How historically accurate do you really need to be?


Not so long ago I discovered an online story with some quite fundamental historical inaccuracies. I could have spent a cathartic half hour pointing out all of them, but restrained myself as I didn’t want to appear too arrogant, or dwell on something that personally I found distracting rather than the writing.

It did make me question how much historical accuracy is really needed. Please don’t gasp in horror. I know that it’s always best to do more than you are ever going to include, but I’m also starting to think it depends on the type of book being written. While I still believe it’s the wrong side of insanity to attempt to set a story in a period that you know absolutely nothing about it also seems to be a truth universally acknowledged that a lot of Regency Romances aren’t models of historical accuracy. They know their gigs from their phaetons, but there are some accepted anachronisms. This is normally in terms of the hero’s or heroine’s behaviour as the reason for reading a Regency Romance is the Happily Ever After and therefore the boundaries can be stretched in order to set up a crackling tension and eventual bliss.

I have read a particular Regency Romance where the heroine, an intelligent lady of the Ton tried to set up a courtesan school in her drawing room. I also love the Carsington brother novels by Loretta Chase and part of their fun is the situations that bring the hero and heroine together even though the bounds of polite society, needs must, are stretched to breaking point. The fact that most of teh time the characters are in peril of scandal if they get caught, and know it, is what adds a thrill to the story.

The novel I’m currently working on is set in the Regency. It has romantic elements but it also has some supernatural elements as well and part of the reason I wanted to write it was to twist about some of the accepted tropes in both genres (and you’d be surprised how similar those tropes are.) Part of me feels that I can therefore be slightly more lax with the research than I would be if I was writing a literary epic set in the period. On the other hand I would be absolutely mortified if I discovered someone could spend a cathartic half hour pointing out all my inaccuracies.

For the time being I think I’m going to do the best that I can in terms of both research and historical detail. As with any genre I want the world of my book to be as believable as possible but it’s going to be interesting to see how the finished draft balances up my conflicts.