admit to having trouble with the Regency heroine who experiments with sex lightly. With the heroine who keeps insisting to herself and everyone else that the hero is a loathesome jerk and the last man on earth she’d ever marry, yet repeatedly has sex with him without ever worrying about social disgrace or pregnancy or destroying her sisters’ chances of making good marriages. Such heroines usually strike me as some combination of needy, confused, selfish or just TSTL.

Yet I love so many sexy Regency era romances.

Things that mitigate the “Lydia Bennet” factor: marriage of convenience, no reputation to lose, supposed infertility (though possibly reversible!), birth control (some forms existed, but it has to make sense that the characters would know about and use it). And emotional commitment.

There’s also this mysterious thing: “heat of the moment”. Sometimes it works for me, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve written this whole post and I’m still not sure how some authors make me feel that it really is the right moment for the characters to go at it, and why sometimes it just feels too early. Is it just incredibly sensual writing? Or deep enough characterisation that I feel the love even if the characters aren’t fully aware of it?

Maybe part of it is that I want some buildup.

What do you think? When has a heroine gone over from being human and vulnerable to TSTL in matters of sex? What makes “heat of the moment” work, or not? Which authors do you think handle this the best?



I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s been rushing to finish reading her Rita books! There’s definitely a difference between reading a 400-page novel and reading fifty pages of manuscript (as one does for the Golden Heart Contest, which is what I’ve judged in years past.) 🙂

So here are my random opinions on judging today:

JUDGES SHOULD, when reading an unpublished writer’s manuscript, just read it the way they would read any published piece of fiction. When reading a bought novel, one doesn’t stop on page 2 to analyze the goals, motivations, and conflicts, so don’t do it now! At least not on the first read-through.

JUDGES SHOULD NOT become too rule-bound. Nor should they let their tastes or prejudices overwhelm their judgment.

I THINK THERE IS A DIFFERENCE between serious historical errors and minor ones, and I think a judge should take this into account. Certainly, every historical author and every judge will have his or her own opinions on which errors are egregious, which serious, and which unimportant….and here are a few opinions of mine. (By the way, in the interest of discretion, I will point out that none of the following refers to any books I am currently judging!) 🙂


1. If a character uses a word in 1810 that has its earliest OED cite as 1830, that doesn’t bother me. (Words were often spoken long before they were written.) An exception, of course, is a word like “mesmerize” which has a clear and sudden origin (a friend of mine once saw that word used in an Elizabethan-set novel…)

2. If characters are not always wearing their gloves and hats when they ought, that rarely bothers me. (I have seen experts almost come to blows over when and if ladies removed their hats when paying calls, so I know the subject has its murky areas!)

3. If an Almack’s patroness is referred to as a Patroness in a year she wasn’t, or if Wellington is called a duke back before he was a duke, or if characters use candles when they should use oil lamps, that doesn’t bother me at all.

4. If Almack’s is having balls every day of the week.


— basic card game errors (such as piquet being written as a four-person card game, or a character who’s so good at faro that he beats every else); cards are very easy to research, so I think every writer who uses them should know the basics of any games to which she or he refers
— basic carriage errors bother me, though not hugely: i.e. I think the writer should know whether a carriage was owner-driven or coachman-driven, whether it was open, and approximately how many it could seat
— Mistaking a major inland city for a seaside town
— Regency gentlemen wearing “pants”
— Regency misses who have clearly read 21st century sex manuals

— when Sir John Doe is occasionally referred to as Sir John but much more often as Sir Doe
— knighthoods being inherited titles
— Regency gentlemen driving buggies through London
— heroes who run away to sea at age eighteen and buy a commission in the navy

So which errors bother you? Which errors don’t bother you?

And which of the above errors do you think I should start caring more or less about??? 🙂

All opinions welcome!

Cara (off to read!!!)

Over the past few weeks, my fellow Riskies have discussed research, historical accuracy, and how nitpicky is too nitpicky (or not), as well as how easy it is to get swept away by research. I am in the middle of writing a Regency-set historical, and am having some of the same problems, but from another angle: I don’t want to do the research.

