It’s kind of odd, but in spite of the issues I had with my earliest drafts of my earliest 20th century historicals, the 18th and 19th century stories I wrote when I was even younger had a lot more historically accurate details. Perhaps it was because I was more familiar with those centuries from all the books I’d read set during the pioneer and Colonial eras, and because I was always going to museums and soaking up the old artifacts, reconstructions, books, writings, and recreations from those centuries.
Ever since I was a kid, I loved going past old apartments, houses, and buildings, and wondered what life must’ve been like 100 years ago, when immigrants lived and worked there, or when they looked much different, or when people lived a much different type of life. I felt a yearning from deep within to climb back in time and experience life in those centuries, in those buildings. I used to fantasize about walking through a time portal into the 19th century, like when I was going on a long walk in the woods or on a trail, or going through a cave.
Now I know that there was nothing romantic about living in old tenements and family apartments, but I still feel the same sense of wonder when I go past old buildings. Like, I wonder what life must’ve been like when downtown Albany was a nice place, before the majority of its buildings were heavily subdivided into apartments, when those buildings were actually mansions, when that part of my city was a working-class, immigrant neighborhood, when it was considered our version of the Lower East Side, before all the businesses and families with money left for the uptown neighborhoods.
My shelved manuscripts about Anne Terrick and Jinx were rife with details about things like butter-churning, old toys, clothes, one-room schoolhouses, making and dyeing clothes, growing and harvesting food, you name it. I idealized that simpler, slower way of life, when you made and grew everything yourself, when most people had their own farms, livestock, and gardens, before we had this constant electronic barrage on the senses, when children knew how to entertain themselves without computers and video games. People read more than today, and found other ways to have a good time besides the movies or tv. They valued the important things.
I know now how much backbreaking work it was to run a farm, harvest crops, make dye, make clothes entirely by hand (at least I’ve tried sewing machines and made the choice to skip them), build your own house from scratch, make all your food from scratch, wash clothes by hand, constantly boil and wash diapers (though I’m 100% pro-cloth diaper and am very glad they’ve come a long way), grind your own wheat, etc. But there’s something to be said for doing some things yourself, instead of just going to a store and buying them, or pushing a button and walking away. There’s no sense of hard work or accomplishment.
When new, important inventions came along, there was a genuine sense of wonder. They’d never seen things like moving images or heard recorded voices in a box before. Today’s kids would think I grew up in a very deprived generation, because our computers were black and white, we had no Internet or e-mail, most houses didn’t have cable or VCRs, and there were far less toys and games based on commercialized characters. Creative play is becoming a thing of the past. Children’s toys are also way more sex-typed than they ever were when I was growing up. Pink is not a “girl color.” It is a COLOR, and a color that was considered masculine till about the 1940s. Blue was considered feminine till then.
I liked how there were so many big families back then, though I also had read enough to know about childhood mortality. I was familiar with once-almost-vanquished diseases like measles, mumps, diphtheria, and whooping cough, diseases which are making frightening comebacks thanks to the anti-vaccination cult. I hope they break their fucking arms patting themselves on the back for being such special snowflakes and sticking it to “The Man” with all their anti-scientific, pre-modern woo bullshit. Countless people used to die and be maimed by these diseases. They did not just Magickally, coincidentally disappear just as vaccines appeared. Who really believes such utter bullshit?! Guess what, they’re coming back because people like you are refusing to vaccinate your children!
Doctors made housecalls, as primitive as medicine was in many regards. Birth was not considered a dire medical emergency that needed tons of interventions for no evidence-based reasons. The higher infant and maternal mortality rate in those days had nothing to do with where birth took place, but because people didn’t know about germs, and there weren’t ways to deal with legit emergencies. Infant and maternal mortality actually went up significantly when birth moved into the hospital in the early 20th century, and took at least 20 years to start coming down.
People still wrote letters, and reused things instead of throwing them out after one use. Clothes were not consigned to the rag pile if they tore or were outgrown. Clothes were also a lot better, in spite of the barbaric corset. And I love how summer vacations lasted weeks, even months, instead of only a few days.
That’s why I read and write historical, for the rich period details and a slower-paced way of life. I don’t want to read Gossip Girl in period clothes, or contemporary stories dressed up with a few background details and set in the past.