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Topic: Annoying historical errors

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Subject: Annoying historical errors
Date Posted: 4/24/2008 12:44 AM ET
Member Since: 2/3/2008
Posts: 32
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Why is it that authors of historical fiction, while doing extensive research and often bragging about it in their historical notes, often seem to make the most basic errors, which could be easily avoided by checking out portraits of their main characters or a simple genealogy?

This rant is inspired by Diane Haeger's The Secret Bride, a book about Henry VIII's sister Mary which I'm actually enjoying, except for these little things that are like fingernails on a blackboard to me. First she has Mary betrothed to the future Charles V (correct), but identifies him as the nephew of Ferdinand and Isabella, when he was their grandson. Now she keeps referring to Katherine of Aragon's "onyx" hair and "olive" complexion. All anyone has to do is check out the portraits of Katherine (http://englishhistory.net/tudor/monarchs/aragon.html), and they'll see that she looks as "English" as the Tudors, probably because she was also descended from Edward III. You may dispute whether her hair is light auburn or golden brown, but one thing it's not is "onyx." Of course, the execrable HBO series The Tudors does the same thing. Everyone seems to assume that because she was from Spain she must have been dark, when a simple Google search will prove that assumption wrong.

I also still remember reading in Karen Harper's The Last Boleyn (another well-written book, though not as good as her Elizabeth I mysteries) about Mary herself (who is well-known to have had the same coloring as Henry) having "raven" hair, and having a daughter named Margaret, when her daughters' names were Frances and Eleanor.

Does anyone else have any "groaners" that they've found that have marred an otherwise well-told story?

Date Posted: 4/24/2008 3:23 PM ET
Member Since: 12/10/2005
Posts: 2,851
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If you want a recommendation for an author with great historical accuracy, read Elizabeth Chadwick, especially her later works, or the revisions of her earlier works. I especially enjoyed the 2 books on William Marshal - The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion.

I recommend the first 2 books in Roberta Gellis's Roselynde series - Roselynde and Alinor. I might dispute her extreme portrayal of King John in Alinor, but on the whole the books are historically accurate.

The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham and Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King are 2 more books I've read this year that I think have a great deal of historical accuracy.

Genie

Subject: Thanks for the recommendations
Date Posted: 4/24/2008 5:43 PM ET
Member Since: 2/3/2008
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I've been looking at Lady Macbeth in the bookstores, wondering if it was any good, so it's good to hear from someone who's read it. Elizabeth Chadwick has been recommended to me over on the Amazon boards, but as always, I've just got so much to read that I hesitate to start on a series that's already got several books in it, because if I like them I'll want to read them all. Don't get me wrong. I like the ones I've mentioned and they are accurate for the most part. I just feel like they're concentrating so much on little things that no one but a specialist would even catch that they mess up the details that just a regular person (like myself) who is interested in the period knows. Of course, a lot of people wouldn't get those either, but....
Date Posted: 4/24/2008 8:46 PM ET
Member Since: 12/10/2005
Posts: 2,851
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Lady Macbeth is wonderful! As for EC, she really doesn't do series, so I wonder if you're thinking of another author. While she's written 2 books on William Marshal, they stand alone. So if you really just want to read one, you can do so without missing anything.

I agree she covers territory that isn't well-trodded. But that's one of the reasons I like reading her. I've had more of Henry VIII than I can stand. It seems that everything nowadays is Tudor. I like reading about something different.

But one of the things that makes this discussion forum so interesting is the diverse interests.

Genie

Subject: Oops
Date Posted: 4/24/2008 9:55 PM ET
Member Since: 2/3/2008
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I guess I was mistaken about the Elizabeth Chadwick books being a series - not sure where I got the idea. Writing about a period that's not so well-known also may be an advantage - there also weren't any real portraits so it's hard to screw up appearances, although I suppose it could be done. Henry II, for instance, is usually described as rather stocky and squarely built, so if you made him tall and skinny that would be a pretty glaring error. Have you read the two mysteries by Ariana Franklin set in that time period, Mistress of the Art of Death and The Serpent's Tale? I think I liked the first one better - the second was a bit more convoluted, and there were a couple of things that while I couldn't definitely pin them as anachronisms I did wonder about. She did mention a couple of them in her historical note, like paper, which I guess is generally not thought to have been in use at the time but she says that it was in limited use. (That's one I wouldn't have picked up on anyway.) I did think her portrayal of Henry at the end of the first book was spot on, though - just as I always imagined him.
Date Posted: 4/25/2008 8:39 PM ET
Member Since: 12/10/2005
Posts: 2,851
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Have you read the two mysteries by Ariana Franklin set in that time period, Mistress of the Art of Death and The Serpent's Tale?

I haven't read them, although they're on my WL. I'm usually not too fond of historical mysteries. They're too formulaic for me. It's rare that a gem such as The Name of the Rose comes along.

I usually don't go for flippant/chick lit type books, but I did enjoy the first 3 books in Lauren Willig's new series. I liked the 2nd book best: The Masque of the Black Tulip. I haven't read the 4th, which came out recently.

