Monday Morning Stepback: BBAW, Historical Accuracy, Fat v Health

The weekly links, opinion, and personal updates post

Links of Interest

This week is Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Click here for more information.

10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly (especially for academics) from the Chronicle

Niche off the Leash: Author Val McDermid on Progress in lesbian fiction, from The Independent (via The Literary Saloon):

We lesbian writers are far less obsessed with and defined by our sexuality than the straight world might think. Anyone who’s human can enjoy our work. If you’re a woman, there are aspects of our novels that may speak more clearly and deeply to you. And if you’re a lesbian – well, that’s just a bonus, really.

A great post on Fat and Health at Feministe:

you can’t tell if someone’s healthy just by looking at them. God, I’ve known some cancer patients who looked fabulous and were dead within three months. You can’t even tell a person’s BMI by looking at them. But when we conflate fat and ill health, we do something that ill-serves thin people, too: we conflate thinness and good health. So maybe we aren’t looking for signs of pre-diabetes in thin people. Or maybe we’re not really concerned about what’s in school lunches as long as the kids don’t gain weight. Or maybe we don’t think about the distribution of resources or the way that farm subsidies distort food prices as long as it’s just poor people who are getting fat from eating shitty cheap food.

I don’t agree with everything she says, in particular her claim that we have no duty to be healthy.

Another debate over a literary prize, from The Telegraph : Philip Pullman and Philip Hensher criticise Booker Prize for including present tense novels. Pullman is particularly straightforward in his assessment:

“This wretched fad has been spreading more and more widely. I can’t see the appeal at all. To my mind it drastically narrows the options available to the writer. When a language has a range of tenses such as the perfect, the imperfect, the pluperfect, each of which makes other kinds of statement possible, why on earth not use them?”

He added: “I just don’t read present-tense novels any more. It’s a silly affectation, in my view, and it does nothing but annoy.”

Do you hear that Carolyn Jean? Speaking of whom, The Thrillionth Page has an incredibly funny post up, Why Aren’t Men Like Jamie Fraser? My favorite is Reason #5:

Middle school sex education, dirty magazines and movies, lax morals

It would be hard to overstate how much The Phantom Tollbooth meant to me as a child. It contained a fully realized world of all the things I was curious about. Well, Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer are teaming up again on a new book, The Odious Ogre. Here’s the synopsis:

the story of a really rotten Ogre who is extraordinarily large, exceedingly ugly, unusually angry, constantly hungry, and absolutely merciless. He terrorizes the entire countryside and all the surrounding towns, wreaking havoc, sowing confusion, and dining happily on the hapless citizens. Nothing can stop him. But then he takes a wrong turn and encounters a kind and friendly young lady who does her best to help him–with a surprising result.

It sounds a bit like a book by another of favorite, Roald Dahl, called The BFG.

Teaching Fem Theory this semester, and bookmarked Body Image and Disability: An Entry into the Conversation to share with students.

Ana of The Book Smugglers On Books I Do Not Finish.  Reviewing has made it easier to put books down: if it’s meh and I can’t write an interesting review of it, forget it.

This is a personal fear come to life: Am I More Important Than Twitter?, from BookEnds LLC. Some day, a student is going to say “you wouldn’t have needed a whole week to grade our exams if you hadn’t been Tweeting and blogging!”

I gamed my way through grad school by playing first Wolfenstein 3D and then Doom — and can’t tell you how many times some guy would protest, “But you’re a girl!”. I was supposed to be playing Myst, I guess. Anyway, check this post about gender and gaming:

comments on casual games are a tautological little package: Women aren’t real gamers because they play casual games, and casual games aren’t real because women play them.

A nice meditation of writing by writer Laura Pritchett in High Country News (via @mathitak)

Co-creation. That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. How books create our self-identity, and our identity gets captured in books, and back and forth it goes like some frenzied feeding machine. I read, I reflect, I transfer. So do you. Books and life feed each other, and then they create a monster of an ideology that we feel obligated to live up to.

Must we [Westerners] all live like Pam Houston’s characters and be raft guides and hunters? Must we always “cowboy up” and get back in the saddle again? Must the “Old West” characters wear boots and hats and the “New West” characters look just as predictable in their round glasses and ponytails?

Historical Accuracy

Emily Bryan blogged recently about what makes a wallbanger. For her, it’s historical inaccuracy, and she points to a glaring one in a recent bestselling historical romance.

