The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen question

Historical fiction - old language, old attitudes
Katherine Howe Katherine Aug 16, 2015 09:45AM
One thing I regularly struggle with in writing historical fiction is that language and attitudes common to the past often don't align with our values in the present. Different authors have different strategies for dealing with this discrepancy. Being too faithful to past attitudes can make the reading experience so jarring that it's hard to continue. But as a historian I feel we do ourselves no favors hiding from what the past was really like. How do you reconcile this issue when reading historical fiction? What about when writing it?

The story should always reflect the values and views of the period it's set in. As a reader, I never blame the author for the attitudes that correspond to the characters. If the story is good, the reader can see past those attitudes and still enjoy the story. If anything, I think historical fiction allows the reader to examine our personal and collective achievements throughout the years. It reminds us how far we've come. It allows us to put ourselves in the character's shoes where we're able to consider what our lives would have been like (and what we would have been like) had we lived in societies that held beliefs that are now frowned upon.

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