Around the holidays, we often become nostalgic. We look back longingly at the days of our youth. We pine for the “good old days,” and we regale everyone around us with tales of the wonderful times. It’s interesting what our memory does with time – everything becomes better with age, and the not so good parts are glossed over.
I loved my youth. I had four sisters and one brother and we had some
good great times together. Those shared experiences are what I miss, though, not the time period. Think about it – we had six kids and two adults riding around in an ancient Volkswagen beetle. That is not an exaggeration, it is a memory. Car seats were optional, so the three youngest kids rode on laps in either the back seat or the passenger seat of the beetle. What else wasn’t good? Well, nobody had cell phones or computers or microwave ovens, and the economy was in the tank. Did I mention that there was a lingering fear over everyone that the Russians would nuke us every single day?
Everyone pines away for some time period without stopping to realize just how bad it truly was. Think about it – medicine didn’t really exist until the early twentieth century and life expectancy was miserably short until the 1930s. Laws differentiated based on gender and skin color and our understanding of the world around us was severely limited. How long have we had indoor plumbing?
I guess what I am trying to say is that as writers, we provide escapism to our readers and attempt to transport them somewhere and somewhen else. We often strive for realism in our settings, but if we want to provide a pleasant experience, we need to scale back our realism a notch or three and gloss over some of these harsh realities (unless you are writing actual history). Do your readers really care about folks using and cleaning chamber pots or are they more attracted to a romanticized version of your world? Do you want to kill off half of your hero’s siblings before they are ten and kill off one or both parents by age 40? All of those are “realism” in many setting before 1900. Keep that in mind when you sit down to write.