Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Callie Hutton: Historical Fiction and Accuracy (or not)

(from usatoday.com
by Joyce Lamb)

Callie Hutton, author of The Elusive Wife and The Duke's Quandary, joins HEA to trumpet the joy of historical accuracy in fiction … and the eye-rolling inaccuracies in some historical TV shows.


"Study the past if you would define the future." ― Confucius
As a teenager in high school, one of my least favorite classes was history. All that memorization of dates, battles, and which president was known for what bored me to tears. It was dry. It was boring. It was the best insomnia meds I've ever had.

The summer between my junior and senior years, I picked up a copy of Gone With the Wind. Now here was history worth reading. At first I skimmed over the battles, but then as I continued on with the book, I read more and more of the actual history contained in the story.

This book was about people. Those who lost loved ones, those who waited at home for a letter, for some indication that their husband, brother, father or son was still alive.

Fiction? Yes. Gone With the Wind is a work of fiction, but what happened to Scarlett O'Hara, et al, was based on real-life events. Babies were born during the height of battle. Plantations were burned to the ground, and thousands, both black and white, were left homeless, adrift in a world turned completely upside down.

I closed that book with a sigh of pleasure, and then followed up with the story of Henry VIII's last wife, Katherine Parr. That led me to read the stories of the other five wives. I was fascinated. History was not just battles and dates, it was the story of people. Real people who lived and died, with hopes and dreams, sorrows and pain.

I had been converted. I was a history addict, which eventually led me to a degree in history.

As an historical romance author, authenticity is important. I write both American Western and Regency. Keeping true to my era is important. I try very hard to make sure I don't use language and references inappropriate for the time. And when I make a mistake, my editor slaps my hand. Or if it slips by her, I can be sure a reader will call me on it.

Unfortunately, I have not found that to be true of TV shows. I am a huge fan of Downton Abbey. As much as I love it, and as close to actual history the show tends to stay, they do go off once in a while. Last season's rape of a lady's maid would most likely have been done at the hands of her employer in the actual time period, not another staff member. And the servants tend to be a bit too familiar with the family than what was normal. But otherwise, it is pretty close to the time period's reality.

I am not a viewer of the new series Reign, which purportedly is the story of Mary Queen of Scots. Hmm. Even my non-history buff daughter notices the inaccuracies with this series. So, I investigated, and after viewing the costumes (that reportedly come from Forever 21), I could see how even a total non-historian would pick up on the discrepancies with this show. Almost to the point of it being comical.

Sleeveless dresses, see-through bodices, ruffled skirts, and what appears to be prom gowns make the characters so far out of their historical reality, I can only shake my head. Aside from that, the writers have taken quite a license with history. For starters, all of Mary Queen of Scot's ladies-in-waiting maids were named Mary. But I guess to avoid confusion in the show, they had to change that. But the names? Please. Lola? Greer? Kenna? Aylee?

Ah, well. The show does appeal to teenagers, and I'm afraid, some adults as well. Sad to tell you this, girls, but historically, there is no "Bash." And Mary Queen of Scots had flaming red hair. Oh, well. Enjoy your show.

If these shows, inaccurate as they are, move the younger generation to delve further into real history, then I say that's wonderful. We need history. We need to know where we came from, which will hopefully keep us from going in the wrong direction.

The world will always need historians, and maybe, just maybe, the resurgence of historical TV shows will do the trick. One can only hope. But Lola?

Here's the blurb about The Elusive Wife (courtesy of Entangled):

Jason, Earl of Coventry, needs to discreetly locate his unwanted and abandoned bride among London society to request an annulment. Too bad he can't remember what she looks like because he was blind drunk at his arranged wedding and hasn't see her since.

Newly arrived from the country for the Season, Lady Olivia is appalled to discover that her own husband, Lord Coventry, doesn't even recognize her. She's not about to tell the arrogant arse she his wife. Instead, she flirts with him by night and has her modiste send her mounting bills to him by day.

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, except Lady Olivia finds her husband nearly irresistible.

Find out more about Callie and her books at calliehutton.com.