Julie Ann Long’s The Runaway Duke’s opening scene takes place in the aftermath of Waterloo, in a farmhouse doubling as a hospital. Our hero, Roarke Blackburn, is the eldest son of a “very wealthy Duke”. He lies badly injured on a cot next to the fresh corpse of an Irish commoner, Roddy Campbell, and manages to, by uttering one word,  “Roddy”, convince the English doctor and nurse attending him that he is Roddy. Roarke becoming Roddy is crucial to the whole plot. He ends up working in the stables, and becoming the trusted friend of the heroine.

I asked my husband, the 19th century British historian (sorry to keep saying that for regular readers, but new readers might wonder why the hell I would ask him), whether such a mixup could occur. He said it was extremely unlikely and rattled off the reasons: the duke’s son would have had a commission as an officer, and there would have been evidence of his rank in his uniform, not perhaps in the clothing, but certainly in the medals or pins. If the signs of his rank didn’t survive the battle, his weaponry would have indicated his status. Officers carried much more expensive weapons and gear in general, because they paid for them. If all of that went missing — if the men were buck naked — there would still have been several obvious signs: the teeth, the skin, the weight, and many other signs of a lifetime of better food, better health care, better shelter, etc.

This didn’t bother me at all. But when characters start sounding like 21st century self-help gurus? Ugh. What do you think?

Personal

I started biting my nails in grad school, and still do it, so it’s nice to see other people with raggedy nails. Especially when they are not total losers. Below is the latest member of the “I Bite My Nails But I Am Otherwise Quite Ok” Club:

On the blog this week, maybe:
That review of Oryx and Crake which is taking me forever.
A review of Shiloh Walker’s Veil of Shadows.

For the first time in a long time, I don’t have any ideas for more thematic posts. I think my lack of a kitchen is interfering with my brain.

HAPPY WEEK!!

27 responses

  1. Historical inaccuracy makes a book a likely DNF for me. It takes away the sense that this story could really have happened at this time. Otherwise it is just a contemporary story dressed up in a costume. I always think of hands in historical and time travel books as telling us so much about the person. Hands do the work so soft hands are a sign of someone who doesn’t need to work – a maid’s hands won’t look like her mistresses. Where the callouses lie tell us whether they have used a hammer or hauled on reins So I would have been looking at the Duke’s hands.

    Thanks for the disability link. I will be following this new to me site and interested to hear how you go with your feminist theory course.

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  2. Thanks for a great roundup as usual, and the shout for the Jamie post!

    I heard an interview on NPR about the two creators of the Phantom Tollbooth, all about this new book. It was pretty interesting. Much more interesting to DH, who had the relationship that you did with the book.

    Okay, what’s this about present tense??? I could make an argument that it’s the most natural of tenses. You could say past is artificial when it comes to first person, being that it assumes a future point of view, and full knowledge of every event, therefore, insight is being falsely withheld every step of the way. But, I feel both tenses also have great advantages.

    Do you feel people have a duty to be healthy? That is really interesting. I think it’s silly not to try to be healthy, but I’ve never considered it in terms of duty.

    Except for fingernails. Nail biters unite!!

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  3. 1. I bite my nails.
    2. Ahhhh, Jamie….ahhhhh – my ultimate romance hero.
    3. A wallbanger? Yes, I’m quite forgiving, but don’t throw modern slang into my historical. The book becomes a joke.
    3. Fat vs. thin – doesn’t have to be that way, we are all just people. However, while it’s true that anyone can drop dead at any time, fat or thin, obese people have more health issues than thinner people and they are prone to many more medical complications if they need to have some sort of intervention, say a simple surgical procedure. Here’s a fantastic study – a simple way to look at eating – a calorie is not just a calorie…hold on…let me find it…
    http://www.foodandnutritionresearch.net/index.php/fnr/article/viewArticle/5144
    I’m a hospice nurse and I would say that in general obesity causes significant health problems.

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  4. I bite my nails too. You are not alone! LOL

    Re: Historical Inaccuracy – the example you gave likely wouldn’t bother me. Tell your husband to resist the urge to come to Bat Cave and abscond with the dusty BA in British History I currently have tucked away in a storage closet ;) I know. Bad history student. Bad!

