An Historical (Romance)?
When I first designed the cover of ‘Ellen’s Tale’ I called it ‘an historical romance’. I still consider the story historical despite it’s setting in 2161! How so? You may well ask. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, that hefty tome of a book, sums up history/historical as
1) Original meaning of the word was learning or knowledge by enquiry
2) Narration of incidents
3) Continuous methodical record of important or public events
4) Branch of knowledge that deals with past events
1) Pertaining to history
2) Concerned with events of history
3) Belonging to the past not the present
Ellen’s Tale concerns the work of two archivists in 2161 researching events fifty years in the past – 2111. Using archival material they try and discover how these events influenced history. They have to read and study around the basic source material so that the story can be placed in context. The tale is the first part of a longer narrative which seeks to unearth the facts of the events. Now tell me Ellen’s tale isn’t an historical something (I’ll come to romance in another post!).
I know, I know; life moves on, language changes. However, it is to dictionaries we go for meanings; if we cannot do that language will mean nothing. So moving on from the dictionary to Wikipedia – from the sublime to the ridiculous! Amongst its pages on History we have
1) inquiry/knowledge acquired by discovery/ collection and organisation
2) presentation about past events
Alright, I know this a bit tongue in cheek but I have always liked to play around with the man-made, changing birthdays to suit myself ditto my names. However, on this idea of straightjackets for fiction I do get so impatient. Am I the only one who
1) cares about the meanings of words
2) thinks genre is just a useful ploy of distributers and book shops
3) considers it not only a laziness of description but
4) a bar against readers’ exploration of all fiction – readers also get into pigeon holes.
History is supposed to be real/factual – well we can dispute that. As we are so often told, it is written and sometimes distorted by the winners, the powerful, to suit themselves (sounds like me!). It is supposed to be a discipline which looks at past records (written by whom?); an inquiry into past truths by substantial and solid means. So a strand of beads from a R
ruin tells the historians a noble lady lived there? – sorry it doesn’t, it tells us someone dropped some beads there. oman
Many historical novels and plays are about the author’s interpretations on their subjects or periods of time; events could differ substantially from ‘historians’ common pronouncements. Shakespeare was a past master of this writing up historical events according to the ruling party of the day and why wouldn’t he be in the days when the Tower and the chopping block were real deterrents to doing otherwise!! Robert Graves and Mary Renault presented their own interpretations of events in their novels and, of course, it is easier to play with ancient
Rome and ancient than something that happened last year. Greece
'Historical romances', according to Wikipedia, are stories set before the Second World War. Historical fiction, however, seems to follow the true course of the word history and allows stories from the past: such as Jonathan Coe’s ‘The Rotters’ Club’ set in the 1970’s or Courtney Thomas’ ‘Walls of Phantoms’ set in 1989. So what makes romance different?
I accepted, reluctantly, that others had differing views to mine on the meaning of a history and went in search of romance.