Monday

Historical Fiction and Truth

I watched a television show set in the Victorian era. I won't mention the title, despite the fact that I didn't like it. There were a few reasons why I didn't like it. The flaccid writing and dull characters, for example. But more than that, where it truly failed, and what annoys me about most historical fiction, is that I never feel as if I'm watching something that could have happened during the period in which it's set. I never get a sense that the characters belong to that period. Instead they're contemporary characters with a few details altered.

It's nice to think that it's a small world after all, that people are really the same regardless of where or when they exist, but the truth is that we're all shaped by many forces. Someone who lived Victorian times would have different views of life and society, morals and mores, different tastes and perspectives. A different conception of the world.

This is at the forefront of my mind while I'm working on my own novel, part of which is set in the seventeenth century. The structure of the book is complicated, there are a lot of characters, but far and away the biggest challenge has been trying to get into the head of a Puritan born in New England in the latter half of the seventeenth century.

Most historical fiction has a character or two who does in fact represent the values and perspectives of their time but they're crazy bigoted folk who almost everyone thinks is wrong. But of course, that's not how things were. If they were the outliers, then life would have been very different.

I don't know how well I'm accomplishing the task I set out to do, capture the voice of someone from centuries ago, but I know that it can't sound anything like me.

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