I cheerfully admit I’m stealing this idea from Robin and after she saved me from doing a very rash thing.
I cut my romance teeth so to speak, on historical romance. I think most of us old time romance readers did. It’s only the ‘young uns’ that might not have started as avid fans of the genre. I see on message boards posters complaining about “wallpaper” historicals. Those books that are basically written in modern syntax are then set in historical times. If it’s too obvious like most everyone else, this can bother me somewhat too. Not as much as some, but I can be taken out of a story if I KNOW, the author hasn’t done any research.
But on the other hand, how much historical detail do we really want? Times, they were a different back then. The Georgian period, one of my favourite in romance, was notorious for lack of hygiene. People just didn’t bathe back then the way they do nowadays, especially among the lower classes. Even the upper classes were not that hygienic. I think, from what I’ve read, that wigs were a staple back then because they’re heads were covered with dirt and bugs and other assorted nasties. They wore a lot of face paint back then and really, how good could they have looked after a few hours in the hot ballrooms they floated around in. I expect they all smelled pretty rank too. Mennen speed stick deodorant for men and Arrid Extra Dry with fresh baby scent for women just hadn’t been invented yet. But who wants to read about smelly people – Blech. And one doesn’t even want to think too deeply about sex of the oral variety. Yuckers.
The idea of beauty has changed a great deal over the years. Even in these days, you look back at what was cool in the 80’s and it just isn’t that great by today’s standards. At the time I loved the long hair on guys, and I should admit this to my sisters who think I’m shallow ‘cause my main focus on hero’s was the length of his hair, but men’s hairstyles in the 80’s, now that I look back, were horrid. And even I – yes, I confess, used to wear blue and green eye shadow on occasion. Not as much as the Smart Bitches always laugh at in their delicious cover parodies, but I certainly don’t go for that look today. And who all remembers the long hair, parted in the middles so you can’t see the face Marsha Brady look. It’s laughable today. So imagine how truly unbeautiful the people of that era look today. I’ve seen portraits of the people of that day and let’s face it, they just were not that attractive. And the hairstyles back then? Not nice. There was no mousse back then and they used *ugh* greasy stuff. And what about the mutton chop sideburns for men in later times. Does anyone find them attractive today? I don’t.
So when I’m reading a historical today, I use today’s standard of attractiveness in my mind. I don’t picture the hero/heroine in my mind the way the probably looked.
And teeth! We spend a fortune on teeth today, straightening, polishing, whitening, flossing and brushing. Today we have Listerine. In historical times, they didn’t have all that kind of dental care. They didn’t have dentists and orthodontists. I imagine tooth decay was pretty rampant back then. And bad breath. We still have morning breath – well with the exception of myself of course but I imagine most of the people suffered from all day breath back then.
So for those who apply rigid standards in their historicals accuracy, are they really being fair? When you really think about it, is it fair to diss a writer if she is not overly accurate when we (probably) ignore the uncomfortable realities of historicals?