Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Flabbergasted again -- but maybe not quite so much

On the same romance readers' e-mail list where I reported that some people got all upset about the supposed lack of cleanliness in the Middle Ages, someone up and complained about romances where cousins get attracted to one another.  Her  reaction was "eeewwww!" She was complaining about this in Regency-era romances. Again, I'm somewhat flabbergasted, but not as badly as I was when I heard about the "cleanliness" issue. Well, at first I was.  Then I thought about it for a while, and after a while longer, I remembered stuff about kinship and marriage rules in various societies.  In the US, cousin marriages are mostly illegal, but in Britain, they are legal, but uncommon.  It isn't normally the pattern, any more, in the West, at least, to marry "family", which I suppose is why the woman had a "eeewwww!" reaction. I can kind of see this, if some romance writer tries to set this up in the modern US or the modern western world generally.  But in Regency England?  Jeez.  Cousin marriages were still fairly common.  Charles Darwin, at a slightly later period, married his cousin Emma Wedgewood(I mention this partly because it's the 200th anniversary of his birth, but that's another story).  Today, our culture considers "cousin marriage" pretty off-putting for a variety of reasons, but in other parts of the world, it's still going on, but has begun to decline, again for a variety of reasons. This is why I mentioned kinship and marriage rules at the beginning of this post -- in parts of the Middle East, cousin marriages are not only permissible, they are actually encouraged in some places, on the grounds that the man and the woman will probably be acquainted with one another to begin with, and doubtless reasonably compatible. A different perspective entirely, but perfectly normal in, say,Saudi Arabia, where(from our Western perspective, at least), most people don't have much choice.  Cousins from different lineages can marry in parts of Africa, too, and the rules can get awfully complicated.  And so on and so forth.  The thing is, every society has different rules and expectations about what makes a "good" marriage partner, and there are often other considerations as well(like keeping whatever it is, "in the family").  Plus, there may not be too many "suitable" marriage partners around, in a given "traditional" society, for a variety of reasons.


The point is, a lot of romance readers, even consumers of historical romance, just don't seem to  be aware of this.  It appears to me that many of them aren't even aware that societies and cultures around the world aren't "all the same" through time and space, and what applies in the modern West, doesn't necessarily apply elsewhere in the world, nor did it necessarily apply in earlier times. Cultures change and adapt.  But that isn't part of the "romance" world view, I guess, unless the writer is unusually sensitive.


Finally, if this sounds like I'm criticizing the romance genre, I'm not, really.  Basically,what appalls me is not the genre itself, although some romance novels are pretty silly, but the apparently limited world view of some "romance consumers".  It seems that these people can't get it through their heads that change happens, and that things like cleanliness standards and marriage rules change over time, too.  Which is ironic, because, in a way, romances are about change, especially if the writer has the heroine taking charge of her life in some way. But then, I'm not really qualified to comment further, as I'm not writing romance novels.  So I guess I'll shut up about this.  For now, at least.

Anne G


Anita Davison said...

This explains why, when my heroine was attracted to her second cousin, I received critiques which said, 'Oh no, she can't do that, they're related!' But in England it's legal - uncommon but legal.

Anne Gilbert said...


Well, that was my whole point. Some Americans just don't "get" that. As I more or less hinted, I have an anthropology background, and I know that in many parts ofthe world, these kinds of marriages are still fairly common and definitely not illegal. Interestingly, they're becoming somewhat less common in those places, if for no other reason than "Western" ideas have penetrated enough so that there are now wider pools of "acceptable" marriage partners to choose from. But that's another story. As for your heroine's second cousin, had I read that, I wouldn't have batted an eyelash!
Anne G

Dawna F said...

OK - I can top this one!

In my local critique group, I had a sentence where my heroine (who has epilepsy) mentions that her tutor had been reading a text by Galen, and as a result, thought her fits were caused by excess phlegm.

A member of my local critique group went NUTS, going on about how YUK it was, etc., etc.

But the whole concept of the 4 bodiy humors was accepted medicine at the time! I couldn't see how I could squeeze in the EEG, so I just left it.


Anne Gilbert said...


Yeah, that does sound pretty sad. Fortunately for me, when something seems odd about my historical stuff, the people I explain it to, seem reasonably receptive, though I've never had to explain anything like that!
Anne G