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Tag Archives: History and Research

Posts on history and research

I think it was the fine folks over at Dear Author who coined the phrase “Mistorical” to describe historical romances that are, for lack of a better term, light on the accuracy. “Wallpaper Historical” is a similar term. Mistorical, I believe, is intended to describe not just books that are light on the factual accuracy, but books that appear to be set in a world that never existed. It’s a Meta-Regency setting as opposed to an actual-Regency setting.

The term mistorical is a bit perjorative in that it implies something that is wrong — hence the Latin prefix mis. There is a suggestion in there that perhaps the author is not aware of any errors. Although I think that’s true for some authors, I’m not sure about that as a blanket statement.

The Meta-Regency

The meta-Regency is, for me, a world that never existed and, moreover, is a world that the author and reader very likely both understand did not exist. The stories are built on a set of Regency signifiers that the savvy reader instantly recognizes and navigates.

It’s a world where a woman’s Empire gown can be removed by unfastening a few hooks, no one goes to Church or is genuinely afraid for their immortal soul, and no one blinks an eye when a woman demands to know why she can’t go to Oxford, as if the unfairness ought to be patently obvious (even though, historically, the “fairness” of that prohibition was so obvious as to not need discussion). Reform is in the air and the hero supports it. There may well be sexy lingerie, even though sexy underwear didn’t exist. There are horses and carriages, slippers and ballrooms, eleven o’clock tea and the use of the word “rather” in place of the modern intensifier of “fucking.” I rather think that’s awesome, my lord instead of Dude. That’s fucking awesome.

A Less Meta-Regency

Then there’s the historicals that exist in a Regency constructed through use of a greater set of known facts. In this sort of historical you are unlikely to find a heroine who decides to dispense with her corset in the name of fashion. This heroine might recognize the unfairness of not being allowed to go to Oxford, but she will also be aware that the weight of public conviction is against a change in the policy.

These books tend to explore the impact and meaning of these very real power legal and cultural imbalances and the ways in which the hero and heroine can both transgress those boundaries.

Tomayto Tomahto?

While I enjoy and tend to prefer historicals that are strong on the history, I also enjoy historicals that appear to be set in this Meta-Regency period. I have read and re-read certain “Wallpaper” historicals multiple times.

I’ve reached the point, however, where I don’t feel these two kinds of books should be lumped together at all. When I’m in the mood for the Meta-Regency, I wish I knew a quick way to find one, other than by author name. And when I want a book that gives me a more historically accurate grounding, I wish I could more easily find them, too.

There’s nothing worse than finding out you’ve just paid money for a Historical romance only to find you have a meta-Regency world instead.

So, where do you stand? Do you have a preference? Do you care? Opine in the comments.

Ooops – I nearly forgot that it’s my turn to post today. (My excuse: I was teaching today, and when I came home I fell asleep on the couch.)

After I finished my essay for the Punch Digital Archive that I mentioned in my last post, I turned to a fun project I had thinking about for quite some time: to put together a historical archive for my own Victorian magazine, Allan’s Miscellany, complete with selected articles. Fictional reporters reporting about (mostly) real news? Yeah, that’s my kind of historical-geek-catnip. 🙂

Earlier this week, the Allan’s Miscellany digital archive finally went online, complete with very serious scholarly commentary –

Though articles were published anonymously or pseudonymously, as was the wont in the Victorian Age, the early issues of Allan’s clearly display the  influence of its charismatic editor, William MacNeil.”

– and a selection of articles from October 1839, December 1842, and April 1847. Real news!

“Visitors to Madame TUSSAUD’S elegant exhibition of waxworks will find that the collection has recently been extended to include figures of Calvin, Knox, and Luther as well as Her Majesty, in her Robes of State.”

Snarky reviews of (mostly) real books!

“The second part of Lady CHARLOTTE GUEST’s translation of the “Mabinogion” from the Welsh has just been released. While the “Literary Gazette” was thrown into raptures over the volume, we cannot help but wonder whether such old-fashioned romances as are included in the “Mabinogion” will not induce even more chivalric delusions in readers who easily fall victim to such humbug. We therefore cannot recommend Lady CHARLOTTE’s translation to young men of the gentry and the aristocracy.”

This was, of course, the perfect excuse to rummage around several Victorian magazines in search for contemporary amusements, theatrical productions, book releases, and political news. And I found the most amaaaaaaaaazing stuff!!! (she squeals.)

Like the Christmas pantomime that the guys from Punch (yes, my Punch!!!!) wrote for the Christmas season of 1842: “PUNCH’S PANTOMIME; or, Harlequin, King John, and Magna Charta,” performed at Covent Garden.

Even better than that: for the same year I also stumbled across a mention of the Glaciarium – London’s very first ice-skating rink with artificial (!!!) ice. It was installed in the Baker Street Bazaar at Portman Square, and the rink itself was surrounded by an Alpine panorama, which seems to have been partly painted and partly a scenery with rocks, little cottages and benches for visitors to explore. (The image above, however, is from Punch.) The Glaciarium was only open for two years, from 1842 to 1844. When it closed at the Baker Street Bazaar, it was apparently removed to another location, though I wasn’t able to find anything on that.

Still – an ice-skating rink with artificial ice in 1842? That find pleased my inner historical geek to no end! 🙂

What about you? What kind of news would you be looking for when rummaging through old magazines? Book reviews? News about the Queen? The latest fashion trends?

I’m contemplating a change of subgenre and thought I’d share with you my thoughts on what I find (1)attractive (2) unattractive about each period. So here goes.

1. Much nudity. Men with big swords.
2. Public unisex toilets, cheek-to-cheek. Think of the meet-cute. “I’m sorry, is that your sponge?”

Dark Ages
1. The stuff of legends e.g., Camelot. Men with big swords.
2. Filth and misery. No public toilets at all, private ones dubious.

1. Castles. Men with big swords.
2. Filth and misery. No public toilets at all, private ones dubious. Child marriages.

1. Silks, lace, velvet, swashbuckling stuff. Men with big swords.
2. Filth and misery. One known (official) public toilet on London Bridge, private ones dubious. Child marriages. Elizabeth I.

Civil War/Restoration
1. Silks, lace, velvet, swashbuckling stuff. Sieges. Men with long hair and big swords.
2. Filth and misery. One known (official) public toilet on London Bridge, private ones dubious. Plague.

Eighteenth Century
1. Silks, lace, velvet, swashbuckling stuff. Men with high heels and smaller swords.
2. Filth and misery, wigs, and you don’t even want to ask about the toilets.

1. Cotton, linen, wool, elegance, manners, some indoor plumbing. Men with tight pants, swordsticks, vinaigrettes.
2. Filth and misery, repression.

1. None that I can think of other than infrastructure and some indoor plumbing.
2. Filth and misery, repression, and everything else.

1. Nice clothes for women. Indoor plumbing. Men with big walking sticks.
2. Filth and misery, repression, World War I looms ahead.

No wonder we writers have to reinvent history.

Your ideas?

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