Happy New Year to one and all. Yes, it’s me again. I hasten to add that I’m not trying to hog the publicity limelight, but as Blog Manager I am obliged to “fill” when contributions fail to arrive. I find myself a little unprepared this week – but I’ve taken inspiration from a Facebook post which produced unexpected results……
As an historical fiction writer, you often find you are playing with fire with regard to the readers’ expectations for the period. TV in particular has given us a picture of social behaviour, beliefs and interactions which we now believe to be normal for any given century. The depiction of the Victorian period in particular gives us neat caricatures of different elements of society such as the cheeky half-starved street urchin ‘Cor, God Bless You Guvnor’, the wicked middleclass miser ‘Are there no workhouses?’ and the benevolent philanthropist ‘I will save the orphanage.’ All well and good, but what about the finer detail – the little social interactions, what was socially acceptable and what was not? Could a man speak to a woman without being formally introduced? Would someone use a Christian name on first introduction? Would a woman express a view on politics in mixed company? The truth of the matter is, we don’t really know.
I have for years had a particular dislike of TV presenters (and I include professional historians) making wild generalisations starting with “The Victorians believed…….” Or “The Victorians did……”
My main objection had always been that you cannot generalise something covering a period of 64 years (1837 to 1901), nor can you assume that the same applied across all classes.
My awareness of this folly of generalisation has recently been heightened by a post I did on a Facebook group consisting of people in my age demographic. Suffice it to say that I rarely post anything contentious on social media and never as my author self, so I wasn’t trying to start a controversy – but wow!
I asked (because I genuinely wasn’t sure if my memory had failed me) whether I was correct in remembering that in the 1960s and 1970s people generally kissed socially on the lips; with cheek pecks reserved for the French and actor “luvvies”.
The replies varied enormously from ‘Yes and we still do. A kiss on the lips doesn’t mean it’s sexual. Don’t make something innocent seem bad,’ to ‘Aargh, no, disgusting. How could people even do that?’ People even within the same cities were disagreeing vehemently over normal social interactions that occurred in those two decades, well within living memory.
If social norms on such a basic level varied that much, not so long ago, then surely the same applied in previous centuries; and I would imagine the same contradictory viewpoints would apply to attitudes towards broader subject matters everything else from views on poverty, to race, politics, sex, disability etc
To sum up, as always history is complicated. It never fits the convenient little patterns fed to us through the TV screen – so do have an open mind.
Leslie Scase is the Shropshire-based author of the Inspector Chard Mysteries, crime thrillers set in the heyday of Victorian Britain. The first novel Fortuna’s Deadly Shadow was published in 2020. The second, Fatal Solution, was published in May 2021. Sabrina’s Teardrop, a thriller set mainly in Shropshire and Birmingham was published on 10th October 2022. An advocate of the ‘classic’ murder mystery genre, Leslie is also a keen historian, which is reflected in the authenticity of his novels.
Born and educated in South Wales, Leslie worked in local industry before travelling widely across the UK during a career in the Civil Service. His first novel was inspired in part by his Italian and English ancestors having settled in South Wales in the late nineteenth century. A keen fly fisherman and real ale enthusiast, he lives close to the Welsh border, in the county town of Shrewsbury.
Read more about Leslie Scase at Seren Books https://www.serenbooks.com/author/leslie-scase
and Crime Cymru https://crime.cymru/leslie-scase/ pages
and on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/InspectorChard