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Athena

How do you feel about Progressive Mindsets in Historical Fiction?

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Someone mentioned this recently on YouTube (Tuesday Talks GoodReads Group Link), so I was wondering what you all thought. What do you think of progressive mindsets in historical fiction such as civil rights and feminism? Do you prefer it if a book is quite historically accurate, even if it means a character isn't treated well based on ie. their race or gender, or do you prefer to have some more modern elements in a fictional story (such as more rights for black people or a strong female character)?

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No I don't think modern elements and viewpoints - what we might call "political correctness" - should be put into Historical Fiction, even if it is fiction.  I know some readers are uncomfortable with some facts eg the early age at which children are married off, and that's fair enough, but I don't think aspects of HF should be changed to fit in with modern ways of thinking.  Strong female characters are fine, after all there were quite a lot of them!  But certain rights being brought in when, in reality, they were still a long way off, just jars with the historical setting.  We've had this discussion on a HF forum which I'm on, and most people say the same thing ie don't bring modern ideas/politics into a historical setting, not if you want to be accurate anyway.

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I think modern ideas should be avoided as much as possible in any past setting, unless the author wishes otherwise. While it may seem this would slightly harm the growth of a progressive mindset, the truth is those who are against something new have reasons to doubt or even fear such a change. If books were truthful to the laws and costumes of the years they depict, both sides of the debate would have a better grasp of how there were arguments contrary to their own lifestyle and costumes that seemed reasonable then, and even might seem reasonable today. Furthermore, we would pay attention to the fallacies repeated both then and now for discussions of different matters. When our beliefs and prejudices aren't challenged, we become desensitised to judge and evaluate the contents to which we're exposed. We should be able to understand how life was in that particular time and for that to happen it's required that we receive a proper representation of the laws and costumes, as well as characters that were educated by the social constructs in those days.

Edited by woolf woolf

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I have never been into historical fiction for this very same reason. I prefer reading history. However, I was immensely entertained by Philippa Gregory's Cousins War Series, which was very loosely based on the actual events. Since, I've been a little more drawn to fiction that is historical, like The Girl From Krakow was awesome.

 

An interesting topic for an interesting genre.

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To a certain extent, I think it's inevitable that some modern ideas are incorporated into historical fiction. We can't help but look at history through modern eyes, so some characters although acting "correctly" for the era they are in, will seem repulsive or heroic or stupid simply because of the way we judge them. But I take the point, I don't want someone to be so "out of their time" that it becomes painfully obvious. Subtlety is what I'm looking for. 

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To a certain extent, I think it's inevitable that some modern ideas are incorporated into historical fiction. We can't help but look at history through modern eyes, so some characters although acting "correctly" for the era they are in, will seem repulsive or heroic or stupid simply because of the way we judge them. But I take the point, I don't want someone to be so "out of their time" that it becomes painfully obvious. Subtlety is what I'm looking for. 

 

Ian has summed up how I feel about the topic.  :smile: If it has to happen, then at least be subtle about it!

 

I love the Dorothy L Sayers series of books written in the 1920's and 1930's. Although I occasionally wince at some of the terms used or attitudes expressed regarding class, gender or race I appreciate the authenticity of the time of writing, and feel that Ms Sayers was actually progressive in her thinking for the time. 

 

That sense of authenticity was pretty well maintained by the collaboration / homage stories written by Jill Paton Walsh in the 1990's and beyond, although my wincing in these stories stemmed from occasions of modern agenda vs true to character issues. 

 

Back to Ian's thoughts, subtlety is the key. 

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Yup, same as everyone else here, when I read historical fiction I do so with an interest to read an authentic representation of that time period as much as anything else.

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I agree with much of what has been said. I think introducing modern ideas would make me question the veracity of other aspects of a historical novel, such as is the research accurate?

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Accuracy is more important, imo.  It's entirely possible that if historical fiction is kept true to it's time frame, people will realize how terrible conditions were for some people.  The unfairness that was rampant in the past should not be forgotten.  That is the path to history repeating itself.  History has a bad habit of repetition anyhow, why help it along? :)  We have to recognize how far we've come to appreciate what we have in the here and now.  And, to see how much farther we have to go.

 

An example of blending past and present attitudes though was well done in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.  Claire brought present day sensibilities to the past, and applied common sense as much as she could.  Drip, drip, drip..... :)

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I agree, I don't think you can have HF and impose modern sensibilities on it eg the way women were treated, that many marriages amongst wealthier people were basically business arrangements, how children were sent off for employment at a very young age etc - it can be shocking but it's also fascinating to see how people lived back then (in whatever period a particular novel is set) - just because something now sounds unsavoury doesn't mean it can be airbrushed out of a historical novel.  As the previous poster says, this shouldn't be forgotten and hopefully can be learnt from.

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