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Religion in Historical Romance
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MrsFairfax



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
Posts: 1069

PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 11:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
[Because we don't know for certain, should not an author have the same freedom of imagination that you are exercising in your post?


Apparently they do, since most authors ignore completely everything Liz or someothersecret said, even though it IS backed up by the evidence that exists.
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Nana



Joined: 02 Apr 2007
Posts: 947

PostPosted: Wed Mar 05, 2008 7:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think writers are missing out on religion as an interesting source of character sexual tension.

If an author can put us convincingly in the head of a very devout character, we can be led to feel that something only moderately naughty (kisses, for example) or totally plebeian (ankles!) is sexy and forbidden. Laura Kinsale's The Shadow and the Star has a hero like this - he is completely blown away by the thought of touching the heroine at all, and by the time he does more, you're just on fire.

It reminds me of a column LLB did on one's rising tolerance for "kink" as one reads more and more erotica - this kind of character can take us out of that loop.
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2008 6:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

[quote="someothersecret"]

Quote:
Terri Brisbin in The King's Mistress includes a priest who is very instrumental in bringing the hero and heroin together. Also, the heroine works closely with another priests to transcribe his Latin.[/Quot]

What in the world was the heroine transcribing Latin for? We all know that only the vernacular is suitable for the woman's weak and feeble brain.



Now this is one case in which popular thought rewrites what we actually know. Most men, of course, didn't learn Latin in the medieval period, any more than most women did.

However, in those lay families which provided education for their sons, the best evidence indicates that they also provided it for their daughters. A recent study of the Mendoza family in Spain indicates that the women were literate in Latin as well as Spanish, although the family papers contain no record of how this came to be.

Although there was certainly an ongoing strain of misogyny in the Christian monastic tradition, women in contemplative convents were taught, at a minimum, enough Latin to chant the hours. This could, in cases such as Hildegarde of Bingen, expand to the ability to write and compose hymns in the language.

It's always dangerous to oversimplify.

For me, the ultimate question is always -- if this author, or this reader, does not want to write or read the best that scholarship can provide in the way of an accurate background for a "historical" romance, why bother claiming that it is historical at all? Why not just admit that it's based in a fantasy setting loosely (very loosely) derived from vague memories of an illustrated coffee table book that had pictures of castles.

Years ago, Katherine Blake's The Interior Life (one of my most frequent re-reads) did just that. It was fantasy, but the heroine was realistic enough to know that she was tying her dream world into her vague knowledge of the middle ages.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2008 11:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to Mrs. Fairfax: Yes, they do, and romance fiction is the richer for it, regardless whether they interpret the evidence differently from the posters you mention.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2008 11:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to veasleyd1: In my thinking, the word "historical" in the sub-genre historical romance indicates the setting more than anything else. After all, the point of romance fiction is the romance isn't it? That the outward trappings of the setting should be believable is, in my thinking, all that is necessary as long as the story for which the book was written fulfills the expectations of the genre.
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someothersecret



Joined: 02 Mar 2008
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2008 12:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Now this is one case in which popular thought rewrites what we actually know. Most men, of course, didn't learn Latin in the medieval period, any more than most women did.

However, in those lay families which provided education for their sons, the best evidence indicates that they also provided it for their daughters. A recent study of the Mendoza family in Spain indicates that the women were literate in Latin as well as Spanish, although the family papers contain no record of how this came to be.


Indeed, there are many exceptions. My current field of study is early medieval literature in England where it is it was women were restricted to the vernacular. It is fairly common for women, especially holy women, to be reading and even writing the vernacular. We have reasonable evidence to show anchoritesses in early medieval England were also scribes in the vernacular if they chose. We have religious women writers in the vernacular, such as Marie de France and Juilan of Norwich. I saw it as a general rule that women were usually restricted to the vernacular. Though there are many exceptions, including Heloise and Hildegarde.

The female association of the vernacular seems quite widespread since whenever the gender of an author is questioned, that's the one of the arguments that get made. To be honest, I haven't personally looked at the scholarship behind it in detail and I've been taking my lecturer's word for it.

Medieval literacy is possibly a very difference concept to modern literacy. It has been proposed that it was a matter of using the text as a memory aid to a half-memorised chant or poem instead of fluent reading. There have been various ideas tossed around there.

Quote:
It's always dangerous to oversimplify.


True, but it gets a little annoying after a while, when every heroine is inevitably raised by an enlightened family who teach her and raise her like her son. Or something along those lines.

Quote:
For me, the ultimate question is always -- if this author, or this reader, does not want to write or read the best that scholarship can provide in the way of an accurate background for a "historical" romance, why bother claiming that it is historical at all? Why not just admit that it's based in a fantasy setting loosely (very loosely) derived from vague memories of an illustrated coffee table book that had pictures of castles.


I think you've cut to the heart of the matter there.

It's probably just the bar of believablity again, I suppose, and I probably have different standards. Still, I'd argue that authors really aren't using their source time periods to the best of their advantage.

(Naughty border illustrations in books of hours to discourage certain women from having naughty thoughts... that has so much potential!)
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MrsFairfax



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2008 4:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
to Mrs. Fairfax: Yes, they do, and romance fiction is the richer for it, regardless whether they interpret the evidence differently from the posters you mention.


Ah, but would the genre not be richer still if some authors went beyond long dresses and carriages and had their characters grapple with actual issues of the age(s) they supposedly inhabit? Secret, Nana, Liz, Virginia and I would buy those books, even if you and Monarda wouldn't.

