Friday, June 25, 2010

An Historical tabloid?

(Let me just say I know current style uses "a" before "h" but I just can't do it. Too many years of drilling into me that "an" comes before "h".)

I love historical novels, and especially those set in the age of the Tudors and have for many years. I love stories of highland heroes and English noblemen. Historical or Regency, I adore them whether they are based on completely fictional characters or real, historical, ones.

It's interesting to image the lives of those who lived before us and especially those whose actions changed the world around us as many of the royals and royal hangers-on did during the Tudor time period. The varied points of view on individuals is interesting to see as well. Sometimes we see Anne Boleyn as the evil seductress out to ruin everything to get what she wanted. Sometimes she's an innocent girl who is manipulated by her father, uncle and brother to earn the king's favor and then betrayed by the same family. Or sometimes, and probably closer to the truth, we see her as a clever young woman whose family gave her all the encouragement and rope she needed to see to it that she finally hung herself.

But I do wonder at the fairness of taking real historical figures, people who actually lived and taking them too far. For example, Sir Thomas Seymour, Uncle to Edward VI. Now Tom Seymour has been portrayed as a light-hearted everyman and as a calculating scoundrel. He's gone from the long suffering man, in love with Catherine Parr and denied her love by King Henry VIII who took her as his sixth and final wife. He's been portrayed as the roque who, when he couldn't get close enough to Edward VI, being held back by his brother; sought to seduce his way into a better position first with Princess Mary, then the Princess Elizabeth and finally the Dowager Queen Catherine with whom he was successful, and back to Princess Elizabeth. Again the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

But a novel I recently read portrayed Sir Thomas Seymour as more than a grasping climber. It portrayed him as the lowest of men, as a rapist. It's my opinion that goes too far. As writers we can play with motives, play with intentions and even play with actions and words of those who are long dead. But I think we do have a responsibility to remember these are real people we are talking about. Now if history has concluded that Richard III was responsible for the deaths of his nephews, and we write a story including that, it's one thing. But to take a real person from history and make that person guilty of an act they have never been accused of committing, let alone seem in history responsible for, is simply wrong.

I wonder if it's the distance between the years that makes us feel better about this.


Molly Daniels said...

I see your point. Anne of A Thousand Days portrayed her as innocent, while The Other Boleyn Girl portrayed her as the clever mastermind. I've only read one work in which Thomas was flirting with Elizabeth AND Catherine Parr...but it was a Reader's Digest Condensed Book and has long been lost, since I read it as a teenager. Don't know if my mother still has it or not.

I'm getting ready to read Phillipa Gregory's White Queen. I had another person tell me it was confusing, but I'm looking forward to it.

Jenny Beans said...

I think to twist the facts that far, to a point where you're tarnishing a person's reputation, is too far. If there is suggestion or evidence in history that he may have raped someone, that's different, but if there's nothing to suggest it, it goes beyond historical fiction into pure, twisted fantasy.

anny cook said...

Excellent post.