    It has to be shockingly blatant to register for me – 21st century slang in a Regency for example. And as a general rule, I can totally roll with a wallpaper historicals IF there’s enough other “stuff” in the book working for me to overlook it. But if the characters are inconsistent, silly or braindead – I’ll call out that wallpaper pretty darn quickly.

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  5. On weight &health: I think I’ve made this comment here before, but I used to play soccer with a big girl (size 20 maybe?) and she was in extremely good shape. She could outrun me and everyone else on the field. One of the best athletes I’ve ever known.

    I’ve also seen a special (PBS?) on a long-distance runner who looked overweight, very burly and hairy lol, but he was actually in peak condition.

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  6. I can only imagine how annoying it is not having that kitchen. Well, we did do some minor renovations at time or two, and even those putting the kitchen out of commission for a few hours to a day can be annoying, so maybe I CAN imagine. Eh. Hope it gets done soon and to your satisfaction.

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  7. I’m fat. I’ve always struggled with my weight. I remember when I was a teenager and I would go to doctors for my depression, they always made it a weight issue. In fact, everything became about my weight. Oh, your knee is sore? Lose weight. You have a cold? Lose weight. You are severely depressed to point of not being able to function? Lose weight. I have tried to lose weight. When I was living in NYC, I was at my thinnest adult weight. Everyday, I would walk probably 7 miles. I lived on a 5th floor walk-up. I ate mainly eggs and vegetables. I was still 210 pounds, which would classify as obese. I ate perfectly reasonably poritioned meals. I drank reasonably. I was walking all the time. Could I have exercised more? Yeah, but I’m not athletic and I don’t enjoy those activities. I would have had to add one more damn thing I had to do to my schedule. More to the point, I don’t think weight is a health issue. I think it is a beauty issue. That’s not to say that there aren’t health components to being fat, but in our culture fat=ugly as well as unhealthy. In fact, I think fat obsession has more to do with beauty and ugliness than health.

    On historical accuracy: I think it is a mistake to assume that because a book takes place in an historical period of time that it then must depict that period accurately. First of all, it can’t. Hell, historians disagree about the reality of any given historical period and there are periods of history which we only have the vaguest conception of. Besides which, most people’s understanding of history is really, really distorted . . . even people who regularly study history (I’m differentiating fact and accuracy here because certain things, like behaviors and thoughts are extremely difficult to verify as “fact” simply because of variety). When we readers complain about lack of historical accuracy, I think it is less about actual history than the way that we have come to understand a particular period through the lens of the romance. Thus, titles and the use of titles become important not solely because they were important in the Regency period but because we have come to understand the Regency period as one constrained by manners and rules of precedence. The use of history in genre literature is not only constrained by actual history, but also how the genre has traditionally utilized history to depict its stories.

    More to the point, romance is not about depicting the rule, the normative behavior of the period, but the exceptions to those rules. Thus, while it may be true that in Long’s book the period would make it entirely unlikely that a nobleman would be mistaken for a commoner, that does not mean that such an event would never take place. Why it seems to be that the period makes it highly unlikely that a nobleman would ever marry for love over duty, and yet that is what systematically occurs in every historically set romance.

    Historical accuracy, I think, is more complex than getting the facts right. It is a precarious balance of story, genre expectations–which include the use of history–and history itself.

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  8. Your stepback is always such a bonanza of goodness, and then the commenters just add to it.

    I am saddened that I can only aspire to write “less badly.” Apparently, “well” is beyond academics. It’s good advice though. I use that “writing is like running a marathon” comparison a lot when I teach writing, to make the point that I’m not a meany who knows the secret tricks that make writing easy, but refuses to reveal them to my students.

    The Phantom Tollboth. It’s no surprise that some people who loved this book grew up to be philosophers and literary critics, is it? I have to get a new copy to press into my children’s hands. I still have mine, but it’s falling apart.

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  9. Hey, you linked to my buddy Mike Munger! And they’re even pretty good suggestions, for a political scientist no less.

    Clearly there are people whose excess weight makes them unhealthy. But the prejudices against the non-thin go way beyond that. I can’t believe we don’t all know someone who is overweight but healthy. And there are a lot of overweight people who have plenty of sex appeal (like commenter #7, just as an example :-)), just as there are thin people who are seriously unsexy. So why romance novel authors can’t convey the sex appeal of a plump or fat woman when any number of otherwise inarticulate men can, I don’t understand.