It’s not that I’m not interested, because I am terribly interested in all the stuff I should be researching, it’s just that time is at a premium, and any time spent away from writing is . . . time spent away from writing. I already have a procrastination issue, I know how easy it would be for me to dive in to do the required research, not to surface for several weeks. Since I don’t plot in advance, and I always forget to take notes when inspiration strikes, I panic at the thought I might lose a thread of the plot, or a really good idea for the next conflict. Time spent away from the writing–well, you get the idea.

In my opinion, the best historical romances are those that are imbued with the whole world of the time period, not necessarily the ones that reveal the most knowledge. My favorites are those that only show the tip of the research iceberg–going with the floe, so to speak. I feel fairly confident I get the historical tone right in my writing, but I know I have fallen down on the research job (my dad is my research partner, and he put in all the work on A Singular Lady, but I did not double-check his notes when it came to titles and special licenses, my two most egregious errors. Definitely my bad, sorry Dad).

Right now I have to spend some time finding answers to some of these questions:

What were people who came from the Ottoman Empire called during the Regency? Turks? Ottos? Footstools?

What were relations like between the Ottoman Empire and England during the Regency? Did the government take any official stand on the Ottoman Empire’s holding of Greece?

What was banking like? The stock market? (I read A Conspiracy of Paper, but that is about sixty years too early, and I don’t recall the details, just that it was a good story).

If there was a public ruckus, who came in to break it up and haul the miscreants off to be punished?

Could a man unbutton a lady’s gown if he were standing in front of her? And if he could, could he do it with one hand?

What did practicers of The Fancy (boxing) wear to practice?

And now? I have stalled enough. Before I get back to writing, I have to–darn it–go do the research.


How much does historical accuracy matter to you?

I ranted a bit on the subject yesterday…but now I’m calmer, and I’d like to know what everyone else thinks.

At the Austen movie exhibition at the Museum of Costume in Bath, they argued about the EMMA costume shown here, “Gwyneth Paltrow’s green and white dress, with its large, chocolate bow on the bodice, has none of the subtlety of the fabrics that other designers have used… In a way, the pattern looks more like a textile design from the 1970’s… This is just what Hollywood requires: simple dresses, simple messages.” So: does this dress bother you? Is it too anachronistic, or do you like the way it captures Emma’s “princess” role in her community? How accurate do you think fabric and cut need to be? Is having an accurate outline enough?

Or how about hair, and bonnets? Does it bother you that Emma goes outside throughout the movie with the hairstyle shown above, and no hat or bonnet? Or how about Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennet, who skips a bonnet, and also has her hair down? Is that too ahistorical for you?

How about Greer Garson, in the 1940 PRIDE AND PREJUDICE movie? It is commonly said that in this film, they gave the men Regency styles, and the women the styles of a decade or two later….but doesn’t this dress also look very 20th century? Does it bother you that the women aren’t wearing dresses that are remotely Regency? And does Garson’s non-period hair bother you?

Here we have two shots of Embeth Davidtz playing Mary Crawford in the recent movie of MANSFIELD PARK. This, in my opinion, is the most anachronistic dress of all, but it does convey Mary Crawford’s slinkiness, and sophistication. Does this dress drive you bats? (I wish I could also find a photo of Miss Bingley’s sleeveless dress — I don’t believe one exists on the internet! But here’s her other dress, which is less wrong, but still odd.)

How about accuracy in books? When Heyer talks about the Little Season during the Regency, though it didn’t yet exist, does that annoy you? When another author’s hero runs away at eighteen and purchases a commission in the navy, do you shout at the book? When Sir William is also Sir Barton, and Lord Brighton is also Lord George, do you throw the book against the wall? Or are all of these annoyances minor to you (if indeed you notice them at all)?

What kind of inaccuracies bother you most? Easily checked facts, such as title, distances between towns, how fast a carriage could go? Or the mindset of the times? Or the rules of society?

Please share!

Cara King,
MY LADY GAMESTER — Signet Regency, out now!!!

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