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09 April 2008

Time Bandits

When I started to write about banditry, electronic bandits were the last thing on my mind-- which is probably why they struck. Yes, folks, the computer ate my post. So I apologize in advance for the paucity of this post. Reproductions are never as good as the real thing.

At any rate, last night, I had the great good fortune to meet up with the author of a series of Renaissance romance novels. You don't see too many of those on the shelves, or that many Renaissance set novels in general. There's Alexandra Ripley's "The Time Returns" for Renaissance Florence, Judith Merkle Rileys "Serpent Garden" and "Master of All Desires" for Renaissance France, and Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles for Renaissance Scotland. But you have to look for them, whereas you can scarcely go two yards into a book store without tripping over a Regency rake (the man, not the garden implement) or encountering the foot-wide ruff of a superannuated Tudor. This brings up an old question of mine-- what is it that leads us, as readers and as writers, to cluster around certain historical times and places?

When I was growing up, it was all Victorians. There they were, in huge, flounced dresses and too much blue eyeshadow, constantly flouncing off to go nursing in the Crimea or get brutally massacred in the Indian mutiny of 1857. They were vast, sweeping novels, as broad as the ladies' skirts, spanning continents, oceans, generations. And, then, suddenly, the world contracted, shrinking to the span of a Regency drawing room, where bored bucks in narrow pantaloons shrunk the scene yet further through the lenses of their quizzing glasses. There were no more attacks of cholera, natives shaking spears, wives screaming in attics; instead, there was the cut direct and rout cakes at forty paces. Nowadays, it's Tudors, Tudors, everywhere, all ruffs and farthingales and Anne Boleyn everywhere you look.

That's not to say that you can't find books set in all variety of eras and settings. You can, and many of them are wonderful (like our own marvelous guest blogger, tackling the German Reformation). But there appears to be a zeitgeist that blows us towards certain historical eras at certain times, creating intriguing clusters that beg the question: what is it about these particular eras that speak to us at particular points in our own history? Why Victorians in the 80's? Why Regency in the 90's? Why Tudors now? And whither next?

7 Comments:

Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Oh I have no idea Lauren. I remember reading a huge number of Medieval books in the early eighties as well, Robert Gellis's Roselynde Chronicles, Virginia Henley wrote a lot of medieval novels. And there were also alot of Civil War novels as well of the Yankee carpetbagger marrying the southern belle to save her plantation. There seems to have been a wider variety of historical time periods early on in the late 70's/early eighties before the romance novel/Fabio boom in the nineties.

I think the Regency glut both historical and traditional seemed to have come along at the same time the first round of Jane Austen adaptations in the nineties. And the Scottish historicals because women love manly men in kilts.

I have hope though that we will get to see more books published in other eras. Amanda McCabe has two books out from Harlequin Historical set during the Renaissance, and they've published books set during Roman Times as well. I'm still waiting for some good American Revolution novels.

11:53 AM  
Blogger Sarai said...

I think a lot has to do with what is entertaining at the time. Right now a lot of people are watching the Showtimes mini-series called the Tudors. Others are watching specials and TV programs from BBC which is sticking with Regency and Victorian.
I personally am reading more Regency b/c more authors are putting that period out there. When I was younger it seemed Medieval novels were the only ones in great numbers. I also tend to read a time period I know about through my own research or experience. I love books published about ancient cultures like Romans or Greeks Juliet Landon is a new favorite author because she does a wide berth of time. From Rome invasion of Britian to Medieval to Regency. I love that about her.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Fascinating question, Lauren! My dad loved to bring up the question of "why now?" about the sudden popularity of Austen novels and film adaptations in the 90s. We debated the answer a number of times, but I do think there's something about Austen's look at the intricacies and intrigues of the marriage game that perhaps resonates particularly well with my own "Sex & the City" generation. Personally I've loved the Regency ever since I discovered Austen(via the Olivier/Garson P&P) at the age of not quite seven, though with the years I've becomes as intrigued with the grittier side and the intrigues of the Napoleonic Wars as with the courtship rituals. I like eras on the cusp of change--the Regency, the late fifteenth century (on which I did my honors work in college). What drew you to write books set in the Regency?

1:17 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Why now? Why then? I have no idea. I've never been a trendy girl (unless you count the fact that I was punk/goth back in the day and rode that wave of eyeliner and black and piercings long before it all became mainstream and now, sadly a watered-down, suburban version of itself).

I pretty much stick to what I love, regardless of the trends (this might me the San Franciscan in me), in both clothes and books. I like Georgian-set books (both 18th century and Regency). It’s just a time period that I find fascinating, filled with issues that are relevant today.

1:22 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Who can predict where trends will come from or when they will end? I read and write Regency because I LOVE that time period. So much going on in the world at large and on a sociological and moral scale.

I love historicals of all eras because frankly I think I was born in the wrong time. I look at the state of love, marriage and courtship today and think ..... WHAT?

6:00 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Hi Lauren! I'm wondering if this is maybe a chicken-or-the-egg question: do authors write specific periods because they're popular or do specific periods become popular because authors are writing them? I think the current trend of Tudors has a lot to do with "The Boleyn Girl," but did Philippa Gregory write it because the era is popular or did she make it popular????

7:45 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Jessica raises an important question. Publishers score a hit with a novel -- say THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, and suddenly the perceived wisdom in the business is that Tudor sells and they put out the word that they want more of the same, not only from the same author, but from other writers. Other publishers, fearful that they are missing both the gravy boat and the bandwagon, follow suit, and soon you have a glut on the market. Some of the books are good; others less so. Then you have the woman, Sessalee Something (can't recall her last name) who is the historical fiction buyer for B&N nationwide who claims that "only Tudor sells" -- well, then, what do you EXPECT the publishers to buy??!

We know that "only Tudor sells" is untrue, but there are eras which are more popular than others right now, a topic which has been discussed ad nauseum over the months right on this blog.

But I pitched a Restoration idea to my historical editor and she nixed it, asserting that the Restoration era is already glutted (huh???) but her perception was that readers would not rush out in droves to buy a Restoration-era story, even though it was based on a real person with an amazing life.

My advice is always ... "write what you love, and be aware of the market. Know how big the envelope is and figure out how far you can push it and still get a contract."

12:56 PM  

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