Posted in 2010s

An unnecessary 21st century makeover

As I’ve said many a time, if you’re uncomfortable with historically-accurate terminology and attitudes, hist-fic isn’t the genre for you. It’s important to separate your own views from ones which might unsettle you but were widespread. E.g., it took me years to feel comfortable using the word Negro in narrative text (beyond just dialogue), but it finally got through to me that the term African–American was really anachronistic.

That commitment to historical accuracy applies perhaps a hundredfold when adapting someone else’s story to the screen. Knock yourself out being anachronistic if you must, but show basic respect to your source material!

That’s exactly the problem with Anne with an E, adopted from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables. The screenwriter has openly declared her intention was to “update” it with 21st century Woke values. Laughably, she truly believes the lines between the scant original material she retained and the stuff she invented are seamless. Nope, anyone familiar with the book knows exactly what’s out of place.

By all means, put your own spin on a story that’s already been adapted multiple times. You can draw out things which were unsaid in the original but quite painfully brewing in the background during that era, or emphasise certain themes with parallels to current worries. Fill in gaps with stories of your own creation.

However, you need to stay true to the voice, style, and spirit of the source material instead of taking it in an entirely new direction to correct what you see as unenlightened omissions or embarrassing attitudes. I’ve zero problem with hist-fic including things like racism, bullying, gay and lesbian characters, child abuse, or menarche, but none of that was in the original!

Here’s an idea: If you feel so strongly about checking every single SJW box, create your own story instead of hijacking someone else’s and giving 19th century characters 21st century Woke Stasi values.

The first book in the series was published in 1908 but set in the 1870s. It’s beyond laughable to believe anyone in that era, particularly in a small rural town, would’ve done or tolerated any of this! There are so many outright inventions, distortions, and anachronisms, such as:

1. Anne never adds Marilla and Matthew’s surname to hers with a hyphen!

2. Diana’s maiden aunt Josephine is a lesbian?

3. And hosting a freaking “queer soirée” at her mansion?

4. Teacher Mr. Phillips is a closeted gay man?

5. Rev. Allan is now a raging, heartless misogynist instead of a kindred spirit?

6. Anne never ran back to the orphanage after the misunderstanding re: the missing brooch, and thus Matthew never rode like a madman to bring her back.

7. Gilbert’s dad never dies!

8. Anne never told sex stories to her classmates!

9. The relationship between Anne and Gilbert is twisted into soap opera-esque garbage, almost nothing in common with the source material.

10. Anne was never brutally bullied, despite some early difficulties fitting in.

11. Cole is an invented character, and it goes without saying any gay character would’ve been deep in the closet instead of coming out to anyone he didn’t already know was a friend of Dorothy. Even the most radical, open-minded person wouldn’t have been so nonchalant and accepting.

12. Sebastian is a wonderful character, but he’s also invented. There aren’t any significant Black characters in the books, though The Bog is a real neighborhood in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

13. There’s no menarche storyline either. People just didn’t openly talk about menstruation in that era!

14. Also no storylines about lost loves Matthew and Marilla had.

15. Anne never investigates her family history at the orphanage or local church.

16. Ka’kwet is also an invented character.

17. Josie not only is engaged to Mr. Phillips, but leaves him at the altar?

18. Anne was brutally abused by her prior caretakers?

I hate this SJW mindset of depicting historical characters as the worst racists, sexists, homophobes, ignoramuses, and bigots who ever lived, while making sure to give the sympathetic characters anachronistic 21st century values. Even the most radical, against the grain people operated within certain parameters.

And if you can’t accept that, do us all a favor and stick to contemporary settings.

Posted in 1860s, 1930s, Historical fiction, Movies

GWTW at 80, Part VI (Historical accuracy)

Margaret Mitchell did a great deal of historical research for her novel, which didn’t stop after she found a publisher. She spent six months checking her facts during the editing process. Much of her research was conducted at Atlanta’s Carnegie Library, since razed to build the Atlanta–Fulton Public Library. Its replacement, in the same spot, has a permanent Margaret Mitchell exhibit on the third floor.

But just as with all hist-fic, there are some elements which were uncommon for the era. Unlike many historical novels and films today, though, they’re within the realm of plausibility, and other characters react to them as the anomalies they are, with the obvious notable exception of the romanticised Old South.

The Atlanta Historical Society has hosted many exhibits related to GWTW, among them 1994’s “Disputed Territories: Gone with the Wind and Southern Myths.” Subjects explored included “How true to life were the slaves in Gone with the Wind?” and “Was Scarlett a Lady?”