    On historical accuracy: we have been having this conversation for years and years and yet I don’t seem to get any closer to an answer. It’s partly because everyone’s threshold for accuracy/authenticity is different. I agree that we can never really know a historical period, but I’d settle for avoiding the egregious errors. In the JAL example, why did he have to go from Duke to stablehand? Couldn’t he have been something slightly less extreme (at either end)? Of course, JAL has a book in which women and men of all classes cheerily sit down together in the village pub. Which only has one public room, apparently. So expecting verisimilitude of any kind from her is probably fruitless.

    I find that the historicals I enjoy fall into one of two categories: (1) the worldbuilding is good and the behavior is not completely out of the question for the period; and (2) it’s either wallpaper or features a number of behavioral and contextual errors, but the romance is good enough that I read it as a book set in Almackistan or Rajlandia rather than in a country I know something about.

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  10. @Liz:

    I am saddened that I can only aspire to write “less badly.” Apparently, “well” is beyond academics.

    I can only say, after decades of reading and writing social science: (except for historians and a handful of anthropologists and sociologists) Yes, it is.

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  11. @Sunita–thanks! :) I do love being appreciated.

    As for historical accuracy, my comments don’t reflect this but I think a lot of the problem is not simply threshold of accuracy but how the terms are defined in our own personal lexicons. For example, I distinguish between something being historically factual and historically accurate. For me, there is a distinction. Further, I would argue that books set in an historical period regardless of the genre, are never about the history. I said this on Twitter, but the history is in service to the story, the story is not in service to the history. Moreover, does the accuracy occur in the book because it represents the historical facts correctly? Or does the accuracy occur because it represents our notion of that history? When are manners behaviors and when are they mores? That is, if a character violates the ettiquette and customs, the mores and the taboos of the time as we understand them, is this historically inaccurate? How much does historical inaccuracy have to do with failure of world-building rather than a failure to understand historical fact?

    You know who is an excellent writer, academic-wise? Northrop Frye. Although, he is also dead sooooo . . .

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  12. Like Wendy, a historical inaccuracy has to be blatantly obvious for me to be bothered, and I’m no historian, so we’re talking lines like, “Yo! Chill out man!” Or something. I’m always a bit awed–and amused–by readers who get annoyed at things like hoops worn during the Georgian period (hoops weren’t worn during the Georgian period, right?).

    I figure I already have to conveniently forget/ignore a lot when I read historicals–women wouldn’t have had smooth legs; most people probably would have been missing at least one tooth; all those layers during the hot summer months with no a/c would leave everyone far from sweet-smelling; the chamber pots!; the fact that anyone with really curly hair would have probably looked like crap without modern hair products.* I’m not going to get distracted by details that I would have had to do some studying to know about.

    *Just to show that I totally get pet peeves that distract from the story: as a curly head myself, the curly hair issue is one pulls me out of any story really quickly. If an author tells me that the heroine has really curly hair, I don’t want to read about how beautiful and shiny her ringlets are after she brushes them. Brush + curly hair = Bride of Frankenstein.

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  13. Angela, nice comments!

    I think part of the problem with obesity is that it is considered to be unhealthy and potentially a burden on society, therefore it’s okay to be prejudiced against someone because they’re fat. Even if the prejudice is due to appearance, not health.

    And, I like what you’re saying about historical accuracy. I used to be pretty adamant about it, but then I discovered that some of the things I thought were fact were, in fact, being questioned (I read a lot of Regency in those days — the short “trads” vs. the longer historical romances). Now it depends on what I’m reading. I still have some very specific expectations, but I’ve decided I can like a book even if I don’t think the author has every detail (or even some basics) correct. Other parts of the story have to work, so getting certain items wrong would make me more likely to be tripped up by anything else also *feeling* wrong. I probably prefer consistent world-building as much as anything. (Where some urban fantasy authors go wrong for me is that they change something basic about our world, and forget to make — or at least describe — any other changes. I think some historical romance authors do that, too. They know there are some differences, but they don’t seem to let them have any impact on the characters.)

