Historical (In)Accuracy

How much does this concern you?  Are you a stickler for accuracy especially when it comes to Historical Romances?  Does it irk you if something is incorrect?  Or, do you not care?

I’ll be honest; at first it didn’t bother me.  But, that’s because I was naïve and knew very little about the genre I was reading.  I simply thought they were entertaining stories.  But, as I continued to read – I think I’ve read upwards of one hundred novels, Regencies alone – I developed a certain knowledge pertaining to the time period.  This was only furthered when I began arbitrary research because I wanted to write my own novel.

Reviewers on Amazon, Borders, and Barnes & Noble who give novels poor ratings often cite historical inaccuracies as one of the reasons.  Sometimes, I would think: But, that’s not fair. That one little thing turned you off the plot?

I started thinking about this because the last four HR’s (time periods ranging from late 1700s to early 1800s) I’ve read have mentioned the word “hello” (repeatedly) as a greeting.  Now, I have no problem with this as the only way I greet people is “hi”, not even “hello”.  But, it seemed out of place.  The word didn’t seem right coming out of the characters’ mouths and I couldn’t figure out why.  I mean, how else would they greet each other?

Then, I remembered why.  A few years ago, I discovered a post (I can’t seem to find the post of remember the author) that addressed when the word “hello” started its existence in the English language.  While the word itself has many variants, it was not prominently used until the 1830s.  Check the Oxford English Dictionary (online) if you don’t believe me.  The author discussed this because apparently her readers became outraged when they found historical inaccuracies and would bash the book because it was “worthless”, “slapdash”, or “poorly researched”.

It’s something small and it only jumped out at me because I had prior knowledge about it. It’s a bit of esoteric knowledge, really, considering few people have an interest in the origins of the words they use.  (I really want to take that History of Modern English class. >_<)

But, how much does it matter?  Personally, I still enjoyed the book.  But, I know there are people who would rail against it because of this.

Back in July 2010, Eloisa James discussed this issue, albeit in reference to ‘sex words’, but her post was interesting:

One of the big difficulties in writing historical romances is that you have to write sex scenes without (for one) mentioning the word “sex,” because back then it referred to gender, and not to copulation until 1900.

She goes on to explain how with each book she writes she thoroughly researches each aspect.  She even has a research assistant to make sure everything she’s utilizing or referencing is on the mark.  That’s crazy dedication.  (For more read HERE.)

*Sidenote: the meaning or assumption behind the word ‘sex’ may have change, but many people still – especially sociologists – differentiate between the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’.  I was reading up on Digimon (anime) and someone asked the creator if the Digimon had genders (meaning were they male or female).  The paraphrased response was, No – meaning that the Digimon were not socialized to behave in a “male” or “female” manner.

(Er…I was a Sociology major for a couple semesters.)

POINT: How do you react to historical tidbits/errors?  Do they negatively affect your reading experience?  How much research do you do when writing your novel? Is it sad I know more about 1800s England than I do 21st century America?  Should you spend more/less time on the research?


*Note: I haven’t finished the book I was reading, so no review today.  Maybe tomorrow, especially since the book needs to be returned to the library.


8 thoughts on “Historical (In)Accuracy

  1. This is an interesting post. I don’t mind all that much, but I suppose that’s because I still don’t know all that much about behaviour in the 19th Century, or even prior to that.
    But my current novel takes place in Ireland in the 1840’s, and all my research is slowly making me more aware of the innacuracies I’ve found in a few books. I guess that soon, I’ll be one of those nit-picky readers who isn’t satisfied if there’s even one error.

    I think that it matters so much because we read stories set in that time period, and it should be as realistic as possible. If we wanted to read something with modern slang accidentally put in, then we’d read a book that came out in the last decade or so. At least, that’s the way I see it.

    • Thanks!

      The more you read up on the period the more you’ll notice errors. Although, at this point we risk becoming snobs who think we know everything.

      I agree with your last point. But, then there’s the fact that very few historical romances are realistic. If they were truly realistic, we would read about the bawdy jokes and bets at Whites or the stench of the people since they didn’t bathe every day and only masked their scents.

  2. I don’t mind it as much unless it’s terribly wrong or if it’s based around an event/concept in history then you *have* to get things right. If the story is good then I’m more willing to overlook things.

    • Well, plots based ‘around an event/concept in history’ is more historical fiction and a lot of people who write historical romances take liberties with history to fit their plots.

      You guys are such understanding readers =)

  3. I don’t mind it unless it’s an egregious error, like Napoleon won the war…and it’s not an alternate history. I’ve posted a blog about the “hello” issue, too. I have to remember to take it out of my manuscripts, because it’s so ingrained into our culture to speak it. To me, plot is most important, but so many of the books I’ve read have some errors, so what I *thought* was right, actually isn’t.

    I have been using the Regency Encyclopedia a lot because it’s searchable and even has maps to tell me how long it will take to get to places (depending on the mode of transportation). I’ve also read several books about the period–I do better with academic texts versus books actually written in the time period.

    No, not sad. I know more about British history than American history (though if we count pop culture in the last few decades, I’d do okay, I think).

    I think we should spend a good bit of time on research, but not to the point that we forgo the story.

    • For the most part, they don’t bother me – I may comment on them in a review, i.e The Care and Taming of a Rogue by Suzanne Enoch – but sometimes, especially if the ‘error’ is blatant and an integral part of the plot, I get annoyed.

      Ooo, I want an encyclopedia. Lately, I’ve been buying a lot more “research” books. I have one on Prinny, the entire British monarchy, the Irish, and Pirates.

      I’m at the half-way point between young adult and adult, yet I know very little about pop culture.

      I hate when the reader is inundated with facts but very little plot. It’s distracting and I get bored.

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