Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Neglected 14th Century

First, my apologies for having been away so long.  I've been otherwise engaged in the annual academic spasm known as The End Of The School Year.  Graduation was Monday night; yesterday and today my colleagues and I have been tidying up random bits and pieces.  Tomorrow summer officially begins, and with it, writing season.  I received a wonderful history of the Army Nurse Corps in the mail on Monday that I bought on Ebay for my current project, and I look forward to delving into more WWI research.

A few weeks ago The Historical Novel Society posted this article on Facebook: http://historicalnovelsociety.org/orphan-century-that-salutary-neglect-of-the-1300s-in-historical-fiction/.  I found it interesting, especially since Isabelle's Confession falls right into that period and the author never mentions her or any of the Edwards.  Mr. Ostryzniuk attributes author neglect of the Middle Ages to "prevailing attitudes in the industry, poor awareness of the period and concomitant difficulties in research, absence of ‘household names’, and pedigree."  As I mentioned in my last post, the amount of research involved in writing about the medieval period likely puts some people off, but it is for that very reason that I found Isabelle's story so compelling.  It was foreign yet familiar, and I wanted readers to understand that we share more similarities than differences with 14th century Europeans.  People are people, after all, and human nature hasn't changed--only the milieu has, and I find that fascinating.  The fact that the history is less well-known just means there are more opportunities to find characters and stories to bring to readers.

In researching Isabelle's life I found a few books had already been written about her.  The She-Wolf of France by Maurice Druon is likely the earliest example, but this blog post from 2010 http://www.susanhigginbotham.com/edfict.html lists nearly two dozen more that I've never seen.  Based on their covers and summaries they seem to be more of the bodice-ripper type than my Isabelle, but I chose a different path that was more purely historical and certainly not of the romance novel genre.  I suppose those who like romance will find Isabelle's Confession almost puritanical in its approach to her marriage and her relationship with Mortimer; as I was writing I found the character growing and evolving in a way that focused more on the rational and less on the emotional.  In that regard I suppose she's more like myself, just as all characters are a reflection of their creators.  I remember being very annoyed with Scarlett O'Hara when I re-read Gone With The Wind as a young adult.  At the time I found her behavior irrational, verging on the hysterical.  I was more sympathetic to her, however, when I read it again a few years ago.  I attribute this to the depth of characterization Mitchell created as well as to my own changing perceptions and experiences.  Isn't that what phenomenology is all about?

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