by Fiona Glass
Reading through several of Erastes’ recent reviews, I’ve noticed anachronisms being mentioned: railways in a Regency setting, confusion over the rules of aristocratic titles, that sort of thing. In pretty much every case the book has been set in England but the author is American, and it just set me wondering why that is.
America has a rich history of its own, and for the European influx, it dates back to at least the 17th century, which would be fascinating to read about. In terms of homosexuality and social history, it shares many features with Britain. In both countries gay sex was illegal until the mid 20th century. In both countries homosexuality was generally disapproved of, and gay men had to hide their sexuality or risk arrest and a hefty jail sentence. So it can’t be a case of writers being limited to one particular country if they want to describe a certain set of historical events.
It must be a lot harder for an author writing about a country that’s unfamiliar to them, too. At the very least, it means a stack more research to do, a stack more little facts and figures to check before they can even set pen to paper – and a stack more chances to make those annoying mistakes that seem minor in themselves but can pull a reader right out of the book. At worst, it can mean trying to base a book on the unreal world presented in films and television, with all the pitfalls that can bring.
So, why do American authors of historical novels still choose to set their books in England? Is it a publisher-driven or a reader-driven demand? Is there a specific rule amongst publishers that a Regency must by definition be set in England (in the same way that Parma ham must come from Parma)?
I’d be fascinated to know!