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Tony Grist

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I'm Not A Victorian Myself But Some Of My Best Friends Were [Aug. 3rd, 2016|11:07 am]
Tony Grist
Kirstie is returned from a holiday on Jersey and I let it slip that I was there once. She's full of questions. "Where did you stay?" "Who did you go with?" "Did you fly?" And I want to say. "Are you writing my biography?" but I'm too well brought up for that kind of gruff Evelyn Waughism and fend her off with, "It was half a century ago."

Talking about things being a long time ago I'm reading a well-reviewed modern novel set in the late 19th century- and it's spoiled for me by the multiplicity of false notes. Characters are continually doing and saying things that would have had their companions' eyes popping out and hair standing on end if they'd done and said them in the supposed period. Just one example: a lady's companion asks a Liberal politician of whom she disapproves if Mr Gladstone is still "consorting with hookers." Remember Liza Doolittle's "not bloody likely"? Well this is leagues beyond that- yet nobody turns a hair. Also "hooker" is an Americanism- barely heard in Britain before the second-half of the 20th century. The word a well-bred young lady wouldn't have dreamed of saying to a gentleman is "tart".

Oh, and where are all the domestic servants? Every middle-class household had domestic servants- even if they couldn't really afford them.

I was born 50 years after the death of Queen Victoria- I knew Victorians- I had them in my family- and for me it's a living world. I know instinctively how it works. I feel it on my pulses. But for this writer it's as gone, gone gone as Thebes the Golden- a fancy-dress environment into which she inserts 21st century people.

I feel old.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sorenr
2016-08-03 10:28 am (UTC)
Even I - some years your junior - can feel that way.

I knew people born in the 19th century. I knew people who were Jewish boat refugees to Sweden during the occupation of Denmark in WWII. I remember all these things by proxy, simply because somebody bothered to tell me about their lives - and I bothered to listen.

Perhaps some day I'll tell somebody about what it was like living in the 20th century - and that knowledge might be carried into the 22nd century! Imagine that...
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-08-03 12:29 pm (UTC)
My maternal grandmother- born into an artistic family on the Isle of Wight and trained as a wood carver- grew up in an atmosphere of mild bohemianism leavened with right-thinking Quakerism. My paternal grandmother was the daughter of a provincial haberdasher- the world of Kipps. My paternal grandfather grew up in a working class town on the Thames- downriver from the East End. His mother kept a boarding house...
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[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2016-08-03 12:31 pm (UTC)
You should read some of my mum's book reviews. She, like you, has a keen eye for anachronism.

I went to Jersey more recently than you, but long enough ago that we went on a Dan Air plane with propellers.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-08-03 12:36 pm (UTC)
I believe I did the trip on a plane with propellors too but maybe I dreamed it.

Kirstie talked about visiting the tunnels the Germans built- using slave labour. I did that too. nastiest, most oppressive place I've ever been...
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[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2016-08-03 05:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes, we did that! There was a definite Atmosphere, which I rather liked while also being a bit freaked out.
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[User Picture]From: artkouros
2016-08-03 12:44 pm (UTC)
Supposedly "hooker" became a word in the Civil War when a certain General Hooker brought a wagon train of comfort women with him on his campaigns.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-08-03 04:18 pm (UTC)
I read that too, but also that the reference is to a district of New York City- "The Hook"- where the working girls hung out.
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[User Picture]From: idahoswede
2016-08-03 01:28 pm (UTC)
I know exactly how you feel.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-08-03 04:31 pm (UTC)
It's not a bad novel, but...
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From: cmcmck
2016-08-03 01:43 pm (UTC)
All too many writers of historical novels simply cannot place themselves in the given time frame and in the heads of its people.

My seventeenth century is somewhere I couldn't bear to read as a novel setting.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-08-03 04:20 pm (UTC)
It's very hard- almost impossible I think- to put aside all one knows or thinks one knows- and enter into the mindset of an earlier age.
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From: cmcmck
2016-08-04 09:37 am (UTC)
It is, but I think I come close with the 17th century after all these years.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2016-08-03 02:07 pm (UTC)
the author of that book didn't do their research - and unfortunately there will be few people who notice the disconnect. I didn't know about the domestic servant thing!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2016-08-03 04:30 pm (UTC)
She's read up about 19th century medicine and 19th century feminism- but there are all sorts of things- to do with class and language and social attitudes that she just hasn't looked at.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2016-08-03 05:19 pm (UTC)
That kind of thing always grates on me. It's like...here I am lost in this lovely world of whatever and then....a remark that wouldn't be made is made and I am jolted back.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2016-08-04 12:24 am (UTC)
Just one example: a lady's companion asks a Liberal politician of whom she disapproves if Mr Gladstone is still "consorting with hookers."

Yeah, that jumps out like neon.
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[User Picture]From: negothick
2016-08-05 12:10 am (UTC)
I can't count the number of historicals--not all mystery or romance--in which a character uses some variation of the phrase "I'll be there for you." Sigh.
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