What I’ve Learned From Reading Historical Fiction

Let’s start with a disclaimer: most of the historical fiction I’ve read is from the early 1800’s/ late 1700’s and, of that, the majority is set in England with a smattering of Americans thrown in. (Americans make everything more fun, especially in literature.) Now, just to annoy those of you who are serious scholars, I’m counting both fiction based on history and fiction written during this period in history as the same thing, historical fiction.

Now that I’ve successfully alienated half my potential readership, what have I learned from reading historical fiction?

  1. If you have amnesia or were abandoned at birth, you are probably the long lost heir/heiress to a large fortune and title.
  2. Your likelihood of being kidnapped, having a twin, or being orphaned increased exponentially if you are an heir or an heiress to a large fortune.
  3. If you have a twin, you will almost always be identical and trade places with each other when necessary.  However, you will kiss differently, which the hero with discover right away.  (Also, if you had a bad upbringing and someone sees a person that looks like you wandering around, most likely you were kidnapped when you were a baby and that is your twin.)
  4. If you catch a handsome gentleman wondering around and assume he is supposed to be a new servant/worker of any kind, he is probably your betrothed.  He’ll go along with the ruse until you fall in love with him and are agonizing over the fact that you are engaged but in love with a servant. Then, when you are at your wits’ end and planning on running off with this penniless servant, it will be revealed (though not by him) that he is actually your betrothed.
  5. If a man is charming, he is probably a villain.  If a man is handsome by conventional standards, he is probably a villain.  If a man is ungodly masculine and holds an appeal that the word “handsome” is a bland affront to, he’s probably the hero.
  6. By nature, people with blond hair tend to be more externally charming while people with dark hair tend to be more brooding.  The color of the hair must seep directly into the brain and from there into the soul.
  7. If a man went on a crusade (Going all the way back to the middle ages), he most likely was captured by the other side, enslaved, became half-accustomed to their ways, escaped, and brought a large fortune back with him.
  8. The proper order of rank in the British Aristocracy:
    • From lowest to highest, male: Knight, Baron, Viscount, Earl, Marquis, Duke
    • Female: Lady, Baroness, Viscountess, Countess, Marquiss, Duchess
    • Beyond that you go to the royals, which are: Royal Duke, Prince, King, Emperor

So, that’s what I’ve learned over the past 10 or so years reading this genre.  What have you learned?

 

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Why Are So Many Protagonists Orphans?

1800s Edition

Okay, I’ll admit that not all  protagonists are orphans, but I’ve seen a suspicious number of them, particularly in romantic literature from the 1800s.  Let’s take some famous examples here:

Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester: Orphan

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No, Jane, we’re not mocking you.  You can’t help that your parents are gone. (Charlotte Bronte could have, but she didn’t.)

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Um, maybe this is why he is so unhealthily fixated on Jane.  Plus, I bet if he still had parents he wouldn’t have tried to marry Jane when he had a crazy wife in the attic.

Jack, Algernon, and Celia (Basically all the main characters in the Importance of Being Earnest excepting Gwendolin): Orphans

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Maybe Algernon wouldn’t have to eat his feelings if he had his parents. (Ahm, Oscar Wilde?)

Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights): Orphan

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Maybe he would have been more happy and less crazy if he had his parents.  Not to mention less clingy.  (Blame Emily Bronte for your agony, Heathcliff, and maybe see if you can find Rochester and plot to destroy the sisters who destroyed your chance at happiness.)

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice): Orphan

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As I mentioned in a previous post, I love Darcy, but that fellow does have his issues. He’s proud (I know, I know, it’s in the title).  He’s a bit of a snob.  He really sucks at discussing his feelings.  And he doesn’t seem to realize that standing in the rain can cause a cold.  I’m guessing if his parents were still alive they would have pressured him into resolving at least one of these problems.

Nicholas Nickleby (Nicholas Nickleby): 1/2 Orphan

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I know he’s not a complete orphan, but I think he deserves a mention all the same, because his mother isn’t the most sensible of women.  Sure, he’s a good fellow, but really?  life would have been much easier if he still had his father.  No crazy boarding schools, no sexually harassed sister, no evil uncle in charge of his fate.  Blame Dickens!!! (Who, by the way, orphaned plenty of his other characters.)

Dracula (Dracula): Orphan

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Admittedly this is pure supposition on my part.  I have no idea if Dracula’s parents are alive, but it seems likely that they are deceased (or undead, which I think still qualifies.)  Should Dracula’s parents still be alive, I’m fairly certain they would disapprove of his blood-sucking ways.  “Maybe you should take up a hobby,” his mom would suggest, her brow furrowing in concern, “Like knitting.  Something to occupy your free time.”

And these are just a few of the examples.  Admittedly, I didn’t major in literature from the 1800s, so my opinion could be skewed: maybe only the most famous works of the time had orphans in them.

But what is the reason for this extraordinarily high parent mortality rate?  It could be the culture of the times.  It could be that orphans typically just have more interesting stories.  Or it could be that the authors just were in a really bad mood and wanted to kill people on the page.  What do you think?

Boys in Books are Just Better: Austen Edition

Recently the hashtag #My5WordRomanceNovel was trending, and I couldn’t help but participating and reading some of the tweets.  Some made me laugh, some made me want to weep for society, but only one stuck in my mind for the rest of the day.  Romantically named, @Drunk_Austen tweeted, “All good men are fictional” and accompanied that tweet with a gif from Austenland, where the quote originated.

