I’m back! I’m online again! As Miggs says, Ally-loojer!
That said, it being Saturday, the traditional Odds&Ends day here on Scribblings, I’ll share with you this image:
So, hopefully with today we go back to normal. Let us see how long it lasts, shall we?
So, let’s have a strange-ish, very French rendition of the age-old Easter sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes, complete with organ – from Notre Dame, in Paris.
If you have any familiarity with Gregorian music, this is very likely not, but not what you are used to. I know it was quite a surprise for me the first time I heard it…
I like her whodunits, I like her plays, I like her historical novel about Henry Morgan, and I’m dying to read Claverhouse, her life of John Graham, the Bonnie Dundee. She writes great characters and brilliant dialogue, she anticipated by decades the modern debate on language in historical fiction… Quite an author after my own heart.
Of all her things, my favourite has to be The Daughter of Time, ostensibly one of her Inspector Grant mysteries – but so very much more than that.
To begin with, by having Grant stuck in hospital with a broken back, Tey practically invents the armchair detective. Oh, right – technically it’s the bedridden detective, but you get my point. And this is only the beginning, because this time the investigation delves far, far into the past… Fact is, when actress friend Marta Allard brings him a handful of reproductions of historical portraits to play detective as a pastime, Grant becomes obsessed with a portrait of Richard III. Without knowing who it is, he pronouces him a good and conscentious man – and is rather thrown on learning the face he likes so much belongs to Shakespeare’s hunchbacked monster.*
What does one do, in this case? Well, Grant enrols a nurse, a young American historian and Marta herself, and directs them in an investigation into the murder of the Princes in the Tower. Facts are sifted, witnesses gauged and… listened, sources compared – except, everyone has been dead for centuries, so it all happens by books and records.
The result might have been a dead bore in lesser hands, but Tey makes it a wonderful tale about how history is told, shaped and perceived. About the weight of lies, misdirection, political expediency, and propaganda. About the role of literature. About asking questions and questioning given truths.
All of it delightfully written, with very engaging characters, and dialogue to die for.
Having felt somewhat sorry for Richard even when all I knew of him was Shakespeare and Stevenson, long before I even knew there was such a thing as Ricardianism, I fell in love with this book. And frankly, it’s not even all about Richard. I’m not, and never will be, a rabid Ricardian, but to find a novel that, without ever becoming preachy, makes such an interesting and convincing case for history, for its fluidity and iridescence, was a real trove and joy.
It’s one of those books everyone should read – if only to get a glimpse of the true nature of history, the one that boils, and roars, and glimmers beneath the curricular surface.
* Ironically enough, some modern scholars seem to believe the portrait in question to have been a piece of Tudor propaganda, aimed at showing Richard as frail and ill, and therefore unfit for the throne…
- “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (makinghistoryatnorthumbria.wordpress.com)
And then every year, in a sort of ripple effect, each of the seven original awardees can pass the torch to seven more bloggers…
And this is how Scribblings proudly comes to be awarded the Boomstick Award 2014.
Many thanks and congratulations to Davide Mana over at Karavansara / strategie evolutive * who got the award for the second year in a row, and then included Scribblings in his list of “ripple” Boomstickers.
We will strive to measure up.
* Yes, no capitals. (DM pretends not to, but it annoys him no end when I do this…)
What can I say? Ancient Greeks using quills or Carthaginians mentioning the prodigal son give me headaches – all the more because I’ve been there, and know how easily this kind of thing can slip under one’s radar.
I once had a character admire the skyline of Mantua silhouetted against the sunset sky, with special mention of a dome that wouldn’t be built of a century and a half. Of course, nobody noticed until the book was out – and years later, I still can’t watch the darn dome without cringing. So yes, I know how it feels.
And of course there is a huge difference between sloppy research and accidents. Sloppy research is a sin against the deities of historical fiction, while accidents… well, happen.
But there is, to my mind, ad worse, worse, much worse sin than sloppiness, and it is the Intentional Psychological Anachronism.
Please notice the capitals: it is that bad. It is the unconventional heroine who will sport 21st Century sensibilities and notions, wear men’s garb because it is comfortable, despise the conventions, mores and beliefs of her time, refuse to conceive the notion of marrying for anything but love, and, because of all this, be depicted as immeasurably superior to all the other characters who act, think and behave in a manner fitting their century.
I say heroine, because this kind of pest mostly prospers in the female variety – but this isn’t to say there aren’t heroes of this ilk. I even have a not especially affectionate nickname for the phenomenon: the French Nanny Syndrome, after Bianca Pitzorno’s retelling of Jane Eyre, in which all the good guys are modern people in disguise, confronted by cardboard baddies* who hold to the views and beliefs of their time.
And this, Gentle Reader, I call a sin and a crime. It gives a distorted view of the past as a time when the good ones thought like us, while the mindset of the era was consistently unhuman and evil. It stifles any sense of historical perspective. It anesthetizes the all-important fact that right and wrong have changed across the centuries, that what we believe today has not always been around. It builds a false percetpion of history. It is wrong. It is ugly. It is dishonest. It is not, but not historical fiction.
And if you think I’m quite vocal about it – well, you may be right. Fiction is fiction, yes – but why bother setting your fiction in another century, only to falsify the setting like that? So, it is both a sin against history, and a corner-cutting, audience-winking strategy when it comes to storytelling.
I’m afraid that, to me, it hardly gets worse than that.
* And yes, Jane-the-English-Governess is one of them. Or, if not totally bad, a silly woman incapable of human warmth, and slavishly besotted with the cruel, heartless Mr. Rochester. Does it show how much I loathe this book?