    I like reading the exceptions to the rules, but what intrigues me is making those exceptions believable. And make them be exceptions in their own world. I think that’s what some authors forget to do, so they we don’t really see that they are at least a little different. (I remember one or two stories where the heroine wanted to marry for love when her father tried to arrange a marriage. I get the wanting part, but the author took it farther — heroine *expected* to marry for love. Don’t hand me a medieval novel where the heroine expects to marry for love without giving me a really good reason to believe it.)

    I do think Sunita has a point about the threshold. I’d probably question the duke’s son as stablehand. I think his speech and demeanor would also give him away, though I’m not sure how they were portrayed in the book. I’d be torn between that sounding like a fun premise, and finding it past the point where I could believe it.

    I guess some of the books do bother me because I don’t read as many historical romances as I once did. Maybe part of it is because I’ve had enough discussions about accuracy that I’ve learned to question some premises even more than I used to.

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  14. I so love reading the comments to the posts here! As someone living with chronic illness and disability I am intrigued by the ‘duty to be healthy’. It is certainly a concept coming into the norm of political discourse here in Australia. But what is healthy-ness to someone like me? I can never aspire to the norm and can easily be further oppressed by it and the language and expectations aroused and used. This is also about access to services and their cost. At it’s heart this is a discussion that is intensely political.

    Adding furthur to the historical inaccuracy discussion. For me it is when the book jars against what I ‘know’ however that knowledge came about ie. formal history education as well as the tropes of the regency novel.

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  15. I love these posts. I’ll add that Mike Munger is a close friend of my mom’s and spoke here at UMaine a while back. Good guy. Awesome link.

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  16. things like hoops worn during the Georgian period (hoops weren’t worn during the Georgian period, right?).

    No, they did wear hoops during the Georgian period. You can find details here. By the Regency, though, hoops were out of fashion, but

    When ladies (and gentlemen) appeared at Court on formal occasions they were required to wear Court Dress, which was a very formal, very specific type of garment that was not worn anywhere else. Rules of Court Dress were rigid and dictated by the current monarch or his Queen. During the Regency, those rules produced a type of female garment that appears perfectly ridiculous to modern eyes, but which was taken quite seriously by those who wore them and by the designers who made them.

    The rules of Court directed that ladies should wear skirts with hoops and trains, and that white ostrich feathers be worn in the hair, attached to lappets which hung below the shoulders. (The Jane Austen Centre)

    I figure I already have to conveniently forget/ignore a lot when I read historicals–women wouldn’t have had smooth legs; most people probably would have been missing at least one tooth; all those layers during the hot summer months with no a/c would leave everyone far from sweet-smelling; the chamber pots!; the fact that anyone with really curly hair would have probably looked like crap without modern hair products.

    I feel compelled here to point out that not all modern women shave their legs, plenty are missing more than one tooth, and that air conditioning isn’t particularly common in the UK even now. As for their hair, according to this post at the History Hoydens’ blog many ladies didn’t wash their hair often, so the natural hair oils would have acted as a conditioner. And they did use a variety of products on their hair, just not modern ones.

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  17. @Merrian: Great points about hands. I am not sure I agree with you about historical accuracy. I feel like there is a bubble of inaccuracy that will never be penetrated (like the sex), and then there is a gray area of things that may count, and then there are the things most people either don’t care about or aren’t bothered by (the smelly armpits, etc.). I should do a graphic.

    @Julia Rachel Barrett: I did not know you were a hospice nurse! I think the politics around weight make it hard to isolate the medical science.

    @Carolyn Crane:

    Do you feel people have a duty to be healthy? That is really interesting. I think it’s silly not to try to be healthy, but I’ve never considered it in terms of duty.

    Yes, I do. But it’s not the same kind of duty as not killing innocents.

    *gasp* the kitchen guys are here. and the hounds are not barricaded. gotta go! More later!

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  18. feel compelled here to point out that not all modern women shave their legs, plenty are missing more than one tooth, and that air conditioning isn’t particularly common in the UK even now.

    Well yeah, of course. But we’re not talking about modern women. No woman outside of certain cultures (cultures that are rarely if ever written about in historical romance) would have had hairless legs; most people would not have had all their teeth; and a/c or no, people wore a LOT more layers, which, combined with the heat, would have made for some unpleasant body odor for most people.

    As for their hair, according to this post at the History Hoydens’ blog many ladies didn’t wash their hair often, so the natural hair oils would have acted as a conditioner. And they did use a variety of products on their hair, just not modern ones.

