Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Time-specific mindsets

Over at Historical Fiction, a forum for writers and readers of historical fiction, an interesting discussion has been going on about "historical" mindsets. One author at this link had quite a bit to say about people in historical novels having the right "mindset" for their times. She gave the example of a heroine in medieval times who goes riding around on a stallion and gives baskets of goodies to peasants, etc., and then acts like a "modern" woman when she's required to marry someone. I don't have any problem with this author's overall objections, per se. But I really don't think that a woman in medieval times(or a man, for that matter)would have just "bowed their heads and obeyed family dictates" if they truly didn't like the idea of the match. This doesn't take into consideration the fact that most families "back then" at least attempted to make compatible matches, just as, say, families in India try to do today. Of course, attitudes to and about marriage were different in, say 1350 than they are now. For everyone, marriage was a practical affair. It didn't mean that people didn't have some affection for one another, but it did mean that "love" as we understand it today, wasn't thought to be synonymous with marriage. People married for "alliaances", to obtain property(usually through a female), for security, among other things. Their expectations were different. In this sense, the author is correct about "mindset". But I don't think she's correct that everybody was "obedient". Cultures just don't work that way. And even in more "restrictive "times and cultures, there is usually a certain amount of "allowed" wiggle room.

So what does this have to do with writing? Well, everything, if you're a historical novelist(or even writing science fiction set in a historical period, as I am. Some writers are simply not careful about the more general elements of "mindset" and therefore will often make egregious mistakes that even I can spot. But then, there can be "gray areas", especially if you're writing about fictional characters. You, the writer, do not have to be rigid about these things, if you have done halfway adequate research. And that is important. If you know something about the customs of the time and place you are writing about, you can play with things a bit. Of course you will always probably get some criticism from scholars about these things, but that's to be expected. Just don't make your heroine act like a 21st century Queen Bee . . . unless, of course, she is a queen. . . .
Anne G

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