In many ways, Scarlett perfectly fits the mold of a Southern belle. She dresses the part, understands the importance of marriage, isn’t an intellectual heavyweight, steps up as a volunteer nurse (much as she hates the job), comports herself with dominance over her house slaves.

In other ways, however, Scarlett violates several codes of her culture. It was extremely unusual in that era for white women of means to work outside the home, let alone run a business like Scarlett’s sawmill. She also flouts the dress code with her low-cut gowns, and tries to resist Mammy making her stuff herself before the barbecue near the beginning of the story. Scarlett doesn’t think a normal appetite is unladylike.

In contrast, Melanie fully embodies the archetype of the Southern belle, though her life is much less interesting in consequence. Melanie doesn’t seek work outside the home apart from wartime nursing; she’s utterly devoted to her husband and child; she’s self-sacrificing to a fault; she’s extremely loyal and trusting. She naturally fits the mold, whereas Scarlett chafes against much of it.

Though ages aren’t mentioned in the film, there are several age-gap relationships in the book, and it’s obvious Scarlett is much younger than her second husband Frank even without the film specifying their ages. Frank originally fancied Scarlett’s sister Suellen, who’s about thirty years his junior. Scarlett’s parents are also 28 years apart, and Scarlett and Rhett are 16 and 33 when they meet.

Both Scarlett and Melanie marry at all of sixteen, early in the story. As I mentioned previously, it wasn’t common for 19th century women to marry that young, nor to much-older husbands. On average, first-time brides after Antiquity, with certain specific, notable exceptions (e.g., Medieval Eastern Europe, the U.S. pioneer West), were 18–25, usually near the upper end of that range. Their grooms were typically 1–6 years older, not old enough to be their dads.

In upper-class society, however, there was more precedent of girls marrying in their late teens, and to much-older men. Though this was still unusual, it was somewhat less unusual than in the non-wealthy world.

Even with that caveat, the age gaps in GWTW still weren’t typical! Whereas it might be relatively common to find, e.g., an 18-year-old marrying a 32-year-old, or a 21-year-old marrying a 30-year-old, it was highly unusual to find the massive gaps of GWTW.

Mourning practices in the Victorian era were strict and highly regulated. Scarlett flouts custom by dancing and attending a charity function while wearing widow’s weeds. Widows were expected to wear black for four years, often the rest of their lives. Young, attractive widows transitioning to colours like grey, lilac, and lavender “too soon” were assumed to be sexually promiscuous.

Those mourning relatives, friends, employees, and acquaintances were subject to strict rules too, albeit not as severe as those for widow(er)s. Melanie only has to wear black for six months after her brother Charles dies.

As mentioned in Part V, GWTW takes a very rosy-coloured view of the Old South, one atypical for both races. Though Margaret Mitchell grew up hearing stories of this vanished world and did a lot to further popularise that image through her novel, even she admitted it wasn’t common.

In a 1936 letter to poet Stephen Vincent Benet, she wrote, “It’s hard to make people understand that north Georgia wasn’t all white columns and singing darkies and magnolias.”

Like many people of her generation, however, she believed the Dunning School of Reconstruction, which falsified history in a very damaging way and supported the KKK. It was a very wise decision for the screenwriters to significantly tone down that aspect of the book!

Posted in 1860s, 1930s, Movies, U.S. Civil War

GWTW at 80, Part I (General overview)

One of the greatest films of the greatest year of cinematic history premièred near the very end, 15 December 1939, at Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta. This epic screen adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s classic sweeping saga of the Old South is one of those films like The Wizard of Oz, so well-known it feels almost pointless to bother giving a recap. Has anyone not seen GWTW at least once?!

On the eve of the Civil War, pretty, popular Southern belle Katie Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) lives the life of Riley on her family’s plantation Tara in Clayton County, Georgia. The talk of impending war bores Scarlett terribly, and she abandons her suitors to talk with her father in the fields.

Mr. O’Hara delivers a devastating piece of news—there’s a barbecue coming up at nearby Twelve Oaks to celebrate the engagement of cousins Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and Melanie Hamilton (Olivia de Havilland). Though many men are competing for her hand, Scarlett only has eyes for the milquetoast Ashley, and is determined to stop this marriage from happening.

On the day of the barbecue, Scarlett insists on wearing a dress with a plunging neckline and refuses to eat the tray of food her Mammy (Hattie McDaniel) gives her. “Respectable” women weren’t allowed to demonstrate real appetites, esp. not in front of men. Thus, Scarlett isn’t supposed to eat anything at the barbecue and “ruin” her figure. (Little wonder so many girls and women have eating disorders!)

