At a time when present day life often seems overly complicated and depressing, many readers as well as many TV viewers choose to go back to earlier times. Somehow it seems as though life must have been simpler then, although the truth is that it wasn’t. Finding enough food for the family and keeping young babies alive was a lot harder than coping with an overcrowded bus on the daily commute.
Even though we know life wasn’t really simple in the old days, it’s easy to believe that it was because the problems were different. After all, the Regency heroines of romance novels never had to worry about having a scandalous video of their indiscretions turn up on Facebook.
But historical novels often deal with issues that are very current and similar to what’s going on today. Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace might be set in a different time, but the difficulty of judging guilt or innocence in a crime is a perennial problem. It will be interesting to see whether the TV version of Alias Grace treats the subject with as much depth as the book did.
TV is often scorned as offering a more sanitized and false picture of the past than historical fiction books. Certainly the imagined world of Downton Abbey which attracted so many viewers, brought people into a domain where servants and gentry shared not only an estate but also a world view. The master and mistress of the house cared about the servants and thoughtfully helped them through their troubles. In the end almost everyone made out all right.
Novels that deal with servants and masters are often far more frank than TV shows about the carelessness and cruelties that often make a servant’s life miserable. If you really want a glimpse of what it was like to be a servant in early 19th century England, you might want to read Jo Baker’s Longbourn, which gives a fascinating glimpse of the life of a servant in the service of Jane Austen’s fictional Bennet family from Pride and Prejudice. Admittedly Jane Austen wrote about an earlier historical period than Downton Abbey, but it is hard not to believe that Baker’s view of the world is far more realistic than the one offered by the familiar TV series.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, whether mysteries set in medieval Europe or novels based on American history like The Underground Railroad, you’ll enjoy this great list of historical novels website. Choose your century and ENJOY!