Redheaded Neanderlady

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

Monday, April 12, 2010

I've learned some interesting things about some types of fiction. . . .

I'd like to follow up a bit about my introduction to the blog Clio's Children. I was invited to join via another blog, which I won't go into now. Well, actually several blogs, and my accumulated knowledge, while hardly "scientific" suggests a few things, at least about the genre or subgenre "historical fiction".

I've already noticed that most readers, and even more so writers, like "accuracy" in historical fiction. Which is fine. A historical novelist should maintain accuracy in whatever historical fiction they're writing about. But that inevitably leads to the question about what is "accurate" or "accuracy". Some writers, for example, feel that they must use "period" place names, or a lot of expressions like "ere", "nay" "tis" "twas", and so on. Or write the names of people in "period" style(or what they think is "period" style(how many of these writers actually know Old English or Old French, for example?) These kinds of things can be quite confusing for a modern reader. es[ecoa;;u of the modern reader is being asked to figure out how to pronounce some Old English name as it was originally written down(since monks were about the only people who could write, and there were no "rules" about how to transcribe place or personal names, these things could vary wildly, but recognizably, which only adds to a modern' reader's confusion. And that doesn't even take into consideration that English-speaking writers are basically communicating in modern English.

Another interesting thing is, the majority of historical fiction readers tend to be female, and both female readers and writers, tend to gravitate toward biographical fiction about Famous People. Which is one reason so much Tudor-themed material is being written for the growing historical fiction market. Which has resulted in an absolute glut of Tudor-themed books. . . . This may be partly publisher-driven' the people who publish books have apparently gotten it into their heads that "everybody" likes Tudor stuff. A fair number of historical fiction readers have gotten into that period, and love, love, love it, but I was never all that interested in Tudor anyway, and I'm beginning to feel that there's just an absolute glut on Tudor-themed historical novels. Aren't there any other periods that are interesting? The same thing could be said, especially in the US, about the abundance of American Civil War themed books. And the American Civil War is, for reasons I won't go into here, I avoid, avoid, avoid.

This, by the way, is not a rant, exactly. Just an observation. Men write historical novels, too, but men's historical novel-writing tends to be closer to the "thriller" subgenre, in that it tends toward blood, guts, war, battle, etc. and often doesn't have very well-rounded female characters. When there is a female character that's reasonably well defined, I've noticed a tendency among some male writers, to just have the female character sit at home and cry or there is a "bedroom reunion" or something like that. Men still don't tend to view women as having any real "agency", and it shows. This all too often doesn't accord with actual history; even constrained by the mores of their times, women could, and did, and not infrequently, act on their own for sme reason or another(but all within the framework of their times)

As I said, this post is not "scientific" at all. I don't pretend that it is. It's just my observations, and I'm sure there are many, many exceptions which the Gentle Blog Reader can surely point out, if they wish to do so. I will have more to say about a lot of this in a not-too-distant future post.
Anne G


Molly said...

Thanks for this! You know, I've never really thought about it before, but I appreciate your insight on female characters within the historical writing of male authors. I think you hit the nail on the head, with few exceptions to the rule.

Have you ever read the book Bedlam South by Mark Grisham and David Donaldson? It's set in the civil war (there you go, men writing about battles!) and revolves mainly around male main characters but there is an authentic emotional tone to it that seems to supercede the male-driven subject matter. It's got some interesting plot twists in it too, which makes it quite an enjoyable read. I'd love to hear your perspective on it in relationship to your thoughts in this post.

Thanks, again, for the insights and for waking me up this morning!

Anne Gilbert said...

Molly, sometimes you don't need much in the way of a "rounded" female character in a historical novel, depending on what is written about. Actually this observation about the way men and women write things, is, in my observation, not just confined to historical novels. You can see the same type of thing in "adventure" or "thriller" type books. Most of these are written by men, and it seems to me that many male writers(though certainly not all), have real trouble writing female characters that aren't just fictional eye candy.