Scarlett wins the fight about the dress, but Mammy still makes her eat the food to ruin her appetite and remain unnaturally thin.

At the barbecue, Scarlett flirts with all the single gentlemen, hoping to make Ashley jealous. Then, during the ladies’ nap, Scarlett sneaks away to meet Ashley in the parlour. Her attempts to turn Ashley’s head and get him to jilt Melanie are all in vain.

There’s a long tradition of marriages between Ashley and Melanie’s families, since they’re so well-educated, intellectual, and serious-minded. While Scarlett lives for social life and superficial things, Ashley and Melanie both enjoy discussing ideas, debating politics, and reading great literature.

Though Ashley rebuffs Scarlett’s advances, this doesn’t deter her at all; on the contrary, it makes her even more determined to win his love. Ashley’s wishy-washiness doesn’t help matters, since he admits he’s attracted to Scarlett and kind of leaves the door open for future stolen moments. Scarlett declares she’ll hate him forever, but actions speak louder than words.

Also attending the barbecue is black sheep Charlestonian Captain Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), who’s immediately drawn to Scarlett. He witnessed the row between her and Ashley, and doesn’t understand what such a sassy, feisty woman sees in a guy like that.

The barbecue goes haywire when news of the declaration of war breaks, and all the young men rush off to enlist. Hoping to make Ashley jealous, Scarlett impulsively decides to marry Melanie’s brother Charles. Shortly before this, Charles and Rhett got into a heated argument when Rhett defied popular opinion to declare the North is better-equipped for victory.

Charles was gunning for a duel, but Rhett left the room to diffuse the situation. Though Charles thought Rhett a coward, Ashley told him Rhett is a much better shot and would’ve killed him.

Several months later, Scarlett becomes a widow when Charles dies of the measles (one of those lovely diseases anti-vaxxers giggle off as no big deal). Her mother suggests she move to Atlanta to break her melancholy (which of course isn’t caused by Charles’s death). Scarlett will live with Melanie and Melanie’s spinster aunt Pittypat.

Scarlett eagerly accepts this offer, hoping it’ll provide a chance to see Ashley again.

Scarlett attracts scandal when she attends a fundraiser in 1862 and dares to dance instead of demurely standing off to the side in her widow’s weeds. One of the few people at the charity event who doesn’t disapprove of her behaviour is Rhett, now making a fortune as an arms smuggler.

When Melanie donates her wedding ring to the war effort, Scarlett follows suit. Melanie, always seeing the best in people and unaware of untoward motivations, applauds this noble sacrifice. A dance auction is then held, and Rhett chooses Scarlett as his partner when he wins.

As they dance, Rhett tells Scarlett he wants her to someday say she loves him, and she says that’ll never happen.

By 1863, things aren’t going so well on the Atlanta homefront, and Scarlett and Melanie are forced into nursing work. Scarlett has to shoulder the burden of most of it, since Melanie, now pregnant after a furlough visit from Ashley, isn’t in the best of health.

Aunt Pittypat soon leaves to avoid the constant sound of artillery, compelling Scarlett into the role of mistress of the house. Her only help, slave Prissy (Butterfly McQueen), isn’t much help at all, esp. when Melanie goes into labour.

As Atlanta burns, the ladies escape back to Tara, with help from Rhett, the only person Scarlett knows who can get them to safety. Once they’re outside city limits, Rhett announces his plans to enlist and leaves them to journey the rest of the way alone.

Rhett professes his love before he leaves, which greatly angers Scarlett.

Their harrowing journey ends at a plundered, devastated Tara and a burnt Twelve Oaks. Even worse, Scarlett’s dad has gone half-mad since the recent death of his wife, and only two slaves are left, Mammy and Pork. All the other servants and slaves ran away or joined the Union Army.

Part I ends as Scarlett stands in the desolated fields, famously swearing, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”

To be continued.

Posted in Books, Books I dislike, Historical fiction

Boredom and oversharing on the frontier

Like many people, I loved the Little House series growing up, and read the books many times. I even read a number of the ephemeral books, like The Little House Cookbook, A Little House Sampler, and On the Way Home. Thus, I expected to enjoy this book too.

Was I wrong.

What didn’t I like about this book? Let me count the ways.

1. It moved SO slowly! This is one of those books where 200 pages feel more like 800. This wasn’t an engaging, gripping page-turner.