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Credit to @Drunk_Austin

I tend to shy away from movies based (even very loosely based) on my favorite authors, as knowing anything about them  tends to ruin the illusion of reality in their books for me (The same reason I hate the behind the scenes looks at movies) so I haven’t actually seen Austenland.

But I loved this quote.

Now, having some militantly feminist friends, I could do a fairly good lecture on how this is because the quality of real males is dismal, but, I’m as I’m actually quite fond of real men in general, I’ve decided to focus on how  wonderful fictional men are instead, realistically or not.

Since the quote was from a movie based on Jane Austen, let’s use her books as an example, cumulating with the best man last.

6) Sense and Sensibility

I have to admit to not being overly impressed by the men in this novel, but they do try to redeem themselves.  Edward Ferrars makes some pretty stupid mistakes (getting engaged to a manipulative witch, courting Elinor anyway, breaking Elinor’s heart, ext.) but his intentions are fairly universally honorable.

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Colonel Brandon is a great deal more fun in my mind.  Sure, he’s over ten years older than the girl that he ends up with, but he makes up for that with his unflinching adoration of  Marianne in spite of her flighty nature and poor choice in men.  In addition, he is noble to a fault and challenges someone to a duel, and let’s admit it, anyone who challenges someone to a duel is pretty awesome in my book.

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5) Emma

George Knightley was reasonable, intelligent, and had an appropriate degree of cynicism when it came to Emma.  These might not sound like romantic traits at first, but what Austen proved in this book is that a universal hero won’t work for every woman.  Knightly matched Emma step for step with all of her plots and manipulations, and loves her in spite of her faults.  Moreover, Knightly encourages Emma to be the best person that she can be, which is an important element in any romance.

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4) Mansfield Park

Alright, so Edmund Bertram may have been Fanny’s cousin, but if you get past that, he’s actually an amazing hero.  He’s her best friend growing up, he constantly looks out for her best interests, even when no one else is, and he wants good things for her, even when that means she ends up with someone else.  Admittedly, Edmund is deplorably slow at realizing his love for Fanny, but when he does he is willing to brave his family’s, society’s, and everyone else’s disapproval in order to be with her.

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3) Persuasion

Captain Fredrick Wentworth rose from anonymity to success in a way that would have made any American proud to invite him over to our side of the pond.  He was a Navy man who made his fortune in the Napoleonic war and by catching pirates, so I’ll also give him points for being pretty epic. While he may have been a bit hard on Anne in in the beginning of the book, he proved himself to be compassionate, forgiving, and honorable in spite of having his heart broken by her in the past.  He was able to admit when he was wrong and work to remedy it, which is a very admirable trait in a man.

Also, having waited for the same girl for 8 years, Captain Wentworth is the most consistent Austin hero. (Knightley and Edmund were disqualified because their heroines were children when they met)

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2) Pride and Prejudice

Fitzwilliam Darcy is the most famous of Austen heroes, and many would argue that he should top the list.  However, because of his tendency toward moodiness, snobbishness, and gossip, he was bumped to the number 2 spot.  In spite of these characteristics, Darcy is a good man.  He is smart, witty, and loyal to a fault.  The banter between he and Elizabeth has made legions of love-stuck girls giggle through the years (myself not excluded.) Though he has a mountain of pride and finds it hard to forgive people who have wronged him, he loves Elizabeth enough to overlook her false accusations, give her an explanation, and, eventually, propose again.

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1) Northanger Abbey

I know this isn’t a popular favorite, but its grown to become one of mine.  Catherine is a very realistic character, and very relatable for all of us who were a bit too obsessed with novels in their youth (Some of us have never grown out of it.)  The hero in this story is Henry Tilney and while he has some very realistically annoying habits like picking on his sister, being particular about people’s use of general words, holding grudges when slighted, and being a tad too arrogant for his own good, he’s a generally awesome fellow.  He loves his sister so he spends a lot of his time with her, even though it means spending time with his domineering father, he has a great sense of humor, he accepts people as they are, he forgives Catherine even when she suspects his father of murder, and he stands up for what he believes is right, even if it means sacrificing his own best interests.

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Starting Here

I’ve always loved stories.  Stories show how we think, determine how we act, and, more importantly, stories make us feel.  A good story can make us feel so deeply that the characters and the words become more than mere invention: they become real to us.  Characters become our friends and enemies, they show us what the world is and what it could be, they become part of us, and perhaps we become a little part of them as well.

Of course being this passionate about stories, I want to be a writer of them, which is why I originally decided to start this blog.  As I was trying to think of something to, say I realized that it wasn’t all about me, though.  A good story is just as much about the characters and the readers as it is about the writer, so really this blog is about you, the reader.

Starting here I’m going to be writing, but it’s about you, so please feel free to tell me what you want.  I love romance and adventure, and I would enjoy speaking to anyone about those subjects. I plan on reviewing some books as well as possibly getting some author interviews in.  If there is any book in particular that you want to see reviewed, or if you would like me to read something that you’ve wrote, I’m open to suggestions.

I’m also an MBA student who is going on to get a Ph.D. in Marketing, so if you have any questions about advertising, behavioral economics, or promotions I would be happy to speak with you as well, particularly if you’re interested in seeing where they intersect with romance novels.