This is a long-standing argument. I'm not going to convince you that some standard of historical accuracy would enhance the genre, and you're not going to convince me to prefer authors choosing time periods based on the costumes available and not the actual political, religious or social intrigues that could drive more accurate characterizations.
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Lynda X



Joined: 05 Apr 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 07, 2008 12:13 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

There are lots of reasons why romance novels mostly ignore religion. I read somewhere that talking about your religious beliefs today is comparable to the Victorians talking about sex. Somehow, it's uncomfortable (for me, anyway), unless I can talk to people who match my level of intensity. It theirs is greater, I shut down because I am uncomfortable, and if mine is greater, I'm afraid I will offend or sound crazy. So, it's easier just to shut up.

Second reason is the whole sex thing. Let's face it: 99% of romance novels have unmarried couples who are sexually active. An author may fear that the resulting guilt will not resonate with readers today. Then again, if the author does believe that sex before marriage is wrong, then you have proselytizing. and that's not fun in a book. It's easier just to ignore religious beliefs. Imagine having a hero and a heroine who do not have premarital sex for religious reasons! Is this book going to be a best seller? I doubt it. I don't think our society really wants to consider whether premarital sex is wrong (which a conventionally religious person usually believes)--it's too much like having your mother shake her finger at you.

Third reason is that it's hard, ironically, to portray a good person. Yes, of course, we have these saints who are willing to prostitute themselves because their drunkard father has gambled them away, but that's just the set up of the book. It's hard to show a person motivated to be good, in hope of being saved or to please God. It makes such a person seem boring. So many people have contempt for "inspirational romances," I suspect.


Fourth Reason: it takes a lot of talent to write a book where the hero and heroine are very different in their beliefs from ours. As pointed out earlier, we never have hero/ines who believe in slavery, the inferiority of women (or minority groups or the under class), or even the idea that someone is your "better," (my grandmother was fond of saying, "Don't sass your better.") There are a million ideas that people believed in that do not resonate with today's readers, so it's easier just to ignore them or to show the h or h as "rebels." I can think of very few characters, especially as the h/h who don't share our own beliefs, biases, and world views.

Fifth reason: most of the time, on television, anyone who is religious, especially members of the clergy, are portrayed at total hypocrites. It's A LOT more interesting to show a minister as plotting to kill his wife than someone who attempts to be an excellent husband. Mr. Brocklehurst is a lot more fun to read about than Billy Graham in a book.
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MrsFairfax



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 07, 2008 8:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lynda X wrote:

Fifth reason: most of the time, on television, anyone who is religious, especially members of the clergy, are portrayed at total hypocrites. It's A LOT more interesting to show a minister as plotting to kill his wife than someone who attempts to be an excellent husband. Mr. Brocklehurst is a lot more fun to read about than Billy Graham in a book.


This is such a pet peeve of mine. With very few exceptions the "religious" character is included either to be laughable (Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice) or hypocritical. It's shorthand for "this character is either the villain or a moron."

I think Gaffney did a wonderful job with Christy in To Love and To Cherish - a religious man, very conflicted by his desire for a married woman, trying hard to live as God would wish. (I loved Anne's reaction to his giving her up for Lent.) Similarly, Maddy's struggles with her love vs her religion in Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm - although she was able to shuck off the more dogmatic tenets fairly easily at the end. There are a few others - if we worked at it all day, we might come up with dozen. These characters are particularly pious, and I don't even think that's necessary, if the person was just shown interacting honestly with the prevalent religious structures of the time. I don't think it's proselytizing to say "this is what people of this class believed in this time period, and this is how it might have affected their actions."

I'm not saying I want every romance to go this route. But for 99% of "historicals" to ignore such a rich source of motivation and conflict except when it's idiotic or nefarious eliminates a huge amount of good novel material.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 07, 2008 10:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to LyndaX: A very cogent analysis in which I found considerable food for thought. And, perhaps a sixth reason, which both your and Mrs. Fairfax's posts suggest--authors include religious matters when it works well in the plot, as in Flowers in the Storm or Putney's Uncommon Vows.

to Mrs. Fairfax: I can't be quite that certain that greater historical content would improve romance fictions. In my thinking, historicity is ancillary to the primary purpose and effect of romance fiction. If an author's story has need of a possible but perhaps historically unlikely event or character or mind-set, I'd rather the plot work well and be affective than change the flavor with absolute accuracy. It's somewhat like raisins in bread; they're nice to encounter, but the bread will still be bread without them.
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MrsFairfax



Joined: 27 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 07, 2008 12:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ah, Dick, but if it's labeled "Raisin Bread" ..... Very Happy


Okay, I'm officially agreeing to disagree with you until the next thread on this. Hope your back is better.
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JaneO



Joined: 17 Feb 2008
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 07, 2008 1:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think this thread is in itself a good explanation of why religion is so absent in historical romances it is hard for many people today to accept a world in which religion is not only taken seriously but is omnipresent in the culture. And this is true not only of the medieval period (which included tremendous variations over the centuries) but more recent centuries as well.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2008 10:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to Mrs. Fairfax: LOL. It's still bread, though. And I'm progressing well, thanks.
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Marguerite R



Joined: 16 Jul 2007
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 3:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is a fascinating discussion and I have to say I come down squarely on the side of those who lean more towards the incorporation of religion as an everyday factor in the lives of medieval people.

If one might look outside of strict genre, Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset contains wonderful characters who are undeniablly good, sympathetic people who believe as they breathe.
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