    No mention of curly hair, so I’m sticking with my argument. ;) Of course, with the hair worn up, it might not have mattered so much. But contemporaries do that crap to…have curly-headed women brushing their hair. It’s not a question of conditioner or products when it comes to brushing. Check out the second picture: http://hubpages.com/hub/Survival-Mechanisms-Curly-Hair

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  19. No woman outside of certain cultures (cultures that are rarely if ever written about in historical romance) would have had hairless legs; most people would not have had all their teeth

    Right, but when you wrote that

    I figure I already have to conveniently forget/ignore a lot when I read historicals–women wouldn’t have had smooth legs; most people probably would have been missing at least one tooth

    I thought you meant that you were the one creating the anachronisms in your mind, because you prefer to imagine heroines who have hairless legs, aren’t missing their teeth, etc. So I was suggesting that not all modern readers would create those anachronisms because they might be used to having hairy legs/lack of teeth/lack of air conditioning themselves. Were you actually meaning that it’s the authors who put in anachronistically unhairy legs which you then have to imagine as hairy?

    No mention of curly hair, so I’m sticking with my argument.

    I think that if one has curly hair then the natural hair oils will tend to make it smoother and shinier if one washes the hair less frequently:

    Americans love to shampoo. We lather up an average of 4.59 times a week, twice as much as Italians and Spaniards, according to shampoo-maker Procter & Gamble.

    But that’s way too often, say hair stylists and dermatologists. Daily washing, they say, strips the hair of beneficial oil (called sebum) and can damage our locks. [...]

    “If you wash your hair every day, you’re removing the sebum,” explains Michelle Hanjani, a dermatologist at Columbia University. “Then the oil glands compensate by producing more oil,” she says.

    She recommends that patients wash their hair no more than two or three times a week.

    There’s also a lot of variation among hair types. African-Americans and people with curly hair can go even longer between washes compared to folks with straight hair.

    So, it seems, less is more. And maybe our grandmothers were on to something after all. (NPR)

    If one grows curly hair long, the weight of the hair tends to straighten it quite a bit. Certain hairstyles also smooth the hair (e.g. plaiting it).

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  20. Were you actually meaning that it’s the authors who put in anachronistically unhairy legs which you then have to imagine as hairy?

    Ah, I see I worded it poorly. The authors put in the unhairy legs and I “let” them get away with it in a sense, because, even though it’s so obviously historically inaccurate, it’s not something that bothers me. And, because THAT doesn’t bother me, I figure I have to give many other historical inaccuracies a pass (up to a point) and maybe others “should” do the same. If one isn’t going to complain about the hairless legs, why go on about what kind of clothes were worn when?

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  21. I think I’d complain about unhairy legs too, so at least I’d be consistent in my complaints ;-) That said, I don’t recall reading about Regency heroines with unhairy legs, though I do think I remember descriptions of heroes’ leg hair, where it’s described as rough and contrasted with the smoothness of the heroines’ legs. But women’s legs can be both hairy and smooth (just like cats are generally smooth to stroke, as well as being hairy) so maybe I just didn’t realise that the authors were trying to indicate that the heroines had shaved legs?

    On the topic of bodies and anachronisms, I have a feeling I read somewhere that American authors sometimes made their English (non-Jewish or Muslim) Regency heroes circumcised, which of course would have been extremely unlikely to be the case. Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention, but I haven’t noticed that either.

    Oh, and re your point that “all those layers during the hot summer months with no a/c would leave everyone far from sweet-smelling,” I’ve just realised that when I read that a hero smells of x, y and “a scent that is uniquely his,” I assume that the unique scent is sweat. So maybe I’ve a tendency to interpret things in a way which makes them historically accurate, even if the authors intended them to be understood differently?

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  22. Jessica – I too think the politics surrounding weight push the health issues aside. Yes, people can be above average or below average and healthy, but if you go too far to the extreme on either side, you will have health issues. Not only am I concerned with the health issues, I’m concerned with body image issues in our society – I’m a recovered anorexic with an awful body image and two of my daughters have fallen into my same eating/over exercising patterns. I have to remind myself every single day that health is important, there is no such thing as perfection.