2. Ms. Miller needs a lot more practice writing third-person. Her previous novels were first-person present tense, so the classic third-person past tense is quite a departure for her. I never felt fully in Caroline’s head, because the prose was so emotionally detached and distant.

3. Overdescribing the dullest things, with the same detached prose. How does it either move the story or character development along to know every little detail about rope burn, fording rivers, drying the wagon canvas after a storm?

4. Over half the book depicts the journey from Wisconsin to Indian Territory. Apart from a few people the Ingallses encounter along the way, the only four characters are Ma, Pa, Mary, and Laura. Books about, e.g., the Oregon Trail work best when there are many other people besides the main family.

Those books also feature gripping emotional, dramatic events, like disease, drought, exhaustion, childbirth, quarrels with other pioneers. This is just a boring, long-drawn-out travelogue.

5. I REALLY did not need to read sex scenes with Ma and Pa! I feel so uncomfortable reading sex scenes with real-life people. Unless we’re talking about someone like Casanova, how do you think they’d feel knowing a total stranger, 100+ years later, would depict the imagined details of their most private, intimate moments for the entire world to read?

6. Ditto reading about Pa tasting Ma’s breastmilk!

7. I’m not sure what the point of this retelling was. This is little more than a direct retelling of Little House on the Prairie from Ma’s POV.

8. Enough already with the excretory scenes! Reading about real-life people relieving themselves squicks me out even more than reading about them having sex! I did not need to read so many scenes of Ma and the girls using the necessary, digging holes and squatting over them, and emptying chamber pots!

9. Lots of purple prose and weird metaphors. Enough said.

10. Was the real Caroline really that dour, serious, depressing, and joyless? I get that Laura wrote the books from her POV, and didn’t have personal insight into her mother’s feelings, but Ms. Miller’s Caroline seems really off the mark. Pioneer women had difficult lives, and were the product of a much different society and culture, but there were still moments of joy!

It also feels like stereotyping of Victorian women in general, who were anything but prudish and repressed.

11. Spending way too much time describing things that don’t move the story along. Not every single day, week, month of a story needs detailed!

12. Ms. Miller doesn’t use enough commas. Where was her editor?

Overall, I’m tired of the trend of hist-fic about real-life people. So many of these books would work so much better were they about fictional people with similar circumstances. Then there’d be more leeway to stray from established history and personalities. At least in alternative history, there’s a reason for characters to do things they never did in real life!

At least Ms. Miller accurately depicts the Ingallses as voluntarily returning to Wisconsin because the man who bought their cabin reneged on his payments, instead of, as Laura depicts, being forced out by the government.

Posted in 1840s, Anne Terrick, Historical fiction, holidays

WeWriWa—1841 begins

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This year’s New Year-themed snippet comes from probably the only book I’ll ever write in first-person, Anne Terrick: A Bildungsroman. I created Anne’s original incarnation when I was 5-6 years old, eventually made her into a 19th century diarist, and then shelved her in 1992. In 2017, I finally resurrected her.

For different reasons, Anne and her sister Abigail really stand out in 1840s Congregationalist Boston, and in a home ruled over by their petty tyrant of a father. After a series of extremely dramatic events, the sisters find their freedom in Oregon Country, along with a bunch of other black sheep in their family and circle of friends.

Dave is an orphan whom Mr. Terrick took on as an apprentice to his general store when Dave was twelve years old. Anne has had a crush on him for a long time, but since she’s six years younger than Dave, he doesn’t notice her in that way yet.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit ten lines.

January 1, 1841, Friday,

Last night’s Watch Night service left everyone quite tired, but we weren’t allowed to sleep past 8:00. Except Father, that is. His store isn’t open on New Year’s Day, but he briefly woke up to bang on everyone’s door before going back to sleep himself. He’d know if anyone else went back to sleep too, so we had no choice but to dress and go down to breakfast.

Alice and the other servants had a festive meal waiting for us—apple pie; spiced apple cider; balls of sweetened dough stuffed with currants and fried in hog’s fat; toasted bread covered with melted butter, cinnamon, and sugar; applesauce; fried eggs in tomato sauce; and Herb’s very favorite, mincemeat pie. Much of our food comes from our modest garden and farm, and is stored in our smokehouse, larder, and pie safe during the months when the land is dead; other food is acquired through store customers trading in exchange for goods.

After breakfast, Dave’s current young lady came to the house. I was afraid Father might awake and punish him for daring to admit one of his lovers in broad daylight instead of keeping her in the barn for the usual few hours under cover of darkness, but Father remained asleep.

“I really wanted to walk to the pond together,” the young lady announced. “Meeting there isn’t as romantic.”