Along the same lines, I enjoyed Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn.  But I haven't read the sequel yet.

In the historical thriller category, I really liked The Religion by Tim Willocks and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

Genie

Date Posted: 4/25/2008 10:48 PM ET
Member Since: 2/24/2007
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Funny how tastes differ. I thought The Last Boleyn by Karen Harper was terribly written and heavy with repetitve bodice ripper type cliche. I also thought her lack of accuracy was glaring. I tend to agree with your other statements tho, which makes me think our tastes are more similar than not :-)

 

 

Subject: The Last Boleyn
Date Posted: 4/26/2008 12:39 AM ET
Member Since: 2/3/2008
Posts: 32
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I should probably qualify that, Marci. Maybe we have different standards for "well-written" - mine are pretty loose, like I want to keep reading. Yes, the "bodice ripper cliché" and "masterful lover" stereotype, in the form of Mary's second husband, were there, but it did keep me turning the pages, and I could see the promise of her (much better) future, though of course I may have been influenced by already knowing that future. I have to say, though, that I started her other earlier book, The First Princess of Wales, about Joan of Kent, and couldn't get into it at all. I think they were just rushed back into print because they fit a current trend rather than because they really deserved to be.

So, we may not be that far apart after all, even on this one.



Last Edited on: 4/26/08 12:51 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/26/2008 12:47 AM ET
Member Since: 5/19/2006
Posts: 7,886
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I have a lot of Philippa Gregory's books but have not read any yet.  I have The Constant Princess on its way to me.  I have heard good things about her books.

 

Date Posted: 4/26/2008 1:36 AM ET
Member Since: 2/24/2007
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I think they were just rushed back into print because they fit a current trend rather than because they really deserved to be.

My thoughts EXACTLY!

Date Posted: 4/26/2008 11:18 PM ET
Member Since: 4/15/2005
Posts: 456
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I was annoyed wtih Vienna Prelude (Brock & Bodie Thoene) because (1) the authors chose to refer to the river in Prague by its German name (Moldau) instead of its Czech name (Vltava).  Not inaccurate, but weird I thought.  and (2) in 1937-38, one of the characters goes site seeing in London and visits Abbey Road amongst over places.  (Now I could be wrong, but I didn't realise Abbey Road was a highlight of London until AFTER the Beatles put it on the map.)

As for the early Karen Harper books - gotta agree with the sentiment echoed by (the other) Marci.  I managed to get through The Last Boleyn (entertaining enough) but the First Princess of Wales bored me to tears.  Glad I got it from the library.

Date Posted: 4/28/2008 3:06 PM ET
Member Since: 6/5/2007
Posts: 2,507
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First Princess of Wales bored me to tears

Oh crud, I'm so sorry to see this. I have it on my "TBR" pile.  And, it has such a cheesy cover I'm embarassed every time I look at it and to then hear that it is boring too. Grumble, grumble.

Date Posted: 4/28/2008 5:07 PM ET
Member Since: 12/10/2005
Posts: 2,851
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And, it has such a cheesy cover I'm embarassed every time I look at it and to then hear that it is boring too.

Can't help you with the boring part. But I found a great product for cheesy book covers. It's called book sox and I found it at Staples. It's an expandable (flexible) cloth book cover. You can't see thru it.

Perfect for reading in public. :)

Genie

Subject: First Princess of Wales
Date Posted: 4/28/2008 5:42 PM ET
Member Since: 2/3/2008
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I guess I should be glad I got that one from the library - didn't have to pay for it or use a credit on it. The cover turned me off too.

Another one was Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell. I've actually enjoyed a couple of her other books - a bit far-fetched in places but still interesting - but I put that one down after only a page or two. It started out with Anne going to France with Henry's sister Mary, and I may be wrong but I think that's pretty well been debunked - I think she was being educated at the court of Margaret of Austria and probably would have gone straight to France rather than being sent over the Channel only to come back again. Of course the stormy crossing, first time away from home for a young girl (anywhere from 7 to 14, since there's no certainty on when she was born), blah blah blah, makes for great drama, but if it's been pretty well proven that things were otherwise, you shouldn't use it, as far as I'm concerned.

Date Posted: 4/29/2008 1:52 PM ET
Member Since: 6/5/2007
Posts: 2,507
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Ooooh, that's an idea! Thanks!

Subject: Lady Macbeth
Date Posted: 4/29/2008 2:07 PM ET
Member Since: 2/3/2008
Posts: 32
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Well, I just got that one from the library so hopefully I'll manage to finish it. Our library has a 7-day period on new books, and if someone else is waiting for it they won't let me renew it. Of course I wouldn't catch any but the most glaring errors in a book on that period, so I'll take your word for it that it's accurate, Genie. By the way, I was looking at your wish list and I've read a lot of the books on it but unfortunately don't own any - either used to own them, read them from the library or, in the case of the Lymond Chronicles, can't bear to part with them. Sorry!