    The issue of circumcision in historicals is interesting. When I write a modern romance, I leave it to the readers’ imaginations. When I read an historical romance, I assume the hero is not circumcised, unless he’s Jewish or Muslim, and I have yet to read a historical romance with a Jewish or a Muslim hero. I also assume the characters pretty much stink because bathing was not common in Europe until fairly recent times – other than among Jews who went to the Mikvah. Set the story in Japan or China and I’ll assume everyone smells pretty darn good. :)

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  23. @Wendy:

    It has to be shockingly blatant to register for me – 21st century slang in a Regency for example. And as a general rule, I can totally roll with a wallpaper historicals IF there’s enough other “stuff” in the book working for me to overlook it.

    This is pretty much my view as well.

    @Jill Sorenson: It’s amazing how unhealthy some thin people are but they never get the social condemnation because their health status isn’t “obvious” (and this is not to say we can tell an obese person;s health status by looking at her, either).

    @KMont: Thank you! The cabinets will be done today. But it will be another 10 days for the floor and countertops. It is getting exciting to see it all come together. But making coffee every morning in the downstairs bathroom is for the birds.

    @Angela/Lazaraspaste:

    I don’t think weight is a health issue. I think it is a beauty issue. That’s not to say that there aren’t health components to being fat, but in our culture fat=ugly as well as unhealthy. In fact, I think fat obsession has more to do with beauty and ugliness than health.

    I agree with this. I also think it is a class and race issue, big time.

    On the other hand, there is no getting around the fact that 1 of every 10 health dollars we spend in the US — a country that spends more on health care than any other — goes to diabetes care. People who are overweight are at much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and 90% of American who have Type 2 diabetes (that would be upwards of 24 million Americans) are overweight. We can also track the growth in diabetes to the increased obesity rates in the Us since the 1980s. We know that modest weight loss (5-7% of body weight) and moderate exercise (30 mins a day) can do remarkable things for delaying or preventing the onset of diabetes. So I do think we have public health issues here, which needs to be addressed, Unfortunately, there is so much sexist and classist baggage around this issue that it is very difficult to do so in a non-judgmental way.

    On a personal note, I’ve been gaining weight pretty steadily since I started this blog, and I now see how hard it it to lose once gained, even with a regular exercise routine and better nutrition.

    @Liz: The Phantom Tollboth.

    It’s no surprise that some people who loved this book grew up to be philosophers and literary critics, is it? I have to get a new copy to press into my children’s hands. I still have mine, but it’s falling apart.

    To my deep dismay, I cannot get either of my sons interested in the book, despite their being basically the age I was when I first read it (I was 9).

    And I don’t know if academics write poorly — we just have to follow certain unwritten rules for our disciplines that make us look like poor writers to those in other disciplines. My husband and I have a hard time editing each other’s work, because I will say something like “you have to put the thesis in the first paragraph” and he will say, “no historians put the thesis at the end”, or something like that.

    And yes I love the commenters here!

    @Sunita:

    So why romance novel authors can’t convey the sex appeal of a plump or fat woman when any number of otherwise inarticulate men can, I don’t understand.

    Amen to this!

    @Sunita:

    Almackistan or Rajlandia

    LOL! Can these be our official terms for the setting of wallpaper historicals?

    @Angela/Lazaraspaste:

    I would argue that books set in an historical period regardless of the genre, are never about the history.

    All of these books are about us and our times primarily, IMO. They are writing for us, fro the market, not for accuracy.

    @Las: Huh. I never thought about curly hair!

    @LoriA:

    I’d be torn between that sounding like a fun premise, and finding it past the point where I could believe it.

    And this is really what it comes down to, reader preference, IMO.

    @Merrian:

    As someone living with chronic illness and disability I am intrigued by the ‘duty to be healthy’. It is certainly a concept coming into the norm of political discourse here in Australia. But what is healthy-ness to someone like me?

    We would need to define health differently for different people, I guess. I am not at all in agreement with the “personal healthcare responsibility” discourse when it is a cover for penalizing sick people further and further shirking our duty to cover everyone regardless or how or why they need health care. But as a personal matter, thinking of my own values, yes, I do think I have a duty to be healthy, at least to some extent, to myself, to my children and husband. and to my society. On the latter, I think of it the way I think about minimizing my carbon footprint. Health care is a scarce, increasingly expensive resource. On the other hand, we need to be very sensitive to how people are differently placed economically, socially, etc., so the duty would not look the same across the board. It is much easier for me to have healthy habits with my background than it would be for some others.

