Altering History. In other words, changing what actually happened into something that didn’t happen; or didn’t happen in quite that way; or happened at a different time…
Is it OK for an author of historical fiction to do that?
Always? Sometimes? Never?
Does it depend on what the alteration is? Some think it’s OK to alter small things, relating to minor characters, but not decisive things relating to really important characters.
Some might say an author can do whatever he or she likes, provided the reader knows what the author has done. In other words, the author has to come clean.
Others don’t care, as long as the end result is a good read.
The Roman Frontier? We Brits immediately think of Roman soldiers stationed at Hadrian’s Wall to defend the empire against painted marauders (the Picts or picti) from the barbarian north.
We imagine their life was cold and wet and miserable. Some of them certainly sent letters home to Rome to ask for warm woollen socks. Clearly northern Britannia was not a place for short tunics and sandals.
Hadrian’s Wall: not exactly warm and cosy?
On the German frontier, the weather was warmer than Britannia, especially in summer. Short tunics and sandals would have worked just fine.
But guarding a frontier against a potential enemy — who (mostly) didn’t attack — was probably 99% boredom.
Today is very special because it is both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. It is, of course, also the centenary of the end of fighting in the First World War.
“Armistice” is an interesting word. It is a temporary truce during which warring parties meet to discuss possible peace. I remember my grandmother telling me that, before she told me anything else. I was very small.
The emotions coming out of the radio into the small suburban sitting room awed me. And so did those of the two elderly ladies, tough as old boots in my previous experience, who were both damp-eyed.
From them I picked up a terrible sense that we had made peace at the very last moment. And that we might not have. It has stayed with me ever since. Continue reading →
Roman Germany? What picture does it conjure up for you? Mile after mile of dark, trackless forest with a hostile warrior behind every other tree, waiting to kill you?
Yup, that was what I thought, too.
Varus Massacre (Varusschlacht), Otto A Koch, 1909
Probably I’d been watching too many films like Gladiator with that opening forest battle [above] and all those barbarian attackers.
Or reading about Falco’s bloody struggles in Germania in AD71 in The Iron Hand of Mars. In that story, Falco finds links back to the massacre of the legions in AD9 where up to 20,000 Romans died.
The massacre is depicted in this painting [right]. You’ll note Germanic warriors complete with winged and horned helmets.
It’s by a German painter, too 😉
For me, that battle always conjures up an image of Augustus butting his head against the wall and crying, “Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions.”
So partly because of those cultural influences, I had assumed, without giving the question much thought, that Romans in Germany would always be watching their backs and that their lives would be pretty basic. Continue reading →
This Monday I was lucky enough to go to a lecture on La Dolce Vita by Professor Richard Dyer. I say lucky advisedly. It was pure chance that I went.
I never enjoyed this 1960 movie very much and, apart from its iconic status, remember little about it. But one of my best friends invited me. I wanted to see my friend. And so I went – and got so much more than I expected.
Professor Dyer is the sort of enthusiast I could listen to for ever. Moreover, he lovesLa Dolce Vita. Not uncritically, you understand. He wrote the British Film Institute’s guide to the movie – which I immediately ordered – and he clearly continues to research its creation and ponder its message(s). Above all he is just wonderful on the gossip that surrounds the movie.
Indeed, a major part of his thesis is that the movie is precisely about that gossip: how it arises, how it is delivered, how it is received. Continue reading →
The last couple of weeks I have been contemplating the magic of a Georgian Library. As a result I have been researching libraries in general and, in particular, libraries I have known intimately. There are a surprising number of them scattered through my career. My spiritual home, maybe?
Grand Library at Osterley Park, not like my poor house at all!
Partly this must be due to the novel I am currently editing. It stars a distinctly down-at-heel stately home. Its library was put together in the eighteenth century on the basis of some sketches by the Adam brothers and a certain amount of DIY on the part of the servants and the cash-strapped owner. A classical frieze in the library, indeed, was constructed out of clever paint effects and paper mâché. I’m rather in love with that frieze. Continue reading →
In BBC’s 1995 Pride & Prejudice, Mary and Jane wear a spencer, Lizzie wears a shawl, and Lydia wears…er…nothing
What to wear if it’s cold? A spencer?
Replica spencers (BBC’s Persuasion)
As the Pride & Prejudice picture shows, the high-waisted Regency gown needed a particular kind of outerwear.
A normally-waisted coat would have ruined the shape of the lady’s silhouette. So fashion called for something special. The answer was the spencer.
From about 1804, the spencer was a short-waisted jacket with long sleeves. It could be prim and proper, buttoned up to the neck, as modelled by Mary Bennet (above). Or it could be rather more risqué, accentuating the bosom, as Jane Bennet’s does.
A Regency gown might look simple but the wedding dress shown above clearly is not. Mainly because of the hand-embroidered muslin, rather than the fairly standard design.
That stunning dress was worn by a seventeen-year-old bride, Mary Dalton Norcliffe, for her marriage to Dr Charles Best in York on 11 June 1807. It’s made of Indian muslin and the V&A suggests the embroidery was done in India, too. Not only is there beautiful embroidery all round the hem and train, there is asymmetric embroidery across the front of the skirt, recalling the classical toga. You may find it easier to see the white-on-white embroidery in the close-up, shown left. Continue reading →