I’ve been reading quite a bit lately about writers and readers who are disappointed by the latest historical romance novels they’ve read because the facts were not 100% accurate. Like most readers, I want the stories I read to be authentic. Like most writers, I strive to make sure my details are accurate (even though I don’t write historicals).
BUT, and this is a big one, if you’re reading historical romance, you’re already accepting a lapse of historical details. Let me explain…
Take the pirate novel. We all love the handsome swashbuckler, who is secretly a British Lord or comes from some kind of wealthy family. Through circumstance—either he’s disowned by his family for a crime he didn’t commit or he was stolen from his family as a boy and has no idea of his true heritage—this man has been robbed of his life and has taken to a life of piracy. This pirate captain is tamed by the feisty female who becomes his captive. All is revealed in the end and the couple can live happily ever after.
Okay. Stop. Before you take another step or read another word, think about this.
This is already a historical lie. Pirates were not long-lost lords who were restored to the bosom of their families. Nor were they well educated and cultured. They certainly didn’t bathe on a regular basis. And any young woman who was captured by one, I’m sorry, but her first thought wasn’t that he was handsome and she wanted to bed them. And don’t get me started on the rest of the crew.
Yes, there are pirate books out there that show the situation in a much more truthful light, but there are just as many that don’t—and we love them all.
I’m not saying that I don’t want accuracy in the period. I do, but I will forgive certain thinks.
Let’s look at the medieval romance next. I love books about knights in shining armor and the woman who tame them. But in truth, women of that time period had little rights, the men were gone a lot, sometimes years on end, and they weren’t particular enamored of personal hygiene. Do I want to read about an overbearing knight who treats the women in his life as if they were of no consequence? Only if he changes by the end of the book. Otherwise, he’s no hero in my books.
Once again, the details vary from author to author, from decade to decade, and from one historical period to another. Historical accuracy was expected more back in the seventies—The Wolf and The Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss springs to mind. But again, as a reader, I’m willing to give the author some artistic license. I’ve read many medieval romances where the heroine takes the knight on a wild ride, while in truth, she’d probably have been beaten and locked away.
Then there is the Regency novel. This is a time period that requires quite a bit of study. Rules of Society were extremely important. But you know what? I’ve never understood the British Peerage. I'm never 100% certain who is over who, who should be called “My Lord” and who should be “My Lady.” Unless and author make a glaring mistake, I’ll never know. But I do love the era and how intelligent the ladies had to be to get ahead and get the man they wanted. Even within this genre you have the “true” regencies, which are very correct in the history of the times. Then you have the large books, which tend to stretch conventions somewhat. And you know what? That’s okay by me.
In fact, some historical language references, while correct, actually pull me out of the story, because they are something I have to stop and think about. A historical romance is not a historical novel. There is a huge difference. In a historical novel, the details should be 100% accurate. In a historical romance, while I want the details as real and accurate as possible, I don’t want it at the expense of the story.
So, pull out that next yummy historical novel, settle back, and enjoy. And if there are one or two minor details not quite right, ask yourself if it was because the author didn’t know the difference or if it was done for the sake of the story.
I know that everyone has a different opinion on this subject, but that’s okay. There are writers that appeal to all of us out there. Some are all about historical accuracy, while others relax the rules slightly. And then there are those whose books very few will read because they’ve just taken it too far, interspersing too much modernism in a book that is supposed to take us back to the past.
When I read a historical romance, that’s what I want, so the details better take me to another place and time where I can lose myself, if only for a couple of hours. If I want modern, I’ll read a contemporary.