    @Michael: thanks Michael. How odd that two of you know Munger!

    @Laura Vivanco: Thanks for the details on the hoops, Laura, and the other stuff.

    @Julia Rachel Barrett: Circumcision! Yet another issue I never considered!

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  24. @Laura Vivanco: I would think that sometimes we almost need to add modern interpretations to the reality. I would hate to deal with a lot of things that would be historically accurate, but, when I think about it, the hero and heroine are dealing with things that are common to them, without knowing about what is to come. So if we substitute the things that are common to us, it’s probably okay.

    For example, smooth legs: the heroines didn’t have smooth legs, and no one expected it of them, so therefore, that was normal to them. So maybe we have to substitute what is normal to us to avoid being unnecessarily distracted? (I also think about bathing, or the lack of our familiar restroom facilities. Our hero and heroine may be able to compare their situation to others less fortunate than they, but they certainly don’t know the things we’d miss.)

    However, one thing I think often gets ignored are the limitations of the clothing. I suspect there’s a lot of activity in some of the books that wouldn’t work very well in long dresses and especially corsets (ever worn a gown or long skirt outside? ). No stretch materials, either. Maybe the Regency period is popular because the clothes are a bit easier for us to deal with? ;-) The eighteenth century (flatter) hoops and the later 19th century rounded hoops would be really awkward (though the most outrageous was probably for evening dress-up, and they wore more modified clothing at other times). I remember reading a novel when I was a kid about a girl learning to maneuver in those rounded (Southern) hoops. If she wasn’t careful when sitting down, they could fly up to expose her legs. ;-)

    As for circumcision, I think it rarely gets discussed in historical romances, so my guess is that if it is included, it’s by description, and the description is included by authors who are either describing what they know or what they like, without thinking about it.

    Oh, and wasn’t the “long” eighteenth century unusually cold? I’ve heard it called The Little Ice Age. Perhaps our heroes and heroines didn’t stink as much as they might have done at other times (in heavy layers and without a/c). Also, didn’t lighter materials become more common?

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  25. I would think that sometimes we almost need to add modern interpretations to the reality. I would hate to deal with a lot of things that would be historically accurate, but, when I think about it, the hero and heroine are dealing with things that are common to them, without knowing about what is to come. So if we substitute the things that are common to us, it’s probably okay.

    For example, smooth legs: the heroines didn’t have smooth legs, and no one expected it of them, so therefore, that was normal to them. So maybe we have to substitute what is normal to us to avoid being unnecessarily distracted?

    Well, first of all, things like leg shaving are not “common” to all of us, and as a reader from the UK, I find that American attitudes are often not “common” to me. Here’s a page which points out some of the possible differences a non-US student might notice if they came to study in the US.

    If a romance was anachronistic because it was infused with modern British attitudes, I suppose I might be less likely to notice because it would be “common” to me, but many US attitudes are not “common” to me. If an author puts those in, they’ll be ensuring that I get neither historical accuracy nor something that is “normal to” me. I’m sure this doesn’t bother US romance authors much, since they’re writing primarily for the US market.

    Secondly, though, I don’t agree that historical accuracy is, or has to be, distracting. I’ve not been distracted while reading Frances Burney, Jane Austen, the Brontes, or Anthony Trollope, for example. Maybe other readers feel differently, though.

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  26. @Laura Vivanco: Apologies, Laura. What I was trying to say was that I think certain details aren’t necessary for authors to include if they are trying to be historically accurate, and it probably doesn’t hurt if the reader adds her own interpretations for those particular details. It’s not okay (IMHO ) if the author puts them there (e.g., shaving, bathing). In fact, I think some of those things are impediments, because we can get caught up in details that wouldn’t matter to the characters we read about, if they really did live in those days. (Have you ever read novels where it’s clear that the author did some research, and didn’t like what she found, so she went out of her way to have the heroine do things to make her–the author–more comfortable?)

    Attitudes are a different thing. I’m not really a fan of totally anachronistic romances, but I’ve realized there’s some inevitability. Readers seem to like them, so publishers will publish them, and I don’t think there are lot of people with the kind of general historical background required whom the publishers are willing to pay to review/edit the books.

    Also, regarding leg shaving – we were told it was more common than it used to be in England/Europe the last time it came up.

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